In a nation founded upon (at least in part) the ability to practice one’s religious beliefs without government interference, we Americans are in a weird spot. It seems that everywhere we turn, folks who practice their religious beliefs are under assault. Again, weird, since most of us who do practice our faith don’t try to cram it down anyone’s throat. Even groups like the Jehovah’s Witnesses – well-known for their door-to-door proselytizing – are happy to step off your front porch if you aren’t interested in what they have to say. (more…)
The domestic threat to religious liberty and the global slaughter of Christians around the globe is becoming harder to ignore. It certainly is now one of the most important news stories to follow for the New Year.
Yesterday, I delivered a lecture on the topic of religious liberty to the faculty of Concordia Theological Seminary in Fort Wayne, Ind. My Acton commentary is an abbreviated version of the portion of the lecture that focused on the current domestic threat. I’ve already talked about how the American Civil Rights Movement might be one model to push back against the rising tide of Christian persecution in this country. It is becoming increasingly clear that churches need to do a better job preparing believers to handle and deal with religious persecution.
We are really living through a dangerous era of historic revisionism, where the agenda to drastically curb the influence of religion and a faith informed virtue from the public square is strengthening. I simply ask in my piece, “What would Western Civilization look like without God, and more specifically the Lord Jesus Christ? Francis Cardinal George warns us that “secularism is communism’s better-scrubbed bedfellow. (more…)
Yesterday, there was a panel discussion on religious liberty sponsored by the Center for American Progress in Washington. Joel Gehrke has an excellent summation of the event in the Washington Examiner that highlighted some remarks by C. Welton Gaddy.
Later in the talk, Gaddy agreed with an interlocutor who asked if liberals “need to start educating, and calling out, Christians for trying to exercise ‘Christian privilege.'”
“As a Christian” — a big part of Gaddy’s rhetorical power seemed to derive from the fact that, as a Christian and a former Southern Baptist, he could ratify all of the CAP audience’s views of the people with whom they disagreed — “I think Christians ought to start calling each other out, because I think you’re exactly right,” he said.
This kind of nonsensical language echoes a kind of NewSpeak highlighted by George Orwell in his novel 1984. It is a controlled language created by the state and their apparatchiks as a tool to silence freedom of thought and conscience. We’ve seen it too by former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and others in the Obama administration, who have subtly shifted away from the term religious freedom, preferring to call it “freedom of worship” instead. The shift highlights the goal by many of the secular left to confine or ghettoize religious freedom to the four walls of churches. You can believe what you want and practice whatever you want as long as it is contained to the four walls of the church.
Last week, an exciting new organization called the Transatlantic Christian Council (TCC) hosted its inaugural conference. The theme of the conference was “Sustaining Freedom”, which aligns well with the Council’s mission “to develop a transatlantic public policy network of European and North American Christians and conservatives in order to promote the civic good, as understood within the Judeo-Christian tradition on which our societies are largely based.”
What I find most exciting about this Council, for which I commend Todd Huizinga and Henk Jan van Schothorst on their vision and initiative in founding, is this: like the Acton Institute, the TCC is not exclusively devoted to just one aspect of life, but rather aims to provide a forum for conversation on a broad range of life’s many important and fundamental human questions.
The starting point for these conversations is with a basic concept of human dignity. This concept is rooted in an openness to the idea of man as an image of God — endowed with the capacities for willfulness and reason, a creature and a sub-creator. And it is this understanding of the human person that serves as a point of departure for working through all sorts of interesting questions of politics, economics, liberty, government, religion, and family.
When I mentioned to a friend that I would be travelling to Belgium for this conference, he said to me: “Be sure they don’t euthanize you and harvest your organs!”
“Well,” I thought to myself, “that’s certainly a novel way to wish someone a good trip.”
Mary Ann Glendon makes an excellent point about the outcry for more corporate responsibility while government is simultaneously stripping away the rights of religious conscience of businesses. In The Boston Globe, Glendon notes,
The simple truth is that if we want businesses, incorporated or not, to be responsible for their actions, they must be treated as having some moral agency. And with moral agency and accountability must go the freedom to act in accordance with conscience.
The push to ghettoize freedom of religion solely into the houses of worship is of course a disturbing trend. When the religious rights of civil society are pushed aside and made subservient to the state, we get not the church serving as conscience, but the state ruling tyrannically over man. “Once religion is reduced to nothing more than privatized conscience, the public square has only two actors in it—the state and the individual,” says Richard John Neuhaus.
Read the entire article.
The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) has issued a “special letter” regarding the Obama administration’s HHS mandate. The USCCB, meeting this month in Baltimore, passed the letter unanimously.
Calling the HHS mandate “coercive,” the bishops state that they have tried to work with the current administration, to no avail.
Beginning in March 2012, in United for Religious Freedom, we identified three basic problems with the HHS mandate: it establishes a false architecture of religious liberty that excludes our ministries and so reduces freedom of religion to freedom of worship; it compels our ministries to participate in providing employees with abortifacient drugs and devices, sterilization, and contraception, which violates our deeply-held beliefs; and it compels our faithful people in business to act against our teachings, failing to provide them any exemption at all. (more…)
“Will the most fundamental liberty of all – freedom of conscience – survive in post-Obama America?” asks Terry Jeffrey at Townhall.com. He, along with many others, is worried about the Obama Administration’s refusal to allow faithful Christians to live according to their conscience. He is particularly concerned about the Kennedy family, owners of Autocam, based in Kentwood, Mich. Last month, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 6th Circuit ruled that the Kennedys may not sue the director of the Health and Human Services Department, Kathleen Sebelius, because “Autocam is not a ‘person’ capable of ‘religious exercise.’” President of Autocam and Autocam Medical and an Acton board member, John Kennedy told Jeffrey that he and his family “strive to live all parts of their lives – including their business lives – in keeping with their Catholic faith.” He said that:
We’re called into different occupations, but we are supposed to respond to that call and try to basically show the teachings of Jesus Christ in everything we do… You have an obligation to treat everyone justly, and, in my mind, you are supposed to treat all people that you come across in life as part of your family.
Jeffrey discussed the HHS Mandate with Kennedy:
When I interviewed John Kennedy this week, I asked him: “Can your family-owned company, in keeping with the way you have run it in accordance with your Catholic faith, obey that regulation?”
“No,” said Kennedy. “I can’t see how we can do that.” (more…)
The Little Sisters of the Poor are an international congregation of Catholic women religious who serve the elderly poor in over 30 countries around the world. Because they provide health insurance for workers who help them in their cause, the Obama administration is forcing them to help provide their employees with free access to abortion-inducing drugs, sterilizations, and contraceptives. If they refuse, the government is threatening them with multi-million dollar fines. The Becket Fund for Religious Liberty has filed a lawsuit on their behalf asking that the nuns be given the right to continue with their ministry caring for the elderly poor and providing health benefits to their employees without having to violate their consciences.
Kathryn Jean Lopez of National Review Online recently talked to Sister Constance Veit, L.S.P., communications director for the Little Sisters of the Poor, about the lawsuit and religious freedom:
Religious intolerance is increasingly common around the world, and Sudan is one country where Christians are especially vulnerable. As a minority in a nation that is 97 percent Muslim, Christians there are worried that their right to practice their faith freely is more and more at risk. According to , a two-decade long civil war continues to fester.
The two regions had fought a two-decade long civil war that ended in 2005, following the signing of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement. The pact granted the South Sudanese a referendum after a six-year interim period and independence six months later. In the referendum, the people of South Sudan chose separation.
But while the separation is praised as good for political reasons, several churches in Khartoum, the northern capital, have been destroyed and others closed down along with affiliated schools and orphanages.
Christians in Sudan are facing increased arrests, detention and deportation with church-associated centers being raided and foreign missionaries kicked out, according to the leaders.
There is little doubt that America is moving further away from the kind of broad and liberal religious freedom that was championed during the founding period. In terms of intellectual thought, that period was certainly the high water mark for religious liberty around the globe. As Americans celebrate their freedoms and Independence next week, I seek to answer the question in this week’s commentary about America’s ability to remain the land of religious liberty.
Sadly, the outlook is rather bleak, and America will need a fundamental shift in thinking to secure protection for the rights of conscience and houses of worship. It’s evident the significance of spiritual freedom is waning and can’t really be articulated by the wider culture. Spiritual freedom is essential to self-government and self-control. In fact, I make the point in my commentary that the most dangerous detriment to religious liberty is the popular notion that religion and faith constricts liberty. Obviously, just winning mere court cases is not enough. That ship has sailed.
I suspect today’s Supreme Court ruling regarding the Defense of Marriage Act will only complicate matters of religious conscience for churches and dissent from culture and society becomes more dangerous. Secularization of society and the rise of centralized federal power is creating a government that seeks to operate above fundamental truths and the rights of conscience. It seeks to crowd it out and diminish its influence and limiting power upon the state. During his closing address at Acton University, Samuel Gregg explained so well how moral relativism now operates in a dictatorial fashion.
Just before the Declaration of Independence was adopted in 1776, John Adams wrote a letter to his cousin Zabdiel that I think points to our inevitable path as a nation without a rejuvenated appreciation and understanding of religious liberty. Adams declared,
The only foundation of a free constitution is pure virtue, and if this cannot be inspired into our people in a greater measure than they have it now, They may change their rulers and the forms of government, but they will not obtain a lasting liberty. They will only exchange tyrants and tyrannies.