Excellent address by Archbp. Chaput on the attacks on religious liberty

Archbishop Charles Chaput of Philadelphia has some remarks on religious liberty which I found on the site of the Witherspoon Institute.  My emphases and comments.

Our First Right: Religious Liberty

[…]

Simply put, religious freedom is a fundamental natural right and first among our civil liberties. And I believe this fact is borne out by the priority protection it specifically enjoys, along with freedom of expression, in the Constitution’s First Amendment.

I’d like to make four brief points.

Here’s my first point: Religious faith and practice are cornerstones of the American experience. It’s worth recalling that James Madison, John Adams, Charles Carroll, John Jay, George Washington, Alexander Hamilton, Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Jefferson—in fact, nearly all the American Founders—saw religious faith as vital to the life of a free people. They believed that liberty and happiness grow organically out of virtue. And virtue needs grounding in religious faith.

To put it another way: At the heart of the American model of public life is an essentially religious vision of man, government, and God. This model has given us a free, open, and non-sectarian society marked by an astonishing variety of cultural and religious expressions. But our system’s success does not result from the procedural mechanisms our Founders put in place. Our system works precisely because of the moral assumptions that undergird it. And those moral assumptions have a religious grounding.  [The Obama Administration is purposely attacking this foundation.]

When the Founders talked about religion, they meant something much more demanding than a vague “spirituality.” The distinguished legal scholar Harold Berman showed that the Founders—though they had differing views about religious faith among themselves—understood religion positively as “both belief in God and belief in an after-life of reward for virtue, and punishment for sin.” In other words, religion mattered—personally and socially. [NB] It was more than a private preference. It made people live differently and live better. And therefore people’s faith was assumed to have broad implications, including the social, economic, and political kind. [The Obama Administration is trying to change the parameters of religious freedom and our 1st Amendment rights.  Listen for how they shift the language from freedom of religion to freedom of worship.  The former means we have the right to a voice in the public square which includes expression and action according to our faith.  The later means that we have the right to pray, but behind the closed doors of a church or our homes.  To that end, the Archbishop continues…]

That leads to my second point: Freedom of religion is more than freedom of worship. The right to worship is a necessary but not a sufficient part of religious liberty. For most religious believers, and certainly for Christians, faith requires community. It begins in worship, but it also demands preaching, teaching, and service; in other words, active engagement with society. Faith is always personal but never private. And it involves more than prayer at home and Mass on Sunday—although these things are vitally important. Real faith always bears fruit in public witness and public action. Otherwise it’s just empty words.

The Founders saw the value of publicly engaged religious faith because they inherited its legacy and experienced its formative influence themselves. They created a nation designed in advance to depend on the moral convictions of religious believers, and to welcome their active role in public life.

Here’s my third point: Threats against religious freedom in our country are not imaginary or overstated. [OORAH!] They’re happening right now. They’re immediate, serious, and realLast year religious liberty advocates won a significant and appropriate Supreme Court victory in the 9-0 Hosanna-Tabor v. EEOC decision. But what was stunning even to the justices in that case was the disregard for traditional constitutional understandings of religious freedom shown by the government’s arguments [Let’s put a name to “government’s”… “PRES. OBAMA’S”!] against the Lutheran church and school.

Hosanna-Tabor is not an isolated case. It belongs to a pattern of government coercion that includes the current administration’s HHS mandate, which violates the religious identity and mission of many religiously affiliated or inspired public ministries; interfering with the conscience rights of medical providers, private employers, and individual citizens; and attacks on the policies, hiring practices, and tax statuses of religious charities and ministries.

Why is this hostility happening? I believe much of it links to Catholic and other religious teaching on the dignity of life and human sexuality. Catholic moral convictions about abortion, contraception, the purpose of sexuality, and the nature of marriage are rooted not just in revelation, but also in reason and natural law. Human beings have a nature that’s not just the product of accident or culture, but inherent, universal, and rooted in permanent truths knowable to reason.

This understanding of the human person is the grounding of the entire American experiment. If human nature is not much more than modeling clay, and no permanent human nature exists by the hand of the Creator, then natural, unalienable rights obviously can’t exist. And no human “rights” can finally claim priority over the interests of the state.

The problem, as law scholar Gerard Bradley points out, is that critics of religious faith tend to reduce all of these moral convictions to an expression of subjective beliefs. [The phrase “dictatorship of relativism” comes to mind.] And if they’re purely subjective beliefs, then—so the critics argue—they can’t be rationally defended. And because they’re rationally indefensible, they should be treated as a form of prejudice. In effect, two thousand years of moral experience, moral reasoning, and religious conviction become a species of bias. And arguing against same-sex “marriage” thus amounts to religiously blessed homophobia.

There’s more, though. When religious belief is redefined downward to a kind of private bias, then the religious identity of institutional ministries has no public value—other than the utility of getting credulous people to do good things. [Rawls popped into my mind at this point.] So exempting Catholic adoption agencies, for example, from placing children with gay couples becomes a concession to private prejudice. And concessions to private prejudice feed bigotry and hurt the public. Or so the reasoning goes. This is how moral teaching and religious belief end up being branded as hate speech.

Here’s my fourth and final point: From the beginning, believers—alone and in communities—have shaped American history simply by trying to live their faith in the world. We need to realize that America’s founding documents assume an implicitly religious anthropology—an idea of human nature, nature’s God, and natural rights—that many of our leaders no longer really share.

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We ignore that unhappy fact at our own expense. [I would say… at our peril.]

Charles J. Chaput, a Capuchin Franciscan, is the archbishop of Philadelphia and the author of Render Unto Caesar.

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11 Responses to Excellent address by Archbp. Chaput on the attacks on religious liberty

  1. “the current administration’s HHS mandate […] interfering with the conscience rights of […] individual citizens”

    So, if a penitent confesses whatever but also adds that he’s just going to keep paying into the abortifacient insurance thing, which has been said to be formal cooperation at least by Cardinal Burke and perhaps intimated also by the Archbishop here, is that penitent to be given absolution?

  2. Johnno says:

    Well so far in the U.S. many have taken away freedom of religion, forced you to buy medical insurance you don’t want, forced you to pay for contraceptives, forced you to take down crosses, forced you not to pray in public, forced you not to put up nativity scenes, takes away your right to bear arms, spies on you, violates your privacy, protects corporatism, endangers homeschooling, forces secular indoctrination on morals and science, has set up an insane number of unknown laws and regulations, can’t buy this milk, can’t grow that food, can’t sell lemonade without a permit, can’t own your own taxi cab, can’t legally own gold and silver currency, can’t produce this much arbitrary levels of Co2, can’t draw a Superman comic if you think heterosexualty is right, can’t enter a Presidential debate as a third party candidate without belonging to the two established parties, can have property seized at will, can have your money seized at will, can be arrested without a warrant if they call you a terrorist, can be tried without a jury, can be detained indefinately, can be killed by a drone, practically all rights and liberty is being extinguished in the name of terror and tolerance etc. etc. etc.

    But look on the bright side… it’s more important to the voting public that homosexuals can pretend they are married, others get a contraceptive hand out or two! Minature American flags for everybody! As long as that happens, everything is fine!

  3. BLB Oregon says:

    “Human beings have a nature that’s not just the product of accident or culture, but inherent, universal, and rooted in permanent truths knowable to reason.”

    I have wondered again and again at the willful embrace of more than just ignorance but of utter jaw-dropping falsehood that is necessary for a person to insist with a straight face that there is a no substantial and inescapable difference in kind between homosexual partnerships and homosexual partnerships, even just in terms of what business a secular state has in regulating or encouraging either one. What sort of knot does a person have to tie into their brain to even make that possible? The way people have stampeded to force themselves to believe such an enormous falsehood is an “Emperor’s New Clothes” kind of stampede, only far worse.

  4. albinus1 says:

    Simply put, religious freedom is a fundamental natural right and first among our civil liberties. And I believe this fact is borne out by the priority protection it specifically enjoys, along with freedom of expression, in the Constitution’s First Amendment. (Emphasis mine.)

    Nice, but the fact that freedom of religion is in the “first” amendment is a historical accident. What we call the “first” amendment is actually the third proposed amendment in the original Bill of Rights; the first two didn’t pass or weren’t ratified at the time. (One of the two was later ratified and became the 27th amendment.) And the proposed amendments were not listed in order of importance, but were listed in the order of the portion of the original Constitution which they were intended to amend.

  5. tealady24 says:

    “We need to realize that America’s founding documents assume an implicitly religious anthropology—an idea of human nature, nature’s God, and natural rights—that many of our leaders no longer really share.”
    Really? Leaders? To my mind all they are are multi-millionaires with tremendous power to squash the rest of us down. They continue to get re-elected, (never mind elected), so what is that saying about this culture we are living in?
    In the Internet age, it is ALL subjective belief. Don’t tread on me!

  6. Why is this hostility happening? I believe much of it links to Catholic and other religious teaching on the dignity of life and human sexuality. Catholic moral convictions about abortion, contraception, the purpose of sexuality, and the nature of marriage are rooted not just in revelation, but also in reason and natural law.

    I’ll see the archbishop and raise him. The hostility is also happening because Catholics have caved on the question of contraceptives, and the world knows it. Thus we forfeited the political clout we once had, which kept politicians from daring to propose a lot of the morally destructive measures that are so commonplace today. Now our enemies are attacking us on the question of contraception, and feel perfectly entitled to call us hypocrites for suddenly caring about a doctrine that we’ve been flouting for decades.

  7. Facta Non Verba says:

    Excellent!

    I read today that Franciscan University is promising to appeal the federal judge’s decision to deny its lawsuit challenging the HHS mandate. I pray that our fine Catholic institutions do not lose hope, and keep up the fight.

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  9. Cathy says:

    Great points, I am a Catholic, not a Catholic Institution. I am an employee, not an employer. I buy insurance through my employer. Am I sinning by doing this? If I don’t have insurance and become ill will I be cared for in a Catholic Hospital at the same rate that the individual with insurance/medicare/medicaid is billed? If I refuse insurance and pay the proposed penalty, am I still sinning by paying for what I avoided in paying for insurance by paying the penalty. Beyond the money side of this, the government can’t print doctors and nurses, how many will simply find a different job because they are forced out by the increasing necessity to answer to a bureaucracy as opposed to patient care?

  10. Mary T says:

    albinus1 – “the fact that freedom of religion is in the ‘first’ amendment is a historical accident.”

    WOW!!! THAT’S what you got out of Chaput’s argument? Way to strain at a gnat and swallow a camel (or maybe, way to notice the speck and miss the beam!)

    Who cares? Besides, there “accidents” and “coincidences” are just the flip side of the action of the Holy Spirit! Freedom of religion DID in deed and in fact end up first!

  11. veritasmeister says:

    It is good and commendable for Archbishop Chaput to champion the rightful freedoms and prerogatives of the Church against secular aggressions, but most unfortunate that he does so in a rather questionable manner and that Fr. Z chooses to go along with it.

    Undifferentiated religious liberty for all, regardless of what people doctrinally believe, is not a traditional Catholic doctrine. One only has to look at 1,500 years of normative Catholic teaching, disciplines, and values to see that. And our USA founders’ Lockean vision imposed liberalism of civil authority to snuff out the Social Reign of Christ and its de facto Catholic underpinning. Obama is simply the logical progression of our founding, not a sharp departure from it. The archbishop believes the country was actually founded on a religious vision of public life? Then why is God not mentioned even once in the Constitution? And why did any number of Protestant ministers during the 1800s lament this fact, failing in efforts to amend the document to recognize Christ, and noting that even a new country founded by native Indians or Muslims would have given more due recognition to God?

    Time to put aside those George Weigel and Dennis Prager missives, and cancel the subscription to First Things. Instead, how about we study and reflect upon what Gregory XVI and Pius IX had to say about religious freedom, what Leo XIII had to say about Americanism, and what Pius X had to say about the separation of Church and State?