October 10, 2012
The Law and Politics
The law and politics are frequent companions even though they are not the same entity. Throughout the history of human made law, politics have often influenced what this law contains, says, and does. While human law is not immune from politics, the natural moral law is. Still, the natural moral law also influences or can influence the human law, and this principle is a part of Catholic social thought, something very much in the news these days. Of course, Catholic social thought also intersects the history of religious freedom. Both elevate human consciousness about the moral implications of issues which are at the center of today’s legal and political discourses, disagreements, and debates.
It is sensible and commendable that the First Amendment of the United States Constitution acknowledges the natural right of religious freedom and the additional natural rights of peaceful assembly and speech. I acknowledge that those with whom I disagree still have the same rights of religion, speech, and assembly which I claim. In a particular case, I also disagree with some of the content of the “On Our Shoulders” statement to which Rick referred earlier today. But still, I acknowledge their right to express their views even though I disagree with them on several bases that are founded on the Church’s teachings. But “On Our Shoulders” is not the only group that is active these days in proclaiming their take on religious freedom through acts of speech.
Another organization, Catholics United has once again become active in this election year. After reviewing many of their latest postings at www.catholics-united.org , I conclude that they are not committed to the same First Amendment principles that I am.
I have on previous occasions discussed the ability of Catholics, including ecclesiastical officials, to exercise their rights and responsibilities in educating the faithful about the moral teachings of the Church. HERE is one illustration from July of this year; here is ANOTHER from October of 2008. As I understand Constitutional law and Catholic social thought, it is crucial to the vitality of the natural rights that the First Amendment acknowledges that these folks with whom I disagree can offer their views on the important issues of the day. However, it is essential that other views that are grounded on objective reason and the teachings of the Church also be welcome in the public square. But some, like Catholics United, do not agree with my position as I have just explained it.
But today’s posting does not end here. Catholic United have initiated as one of their current campaigns the project to “Keep Politics Out of Our Pulpits”, and they have circulated an accompanying pledge seeking support for this project. The pledge is a simple but misdirected appeal to “protect the sacredness of our sanctuaries” “from partisan activity.” While the campaign acknowledges the “moral obligation” of Christians to engage in important public debates, it asserts that this public witness “must not involve using Church assets to expressly support or oppose candidates for elective office.” Well, that is what the law states, but I do not think that is what Catholics United are really concerned about anyone violated the Internal Revenue Code and accompanying regulations. As one looks beyond the pledge campaign of Catholics United and investigates their press releases, it becomes clear that this organization does not care for the teachings of the Church on neuralgic issues or for ecclesiastical officials posting reminders of Church teachings on an archdiocesan website. One of these neuralgic issues concerns the efforts to redefine marriage. Catholics United characterized one ecclesiastical official’s statements on the marriage issue as “far right politics” that “are driving an increasing number of Catholics away from the faith.” There is no mention in this strong critique of the bishop that he has a distinct responsibility to teach the faithful about these teachings and why the Church teaches what she teaches. The disdain which Catholics United has for those who disagree with them is patent. But I return to the pledge to keep politics out of the pulpit.
What would they say about the abolitionist preachers of the ante-bellum United States? What would they say about the Catholic clergy in Germany and the German-occupied states of Europe who preached against the rounding up of Jews prior to and during the Second World War? What would they say about Martin Luther King, Jr.’s sermons on issues dealing with civil rights? These were all matters dealing with political and legal issues of the day that were addressed in a Christian context by clergy. Perhaps Catholics United would respond to this history by stating that these statements were necessary and that is why Catholics United agree with the positions presented from the pulpit. Well, so is it necessary for Church officials to remind the faithful about today’s neuralgic issues, too. I wonder if Catholics United object to Church officials addressing issues from positions with which they, Catholics United, disagree? Perhaps that is why such speakers should be banned from the pulpit? If this is the case, the natural rights of freedom of religion, speech, and assembly must mean little or nothing to Catholics United. Is it conceivable that Catholics United might be contemplating yet another campaign? If so, might it be called: Rights for Me, but Not for Thee? But as you can see, this campaign was initiated during the last election, four years ago.
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