A number of commenters on our brief, initial response to the bishops statement Our First, Most Cherished Liberty, accused Commonweal of being partisan for warning that the bishops statement and initiative run the risk of making the church appear to be aligned with one political party. For expressing concerns about partisan entanglement, Commonweal is accused of being partisan. That is a tiresome rhetorical tactic as well as a misreading of the magazines position. If our critics remain skeptical of Commonweals motives and unpersuaded by our arguments, we urge them to read a letter to the editor in the May issue of First Things from noted First Amendment scholar Douglas Laycock of the University of Virginia. Laycock represented the church in the recent Hasanna-Tabor case, winning a resounding affirmation from the Supreme Court of the right of religious bodies to determine who is or isnt a minister. In responding to an article by O. Carter Snead (subscribers only) attacking the Obama administration, Laycock sets the record straight by noting that the president has been bad on some religious-liberty issues but very good on others. And it is dangerous to religious liberty to see it as a political club with which to beat up the other side. As we argue in our latest editorial (Partisan Dangers), and Laycock warns in his letter, Religious liberty is in danger of becoming just another left-right political issue, and if that happens, the cause is lost. Laycocks letter is well worth reading in its entirety.At National Review online, George Weigel, who has been known to have the ear of influential bishops, has responded to Commonweals cautions about partisan entanglement by claiming the following: Would that we had two political parties that honored religious freedom in full. But we dont. And this argument will not be resolved at some mythical 50-yard line where all of us learn to just get along. Someone is going to win this debate over the future of civil society, and someone is going to lose it.No one could accuse George Weigel of ever wasting his time at the 50-yard line in either religion or politics, although he has on more than a few occasions mistaken failure for mission accomplished. But if Weigels call to battle and demand for unconditional surrender is in fact the view of the bishops, we fear their cause is already lost.
Paul Baumann is Commonweal’s senior writer.