Tied to the mast

The “religious freedom” line of argument employed by the Catholic bishops against the government’s recent intrusions into their affairs fails on many levels. Besides squandering a good teaching opportunity by making it about ourselves and our convictions instead of actually explaining and defending those convictions, there’s the obvious problem that it’s not clear whose vision of “religious freedom” they’re talking about. They obviously don’t mean it in the Dignitatis Humanae sense, which mostly outlines a narrow duty of religious toleration on the part of Catholics toward others in service to the common good, so they must mean it in something like the overly-broad-reading-of-the-First-Amendment sense. What an error in judgment! Now they are tied to the mast of a Constitution which, if it ever meant anything, is constantly being redefined and reinvented to the Church’s detriment. The longer they take to abandon that sinking ship, the more unprincipled and opportunistic they will look when they do so.

4 thoughts on “Tied to the mast

  1. This is off topic (I am in complete agreement with the post, of course), but does anyone else have the utmost difficulty seeing what text is linked? Usually I have to go off the context alone.

  2. The argument for “free exercise” of religion is, as you say, very weak. In general the courts have found that the guarantee of free exercise does not protect an activity that is illegal, provided the activity was not made illegal specifically to persecute the religion. There is not much consistency here–Mormons had to renounce polygamy, Native Americans are allowed to ingest peyote, Catholics could drink eucharistic wine during Prohibition–but the it is pretty clear that the State decides what it will and will not tolerate. In any case, Catholics are not claiming a right to do anything, only a right to be exempted from doing something.

    The argument should be based on the “no establishment” clause of First Amendment, since the objectionable practices are grounded in a quasi-religious metaphysical system, and because Catholics are demanding exemption, not permission. The bishops should talk about Secular Humanism (I’d prefer they simply say Humanism) as the de facto state religion, claim exemption from its rights and rituals, and then criticize it as a false religion.

  3. It also bothers me immensely that the bishops seem only to be fighting for “religious organizations,” however defined. They should also be fighting for Hobby Lobby and other organizations that have owners who object to abortion and contraception.


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