Tuesday, February 17, 2004
Rob's recent post (below) asks excellent questions: "Are American Catholics well-served in seeking top-down implementation of the common good on contested moral issues?" And, "is there an argument that Catholics’ own self-interest compels them, for example, to support, at least instrumentally, the Supreme Court’s morally agnostic reasoning in Lawrence v. Texas?" And, "shouldn’t Catholics be . . . hesitant to impose their conception of the common good in areas where the majority’s view currently comports with the moral anthropology?"
A few thoughts in response: If Catholics believe that the state (or, the "public authority") is morally obligated to pursue, promote, and protect the "common good," then I see no reason why Catholics should support the Court's "morally agnostic reasoning" -- or, indeed, any other government policy -- that undermines or attacks that "common good." (After all, as I understand it, the Catholic claim is that some state action in fact, and objectively, undermines the common good of all.) That some misperceive (or, perceive differently) the common good does not, in my view, meant that Catholics should not propose, in the public square, their moral claims. If the majority disagrees with these claims, then the claims will be rejected. Of course, in some (many?) cases, the common good is well served -- as Rob's post suggests -- by an acceptance, and even an embrace, of pluralism.
I'm reminded by Rob's post of the debate, in the First Amendment context, about "viewpoint neutrality" and public-forum doctrine. As most of us are probably aware, religious "speakers" and actors have won several victories in the Supreme Court in recent years, by framing religious faith as a "viewpoint" for First Amendment purposes, a viewpoint toward which the government must be "neutral." As some have suggested, though (if I remember, our colleague Professor Brady has written about this), this way of "framing" religious worship, prayer, evangelizing, etc., might actually be unfaithful to what the faith really is. In other words, "religion" has achieved some "wins" by using the tools of First Amendment neutrality and official moral agnosticism. But at what cost?