Posts tagged with: religious freedom

Last week’s Wall Street Journal features a column from Michael Meyerson detailing the religious perspective of the Declaration of Independence. With questions of religious liberty occupying a sizable space in the public square, the article is especially timely. According to Meyerson, the Declaration’s brilliance lies in the “theologically bilingual” language of the Framers. Phrases like “endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights” employ what he calls a nondenominational inclusivism, a show of rhetoric that neither endorses nor rejects any particular religious ideology. The underlying implication of this statement, which captures the broader thrust of Meyerson’s article, is that the Framers recognized religion’s intrinsic value in a democratic state. He goes on to argue that the Framers’ understood religious expression as not only permissible, but desirable, for a budding nation. This is especially evident in two oft-forgotten but explicitly religious passages of the Declaration. First, the Framers’ acknowledged their own  “appealing to the Supreme Judge of the world for the rectitude of our intentions.” They also professed a “firm reliance on the protection of divine Providence.” Such phraseology, Meyerson argues, testifies to the value that the Framers’–among them some staunch supporters of church-state separation–placed on religious freedom:

Even Jefferson and Madison, often described as believing in a total separation of religion and government, continued the practice of using inclusive religious language. Jefferson urged in his first inaugural, “May that infinite power, which rules the destinies of the universe, lead our councils to what is best,” while Madison stated that, “my confidence will under every difficulty be best placed . . . in the guardianship and guidance of that Almighty Being whose power regulates the destiny of nations.”

The Framers didn’t see such nondenominational language as divisive. They believed it was possible—in fact desirable—to have a public expression of religion that is devout, as long as it recognizes and affirms the variety of belief systems that exist in our pluralistic nation.

Similar sentiments are found in the writings of Michael Novak, an American Catholic philosopher and lecturer at 2012’s Acton University. Novak’x 2001 book, On Two Wings: Humble Faith and Common Sense at the American Founding, even addresses many of the same themes as Meyerson’s article. To listen to Novak’s Acton University Lecture’s click here. For a copy of On Two Wings, click here.

Most Rev. Joseph F. Naumann, D.D., Archbishop of Kansas City, Kansas

On Catholic World Report, Carl E. Olson interviews Rev. Joseph F. Naumann, the Archbishop of Kansas City, Kansas, about the HHS mandate, the Ryan budget, and what the Supreme Court ruling means for the religious freedom fight.

“There are always some people who feel that the Church is becoming partisan and political in this,” Archbishop Naumann said, referring to a collective response to the HHS mandate covering provision of contraceptives, abortion-inducing drugs and sterilization services that includes more than 40 lawsuits and the current, ongoing Fortnight for Freedom developed by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.

“But we try to point out to them that we didn’t pick the time, nor did we pick the fight,” he added. “We’re not trying to advance any agenda other than to protect what has been there. We either have to be silent and acquiesce to the mandate, or we have to make our voices heard at this point.”

Naumann has been an important figure in the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) as a member of the Committee on Pro-Life Activities and the Committee on Marriage and Family Life.

“Part of my concern, which I expressed at the bishops’ meeting (earlier this month in Atlanta) is that people – who have good intentions and motivations – have too often looked to massive government programs to help the poor,” he said, “yet we have a history now of almost 50 years with these programs and we don’t have fewer poor and we don’t have more people empowered. But we do have a weaker family life and weaker public morality. And so we have to look at it and ask, ‘Are these really the best ways to go about addressing the problem?’”

Read “We didn’t pick the time, nor did we pick the fight,” an interview with Archbishop Naumann by Carl E. Olson in Catholic World Report.

Need a logical defense of religious freedom? Look no further than First Things‘ “On the Square” web exclusive, where future University of St. Thomas assistant philosophy professor Tomas Bogardus tackles a proposed restriction of an idea long taken for granted in free countries. Peter Singer, the Ira W. DeCamp Professor of Bioethics at Princeton University, recently published an article, “The Use and Abuse of Religious Freedom,” which proposes to limit “the legitimate defense of religious freedom to rejecting proposals that stop people from practicing their religion.”

Singer’s article addresses some global examples. Recently, the Dutch parliament began reviewing legislation that would mandate the stunning of livestock before slaughter. This of course violates the customs of Judaism and Islam, both of which require practitioners to eat meat only from animals that were conscious when killed. To dissenting Jews and Muslims, Singer’s solution is simple:  Don’t eat meat. He says, “When people are prohibited from practicing their religion—for example, by laws that bar worshiping in certain ways—there can be no doubt that their freedom of religion has been violated. But prohibiting the ritual slaughter of animals does not stop Jews or Muslims from practicing their religion.” Singer then transposes this approach to the HHS mandate: Because no Catholic teaching requires Catholics to establish and run hospitals, the state can order Catholics to provide employees with health care packages that cover birth control medications. If Catholics don’t like that, they can close the doors to their hospitals without damage to their doctrinal standards.

Bogardus’ response is well-reasoned and relevant:

One catches a glimpse of Singer’s utopia, full of vegetarian Muslims and Jews and Christians who employ no one. And all under compulsion of the state. His argument for this utopia has three steps. One: if a policy does not compel religionists to violate a teaching of their religion, then the policy is not an improper infringement on the practice of their religion. Two: if a policy does not unduly infringe upon the practice of a religion, it is not a violation of religious freedom. Three: since e.g. the Obama Administration’s mandate does not require Catholics to violate any Catholic dogma, Singer concludes that the mandate doesn’t violate Catholics’ religious freedom. Q.E.D., as philosophers are said to say.

So much for the argument. What shall we say in response? At least this: Singer’s argument succeeds only if every step is true. Yet the first two steps of Singer’s argument cannot both be true, since together they lead to absurd conclusions. Isn’t it possible, after all, for a policy to violate someone’s religious freedom even without compelling her to transgress any teaching of her religion?

He goes on to address both hypothetical and actual situations that, under the lens of Singer’s microscope, prove problematic. The full column is relevant, insightful and absolutely worth a read as issues of religious freedom become more pressing in our present context.

Recently, a Christian student group at Vanderbilt University has been told by the school’s administration that it will lose its recognized status on campus unless the group removes its requirement that its leaders have a “personal commitment to Jesus Christ.” Administrators at the school had previously ruled that religious organizations must now allow any Vanderbilt student to be a candidate for a leadership office, regardless of religious beliefs or sexual orientation. For example, a Christian student group would be forced to allow the candidacy of an atheist and Jewish groups would be forced to allow Wiccans to be considered for the group’s leader.

The irony, says John Murray, is that the very freedom Vanderbilt administrators have to deprive students of their freedom of religious association derives from a 19th-century Supreme Court case that led to the proliferation of Christian colleges such as Vanderbilt:


Is religious liberty only for individuals or also for institutions? As Ryan Messmore explains, America’s founders thought that the Constitution’s “first freedom” is for both:


Yesterday in his personal column for the Diocese of Madison’s Catholic Herald, Bishop Robert C. Morlino issued a call to arms to Catholics battling for their religious freedom.

But such a battle, he says, is one that should emulate Christ’s loving nature, while being resolutely clear and firm in rejecting the obligation of Catholic institutions to provide healthcare that includes contraceptives and abortifacients under the Obama administration’s controversial HHS mandate (see recent reactions below on EWTN by U.S. bishops and Acton’s President, Rev. Robert Sirico).

While no doubt the Madison bishop is aware of Christianity’s bloody history of self-sacrifice in defense of religious liberty, any fight should not, in his opinion, automatically involve escalations of physical violence and warfare.

This non-violent perception is very unlike that of the Hollywood film of heroic Catholic martyrdom – Cristiada – which I reviewed last week at a Vatican screening. Perhaps many of us might daydream of Bishop Morlino trading in his miter for a sombrero and staff for a rifle to become the invincible Zorro-like Generale Gorostieta of the Cristiada film – gunning down one federale after another all the way to a Catholic coup d’état of ObamaCare.  Surely mental fodder for another Hollywood epic drama!

For this Catholic bishop it is the simple power of Christian Truth and Charitable Love that will help Catholics prevail in their frustrating battles with the U.S.  government.  The laity need to arm themselves with these two great weapons of faith. Bishop Morlino believes in putting up a good fight, especially one that respects the Vatican II’s encouragement of building up an effective, reasoning Catholic culture of  “lay mission”.

In witnessing the 500-strong that protested peacefully in front of a Madison federal building, Morlino was proud to see the laity shouldering the burden in defending Catholic religious liberty in a charitable, yet determined fashion:

I was privileged to be a witness to religious freedom and freedom of conscience with nearly 500 faithful people at the Federal building in downtown Madison. Such rallies had been quickly organized around our nation and I know that not all who might have come were able (or even aware of the events).

Those who were able to gather, however, were in large part Catholic (though not all), and in being there, they were really doing what the Second Vatican Council meant by “lay mission,” that is, applying the standards of God’s Kingdom to the real world.

That is the true role that the Church was trying to enliven in the laity through Vatican II — faithful people witnessing actively to today’s world, bringing the Church into the world of today (as opposed to the idea that the main way one can be an “active” Catholic is by performing different liturgical roles)…

Let’s make sure we are charitable, but let’s make sure we are clear and we are heard. Sometimes we can be tempted wrongly to think that charity and reasonableness are excuses for acting like wimps.

To read the rest of Bishop Morlino’s column and his pastoral advice to Catholics go here.

Both the original and compromise versions of the Obama administration’s health insurance mandate (the HHS mandate) coerce people into paying, either directly or indirectly, for other people’s contraception. The policy may have been pushed along by exigencies of Democratic Party constituency politics, but I suspect there’s also a worldview dimension to the mandate, one embodied in one of President Obama’s more controversial appointments—Science and Technology Policy Director John Holdren.

Holdren, as far as I know, wasn’t involved in crafting President Obama’s healthcare plan or the HHS mandate, but the appointment and the mandate both fit the same anti-natalist pattern that has characterized President Obama’s political career at least as far back as his votes against the Born Alive Infant Protection Act when he was an Illinois state senator.

How the Holdren appointment fits the pattern comes to light with only a little digging. In the 1970s, Holdren pushed various population control schemes, not all of them voluntary. Here’s a sampling from his co-authored textbook Ecoscience: Population, Resources, Environment:

“It would even be possible to require pregnant single women to marry or have abortions, perhaps as an alternative to placement for adoption, depending on the society.” (P. 786)

“A program of sterilizing women after their second or third child, despite the relatively greater difficulty of the operation than vasectomy, might be easier to implement than trying to sterilize men. This of course would be feasible only in countries where the majority of births are medically assisted. Unfortunately, such a program therefore is not practical for most less developed countries.” (P. 787)

“The development of a long-term sterilizing capsule that could be implanted under the skin and removed when pregnancy is desired opens additional possibilities for coercive fertility control. The capsule could be implanted at puberty and might be removable, with official permission, for a limited number of births.” (P. 787)

According to Washington Times reporter Amanda Carpenter, Holdren’s office issued a statement distancing him from the forced sterilization policies outlined in the book, while Holdren’s co-authors defended him and themselves by saying the textbook was over 30 years old and that the many unsettling excerpts cited in the media were “description … misrepresented as endorsement.”

Yes, the book is 30 years old; but spending a little time in the pages of the book suggests that, at the time, Holdren and his co-authors meant what they said. Take page 838. If you have time, read the whole page, but here are three passages that stand out:

“Individual rights must be balanced against the power of the government to control human reproduction.”

“The law regulates other highly personal matters. For example, no one may lawfully have more than one spouse at a time. Why should the law not be able to prevent a person from having more than two children?”

“Thus, while the due-process and equal-protection limitations preclude the passage of capricious or discriminatory laws, neither guarantees anyone the right to have more than his or her fair share of children, if such a right is shown to conflict with other rights and freedoms.”

The chapter title that contains this page: “The Human Predicament: Finding a Way Out.”
I realize the HHS mandate is a far cry from the extreme measures suggested in these quotations, but the policy proposals then and now do seem to flow out of the same view of the human person—as a burden rather than as a blessing and potential creator who is able to solve problems and create new wealth and resources.

If you view fertility as a “human predicament” from which we desperately need to find “a way out,” you’re more likely to go looking for some politically feasible policy to limit the number of mouths. The Obama administration may have found just such a politically feasible policy in the mandate to coerce Americans to cover the costs of other people’s contraception. Time will tell.