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Religious freedom & the U.S. Catholic bishops

Today, the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops Ad Hoc Committee for Religious Liberty released a statement, Our First, Most Cherished Liberty, calling on Catholics and others to resist what the bishops characterize as unprecedented threats to religious freedom. The statement calls for a national campaign of political and legal resistance. It also urges Catholics to participate in a Fortnight for Freedom leading up to this years Fourth of July holiday, during which they are asked to study, pray, and protest against the supposed efforts of government to curtail the free exercise of religion. Among the bishops concerns are the recent HHS contraception mandate, harsh immigration laws, the denial of federal funding to Catholic social-service agencies, and the closing of Catholic adoption services because of the churchs refusal to place children with gay parents.The bishops are right to call for vigilance on behalf of religious liberty. There are influential currents of opinion today that advocate restricting the presence of religion in public life and would reduce religious liberty to the freedom of individuals or congregations to worship as they please. That is not the American way. There should be considerable room for government to cooperate with religious groups as with other non-governmental bodies in serving the common good. Unfortunately, the argument made by the bishops as well as their proposed tactics for public action undermine their case. Worse, the tenor of the bishops statement runs the risk of making this into a partisan issue during a presidential election in which the leaders of one party have made outlandish claims about a war on religion or a war against the Catholic Church.The USCCBs statement vastly exaggerates the extent to which American freedoms of all sorts and of religious freedom in particular are threatened. Church-state relations are complicated, requiring the careful weighing of competing moral claims. The USCCBs statement fails to acknowledge that fact. Worse, strangely absent from the list of examples provided by the bishops is the best-documented case of growing hostility to religious presence in the United States: hostility to Islam. Unless the bishops correct that oversight, their statement will only feed the impression that this campaign for religious freedom has been politically tailored. This silence is especially striking in view of the parallels between anti-Muslim sentiment today and the prejudice encountered by Catholic immigrants in the nineteenth century. If religious freedom becomes a partisan issue, its future is sure to grow dimmer, not brighter. Religious liberty, absolutely. Partisan politics, no.


Commenting Guidelines

Mr. Musman --at 7:08 a.m.You have named only one former fellow-traveller, Obama himself as a youth. You have named not one Communist in Obama's administration. But you said there are Communists (plural). That's a serious accusation. Who are they? Name names. You also vilify Saul Alinsky. Did you know that he was a very close friend of Jacques Maritain who was a close friend of Pope Paul VI? Does that make Pope Paul a Communist by association too?(And I thought that such silly accusations of guilt by association died with the McCarthy generation! It seems some people never learn.)

Bruce --"Freedom of religion" includes both freedom of belief and freedom of practice, which includes among other things freedom of worship. I support all three. My post was about freedom to practice, including freedom to do good secular works out of religious motives.Yes, Christ preached actively and did good works in His community. But note that the bishops are not the whole body of Christ. According to Vat II it is the specific function the bishops to preach the general principles and the function of the faithful, who are also part of the body of Christ, to work to have those principles instantiated in the community. You over specify what bishops are for.I'm not sure what you're saying about my view of religious and secular goods. I think that secular goods are indeed good, and that is why our religion motivates us to make them real for the common good. Religious goods are, of course, good, but many non-religious people don't appreciate that fact.

Ann,Vatican II did not specify that every believer is a leader. The body generally goes where the mind tells it. And the apostolic tradition makes the bishops the leaders of the Catholic Church.Sorry I was unclear about goods. My point is that a true good is a good regardless of the adjective used to describe it (eg secular or religious). In other words, a true good is both a secular good and a religious good. Goods which are only religious or only secular cannot be true goods. For example, traditional marriage is a true human good. Both secular and religious consider it a good. In the case of gay marriage, it is a true human good if the Catholic Church is wrong, or it is not a good at all if the State of MA (to pick one political entity) is wrong. The fact that they disagree does not make it a secular good. A real good can only be a real good if both adjectives apply to it.

Bruce --Have you read Lumen Gentium and Gaudiam et Spes? They don't talk about the bishops as "leaders" , they talk about them as teachers of the faithful. They are talked about as governors -- of the Church. And the faithful specifically are called upon to influence the secular world. They don't say bishops should never be involved in political affairs, but that certainly is not their specific function generally. Civic affairs are the domin of the laity specifically.

An outstanding analysis of the legal issues at hand by Prof. Kaveny is at"So we have a four step box dance that goes like this : 1) The bishops focus the attention on the absolute right to religious freedom; 2) when people say, What about Smith (the basic case on the matter); they respond look at the exceptions to Smith; and 3) when people say, well, actually, deciding whether an exception applies requires a careful balancing test, taking into account the interests of the government; 4) they respond, the right to religious freedom is basic and absolute. And were back where we started...If you want to get into the weeds, lets get into the weeds. Things arent as clear there. And you have to take into account the governments interest as well."

When asked about the greatest commandment in the law, Jesus said to love God with all one's heart, soul, strength and one's neighbor as oneself. This indeed was also the teaching of the Hebrew prophets, and Christ's answer received an admiring response from the scribe who asked the question. It seems to me that the teaching Church's stance against contraception fails exactly on this point. It does not lead to love of neighbor but rather the reverse--serious harm first and foremost to the family unit. If everyone followed the teaching Church's demands, the world would become even more overpopulated, not exactly a demonstration of love of neighbor either! Not a shred of Biblical teaching supports the view, only a flawed, man-made interpretation of natural law. The majority of American Catholics still rejects this teaching after forty years of Humanae Vitae. For the bishops, or whatever group among them who is pushing this issue, it seems strange to talk about religious freedom. They seem to be talking about the freedom of the leaders to teach, not the freedom of the rank and file who long ago rejected the teaching, and, I believe, on the best of grounds, i.e., according to the lights of their consciences this prohibition does not lead to love of neighbor, but just the opposite.

Interesting reading in theunday Review's dialogue from Rabbi Rosen.IMO his voice on religion in the public sqare deseves much consideration!

If the bishops' statement was about religious freedom in general, why did they not get together with leaders from other religions and issue a general, joint statement? Surely that would be much more compelling than just the Catholic lens (even if that lens claims to be universal). Isn't the possibility of such actions one of the side benefits of ecumenism and of Nostra Aetete?

In today's diocesan paper our bishop, Apb. Gregory Aymond, makes no mention in his weekly column of the "war on Catholcism" initiative at all. Good to know there seems to be at least one bishop who isn't enthusiastic about it.

107-odd comments, and no one has addressed either Charles Camosy or Robert Imbelli's thoughtful comments. Michael Moreland had an interesting proposal on Mirror of Justice:"So here's a proposal: in this election year, let's talk about the merits of particular issues drawing upon the rich tradition of Catholic thought, avoid cheap allegations of partisanship against the bishops or anyone else, and let the electoral consequences fall where they may."

Jeff,Speaking only for myself, I have no problem with Michael Moreland's proposal. As for the point made by Charlie Camosy and Jim Pauwels on this thread, I'd offer qualified agreement. No, there's nothing necessarily partisan (as opposed to ideological) about the bishops' list of grievances -- nor would there be even if it didn't include a complaint against the Alabama immigration law, which was supported by conservatives, not liberals. As Jim says, the question is not whether a Democratic administration is responsible for the federal policies to which the bishops object, but whether they would have objected if these same policies had been implemented by a Republican administration. I think they would have.But there is another question, which has less to do with the substance of the bishops' argument than with its timing and manner of expression. Is the statement brazenly partisan? No, I don't think so. Does its rhetoric lend itself (unnecessarily) to partisan exploitation during a campaign season? Maybe. I'm not sure. I am sure, though, that the bishops could have done more to minimize the likelihood of such exploitation -- and, with it, the risk that their statement will backfire. To mention only the example Jim himself brought up, they could have said something about the many new local initiatives to make it harder for Muslims to build mosques. It isn't that the threats to religious freedom the bishops discuss aren't real and important (though some are more important than others); it's that they should have included threats to the religious freedom of non-Christians in their bill of particulars if they wanted to persuade readers that "this is not a Catholic issue. This is not a Jewish issue. This is not an Orthodox, Mormon or Muslim issue. It is an American issue."

"I suspect that the bishops might want to have it all ways."Amen to that. The bishops and those who are taking their line want to argue against the mandate, on the grounds that no one should be required to pay for someone else's contraception (see George Weigel's piece at NRO). Then they also want to say this controversy is about religious freedom, not contraception. They keep toggling between these two arguments as if there were no difference between them. But the argument that it's wrong for the state to force anyone to help pay for someone else's contraception is an argument about contraception, whether or not it is an argument about the morality of contraception.

"its that they should have included threats to the religious freedom of non-Christians in their bill of particulars if they wanted to persuade readers that this is not a Catholic issue. This is not a Jewish issue. This is not an Orthodox, Mormon or Muslim issue. It is an American issue."I suspect that the bishops might want to have it all ways: they'd like Catholics to perceive this as a Catholic issue (wagering that that would motivate them for tribal reasons), and also attract allies from other denominations and faiths.

To any Religious group in history that has been truly oppressed: Jews, Mormons, Catholics in China, Protestants in Catholic Europe, Seventh-Day-Adventists, etc. the bill of particulars presented by the Ad Hoc Committee would seem a cruel joke and an insult.