Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Religious freedom is not just freedom to worship

More than forty Catholic institutions initiated lawsuits Monday against the HHS health insurance mandates on the grounds that those mandates not only violate the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (introduced by Senators Kennedy and Schumer, and passed in 1993) but also, of course, the First Amendment guarantees of religious liberty. It seems to me that here Catholics are fighting the good fight for all of us.

A friend draws my attention to George Weigel's commencement address, "Defending Religious Freedom in Full":
...Catholic "at-homeness" in the United States has had a deeper philosophical and moral texture. One of the great Catholic students of American democracy, Father John Courtney Murray, described that side of the Catholic experience of America in these terms, in We Hold These Truths: Catholic Reflections on the American Proposition, a book published fifty-two years ago:
"Catholic participation in the American consensus has been full and free, unreserved and unembarrassed, because the contents of this consensus — the ethical and political principles drawn from the tradition of natural law — approve themselves to the Catholic intelligence and conscience. Where this kind of language is talked, the Catholic joins the conversation with complete ease. It is his language. The ideas expressed are native to his universe of discourse. Even the accent, being American, suits his tongue."
.... Appeals to the natural moral law we can know by reason underwrote the American civil rights revolution. Appeals to that same natural moral law underwrite the pro-life movement, the successor to the civil rights movement. And appeals to the natural moral law have underwritten U.S. international human rights policy for the past thirty years. Until, that is, December 2009, when the Secretary of State of the United States, in a speech at Georgetown University, emptied the concept of religious freedom of everything save the "freedom to worship" while asserting, in a catalogue of what she claimed were fundamental international human rights, that people "must be free...to love in the way they choose" — which "choice" must, presumably, be protected by international human rights covenants and national and local civil rights laws.

This speech, as things turned out, was one harbinger of an assault on religious freedom that continues to this day — an assault that imagines "religious freedom" to be a kind of "privacy right" to certain leisure-time activities, but nothing more than that. This dramatic misconception of religious freedom was evident in the present administration's attempt to re-write federal employment law by dissolving the "ministerial exemption" that had long protected the integrity of religious institutions. It was evident in the administration's refusal to continue funding the U.S. bishops' efforts to help women who had been victims of sex-trafficking (because the Church refused to provide abortion as part of that work). And it has been most dramatically evident in the January HHS mandate that requires all employers (including religious institutions with moral objections and private-sector employers with religiously-informed moral objections) to facilitate the provision of contraceptives, sterilizations, and abortifacient drugs like Plan B and Ella to their employees. ....

What is this "religious freedom in full" that you must defend and advance?

It surely includes freedom of worship, but it must include more than that; the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia is content with freedom of worship, so long as the Christian worship in question takes place behind closed doors in the American embassy compound in Riyadh. Religious conviction is community-forming, and communities formed by religious conviction must be free, as communities and not simply as individuals, to make arguments and bring influence to bear in public life. If religiously informed moral argument is banned from the American public square, then the public square has become, not only naked, but undemocratic and intolerant. If, on the other hand, religiously informed moral argument is welcome in public life, then we have the possibility of rebuilding, not a sacred public square (a goal the Catholic Church rejected at the Second Vatican Council), but a civil public square, in which tolerance is rightly understood as differences engaged within a bond of civility formed by a mutual commitment to reason.

It is a matter of both political common sense and democratic etiquette that Catholics in public life should make our arguments in ways that our fellow-citizens, who may not share our theological premises, can engage and understand — which is to say, in our particular case, that Catholics should bring to bear in public life the moral truths we hold through arguments framed by the grammar and vocabulary of the natural moral law. ....

Religious freedom in full also means that communities of religious conviction and conscience must be free to conduct the works of charity in ways that reflect their conscientious convictions. This is neither the time nor the place to discuss the problems that have been posed by tying so much of Catholic social service work and Catholic health care to government funding — save, perhaps, to note that these problems did not exist before the Supreme Court erected a spurious "right to abortion" as the right-that-trumps-all-other-rights, and before courts and legislatures decided that it was within the state's competence to redefine marriage and to compel others to accept that redefinition through the use of coercive state power. What can be said in this context, and what must be said, is that the rights of Catholic physicians, nurses, and other health care professionals are not second-class rights that can be trumped by other rights-claims; and any state that fails to acknowledge those rights of conscience has done grave damage to religious freedom rightly understood. The same can and must be said about any state that drives the Catholic Church out of certain forms of social service because the Church refuses to concede that the state has the competence to declare as "marriage" relationships that are manifestly not marriages. .... [more]
"Defending Religious Freedom in Full"