Posts tagged with: church and state

Blog author: jballor
Tuesday, July 13, 2010

You often hear that Europe is much more secular than America. Just take a look at the Netherlands, for instance. How much more secular can you get?

But one place in which this stereotype rings false is in terms of academic institutions. You can pursue (as I currently am) a degree in theology at a European public university. Can you imagine that in the United States?

No, here we have departments of “religious studies” in public colleges and universities (if we cover religion there at all, and to be sure, “theology” and “religion” aren’t identical). My friend Hunter Baker might point to this difference not as secularism in a strict sense, but rather an institutional separation between state and church (for more on his definition of secularism, check out his book, The End of Secularism).

And thus from accounts of the institutional differences between the academic study of religion and theological study in America, you might easily get the impression of a kind of intellectual or academic secularism. After all, to study theology in America, you have to go to a private college or seminary (as I also am currently doing). This perspective from the Chronicle of Higher Education is representative, “The Ethics of Being a Theologian,” in which K.L. Noll writes, in part,

I do not presume to tell theologians how to be theologians, and I will not attempt to define the value of theology. I simply request that theologians fulfill basic ethical obligations, such as the affirmation that theology is not knowledge and must position itself apart from those academic disciplines that try to advance knowledge, such as history, anthropology, religious study, and (perhaps especially) the natural sciences.

Meanwhile, in secular Europe, as ENI’s Stephen Brown reports, “European theology faculties warn of shift to religious studies.” Read the rest of Brown’s story after the break.

This week’s Acton commentary looks at the trend by many in the charitable sector to become increasingly reliant on government support. Sign up for the free, weekly Acton News & Commentary newsletter in the form here (right hand sidebar).
The independence of American charities has steadily eroded in recent years as more philanthropic institutions have come to see their mission as one of partnership or collaboration with the government. That’s a nice way of saying, “seeking government dough.” Now, in the throes of a severe economic crisis and budget cutbacks at state and local levels, many charities are in a panic about reduced levels of funding. Anyone with eyes to see could have seen this coming.

A recent report in The Chronicle of Philanthropy spoke of a California budget crisis where “charities there are braced for steep cuts to social services and health care.” In Chicago, one manager of a children’s home said, “We’ve never seen the likes of this.”

The growing dependence of many charities on government support has been accelerated by the federal government’s funding, over several recent administrations, of charitable organizations for managing various social service programs. This funding, its supporters argue, gives private initiative the resources it needs to accomplish good works — with a little extra help from the government. But at what cost? (more…)

Blog author: jcouretas
Monday, June 29, 2009

A reader makes a request:

My purpose for writing is simply to request the Acton Institute make a public statement on its website to repudiate Mr. Sanford’s actions, in large measure because he was prominently featured in Volume 18, Number 3 of Religion & Liberty journal. Of course your organization is not expected to guarantee moral behavior of its featured contributors simply because none of us knows what is really in the hearts and minds of our neighbor. Governor Sanford previously demonstrated he was a man of character and integrity, but even the most upright man is in danger of falling. My request is for the Institute to denounce Mr. Sanford’s actions in the same public manner it praised his approach to politics last summer, in order to assure its viewers that it is not complicit with his actions.

If not exactly a denunciation, here’s an explanation for why we interviewed Gov. Mark Sanford. We opened the pages of R&L to the governor because of his record as a fiscal conservative and his willingness to talk about the way faith guided his public life. Here’s a sample of the interview:

R&L The religious views of candidates and their support among various faith traditions played a big role in the 2008 presidential race. Is this a good thing?

Sanford It is. But I don’t know if it was more window dressing than not. Obama had Rick Warren speak at the inauguration, and then got some guy of another persuasion to give the benediction. I don’t think you want it as an accoutrement. I think that you want it to show up in policy. In other words, conversation is certainly an important starting point. It can’t be the ending point.

Somewhere, that “deeds, not words” philosophy fell by the wayside. Yes, Gov. Sanford fell and fell hard. But he was lying to many people about his public life and private conduct. And we got taken in, too.

Now, we watch the sad spectacle of a politician clinging to power after he has obliterated any moral claim to continuing in office. He is refusing to go, and absurdly compares himself to Biblical figures. (more…)

An update on the battle between Archbishop Chaput and the Colorado legislature over an ostensibly anti-discrimination bill that in fact infringes on religious liberty. (Acton’s Joseph Kosten ably defined the argument in this week’s commentary; I initially raised it here.)

Zenit reports on the back and forth between Chaput and the Anti-Defamation League’s Bruce DeBoskey, with Catholic Charities president Christopher Rose wading into the fray. Here’s Rose on the idea that laws forbidding government to discriminate on religious grounds apply to non-governmental entities:

Jewish Family Services doesn’t become a division of the U.S. Department of Human Services because it counsels low-income persons while receiving Medicaid dollars. […] If they do, then every private citizen becomes a government actor upon reaching age 65 and receiving Social Security benefits. And every taxpayer becomes a federal agency when he or she receives a tax rebate this spring. Receiving partial — and sometimes inadequate — compensation from the state to perform a public service does not transform a private agency into the government.

OK, I’m biased, but it sure looks to me like the Catholic side is winning this debate pretty handily. (“Catholic side” is tongue-in-cheek. I agree strongly with the contention that this bill threatens freedom of religious expression across the board.)

Blog author: kschmiesing
Thursday, January 24, 2008

Add Colorado to the list of state governments sharpening the points of the already thorny problem of church and state. Catholic News Agency reports on a kerfuffle between Archbishop Charles Chaput (on behalf of Catholic Charities of Colorado) and the state’s legislature over a pending bill that would restrict religious organizations’ ability to discriminate on the basis of religion in their hiring. (The regulation applies, of course, to groups that take government funds.) In other words, a non-profit such as Catholic Charities would not be permitted to make adherence to the Catholic faith a qualification necessary to be a manager, even a director, in the organization. Obviously this is a cause for concern for an institution claiming to have a distinctly Catholic identity.

There are at least a couple interesting angles to this story. First, this is yet another example of the spread of a terrible misunderstanding of the meaning of church-state separation in the American context. Place blame where you like: I choose the 1947 Supreme Court decision Everson v. Board of Education, which burdened the legal system with the unfortunate phrase “high wall of separation.” Creative and mendacious judges notwithstanding, the First Amendment does not prohibit any and every relationship between churches and governments, especially state governments, and including funding that has as its purpose social programs rather than church functions (as in the case of Catholic Charities). We went through this whole thing when the current president proposed his faith-based initiative, but evidently not everybody attained clarity on the issue.

Second—also a throwback to the faith-based initiative debate—there is the related but distinct question of whether it is wise, helpful, and ultimately beneficial to all parties to have state funds funneled through religious organizations such as Catholic Charities. The question has been raised with specific reference to Catholic Charities USA by, among others, Acton’s Fr. Sirico, going back at least to the mid-1990s. More recently, the issue has been forced by, for example, California’s 2004 attack on Catholic Charities over the provision of birth control in employees’ health insurance, Massachusetts’ mandate on adoption by gay couples, and now this. To their credit, the pertinent Catholic authorities have usually refused to compromise in these cases.

To be clear, I think the Colorado legislature is mistaken and this and other similar assaults on the prerogatives of Catholic (or any other religious) institutions are unjust and unconstitutional. Yet it may be time once again to make the proposal, which would solve the problem and which will doubtless be categorically rejected by Catholic leaders and government officials alike: pull back the reach of the state’s provision of social assistance and let private donations fund Catholic Charities and all such charitable groups.

Hey everybody, Richard Dawkins is selling T-shirts! Get ’em while they’re hot!

Scandalous! And available for men and women!

One of my favorite bloggers, Allahpundit (who just happens to be an athiest himself), calls this “…a new stage in the transformation of ‘new atheism’ from rational argument to aggrieved identity group,” and has this to say about the t-shirts themselves

Some of our commenters call this sort of thing evangelical atheism but a moron with a scarlet “A” on his chest really isn’t trying to convert you. He’s just trying to get in your face in his own passive way and remind you that nonbelievers exist in case you missed Hitchens’s last thousand appearances on cable news or somehow avoided his, Dawkins’s, and Sam Harris’s ubiquitous books. I hate to frag a guy on my own side but honestly, we can do without these pity parties.

I’ll drink to that. But honestly, the part of this that really caught my attention was the following statement on Dawkins’ homepage:

It is time to let our voices be heard regarding the intrusion of religion in our schools and politics. Atheists along with millions of others are tired of being bullied by those who would force their own religious agenda down the throats of our children and our respective governments. We need to KEEP OUT the supernatural from our moral principles and public policies.

I wonder just how Dawkins and his out-and-proud atheist brethren would propose to accomplish that goal. (An aside – it would be just as fair to say that millions of Christians are tired of being bullied by the much smaller group of quite militant atheists who seem determined to wipe away any acknowledgment of God or the supernatural in all realms of our public life.) Is the argument from Dawkins that those of us who are religious should not allow the principles that form the core of our existence on Earth and inform all of the decisions that we make should be kept completely out of politics and the public square? Or should we be allowed in, but only if we strictly segregate our moral and religious beliefs in our decision making on any public issue? How would such a restriction be enforced? How is that compatible in any way with human freedom? I imagine the discussion going something like this:

Me: Uh… Sorry. No dice.

What is Dawkins’ next move at this point? How does he propose to stop me from ramming my religious agenda down his throat (or, as I like to call it, acting according to the dictates of my conscience within the legal bounds of our political system)?

One other point – One of my former pastors, a big booster of Christian education, often made the point that a non-religious education is impossible, in that all education must have at its root some sort of central organizing principle – some fundamental truth about who man is and how he relates to the world that he lives in. Christianity has a distinct view on that issue – that man is created in the image of God, and because of that has a unique and intrinsic value as a created person, and also has important rights and responsibilities within God’s creation. That worldview has distinct consequences for how a Christian approaches education, and the same could be said for any religious system, including humanism, which is, in reality, the core religious principle of a “non-religious” education.

I’ve always thought that this speaks to a basic truth about mankind – that we were created to be religious. We all have a need to orient our lives toward something, a set of beliefs that we hold to be true and supreme. We’re all religious. Even if you don’t believe in God, you believe in something. So why do the new atheists feel so comfortable accusing believers of trying to “force their own religious agenda down the throats of our children and our respective governments” when that’s exactly what they’re trying to do themselves?

Just a thought.

Dr. Michel Casey – Clicking this link will open a new window with a video player.

Dr. Michael Casey was in Grand Rapids today to deliver the first address of the 2007 Acton Lecture Series, which was entitled The Religion of Politics. Dr. Casey is a Permanent Fellow at the John Paul II Institute, Melbourne, Australia, and Private Secretary to Cardinal George Pell, Roman Catholic Archbishop of Sydney. He is currently serving as a Visiting Fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center in Washington, D.C., and was also awarded the 2002 Novak Award by the Acton Institute for his contributions to thinking that concerns the relationship between religion and economic liberty.

In his address, Dr. Casey examines the marginalization of traditional religious believers in political debates in the west as well as the ascent of secularist thinking that, far from ending the influence of religion on society, has almost become a religious system in its own right.

You can listen to today’s lecture by clicking here (12 mb mp3 file).

[Update: Video of Dr. Casey’s lecture is now available through the link above.]