Saturday, September 27, 2008
An excellent primer / post, by Fr. Richard Neuhaus, on religious freedom and the First Amendment:
Fr. John Courtney Murray, author of We Hold These Truths and a champion of religious freedom at the Second Vatican Council, observed that, while in theory politics should be unified by revealed truth, “it seems that pluralism is written into the script of history.” I would go further and suggest that it is God who has done the writing.
Pluralism is our continuing condition and our moral imperative until the End Time, when, as Christians believe, our disagreements will be resolved in the coming of the kingdom. The protection against raw majoritarianism depends upon this constitutional order. But this constitutional order depends, in turn, upon the continuing ratification of the majority who are “we the people.” Among the truths these people hold is the truth that it is necessary to protect those who do not hold those truths.
It is a remarkable circumstance, this American circumstance. It is also fragile. We may wish that Lincoln was wrong when he observed that “In this age, and this country, public sentiment is everything.” But he was right, and in the conflict over slavery he was to see public sentiment, both among the abolitionists and the slave owners, turn against the constitutional order and nearly bring it to irretrievable ruin. We are dangerously deceived if we think that Lincoln’s observation about our radical dependence upon public sentiment is less true today.
The question of religious freedom, then, is not—at least not the first instance—about church-state relations. As a matter of historical fact, very few of the controverted questions coming before the courts that are described in terms of church-state relations have to do with the relationship between government and churches. The question is the access, indeed the full and unencumbered participation, of men and women, of citizens, who bring their opinions, sentiments, convictions, prejudices, visions, and communal traditions of moral discernment to bear on our public deliberation of how we ought to order our life together in this experiment that aspires toward representative democracy. It is, of course, an aspiration always imperfectly realized. . . .
Read the whole thing . . . .