Thursday, November 19, 2009
Prof. Geoffrey Stone contends, here, that the role of the Catholic Church, and Catholics in securing passage of the Stupak Amendment, and in rejecting a same-sex-marriage law without adequate religious-liberty exemptions, is in worrisome tension with church-state separation and religious liberty. I disagree (and only in part because I do not agree that JFK's vision of the role of religion in America is the best one). Here is the main point:
Freedom of religion in our nation means, first and foremost, the right of individuals to live their lives in accord with their most cherished religious beliefs, and free of government interference. It is not for our government to tell Muslims they must drink alcohol or eat pork, it is not for our government to tell Jews they must consume shrimp or work on Saturday, and it is not for our government to tell Catholics they must have abortions or marry persons of the same-sex.
At the same time, though, the reciprocal of that freedom is an equally fundamental responsibility. This is the responsibility not to use the authority of the government to compel individuals to live their lives in accord with our "religious dictates" that they do not share. Muslims have the right not to consume pork, but they should not use the power of the government to forbid others to eat pork. Jews have the right not to work on Saturday, but they should not use the power of the government to prohibit others from working on Saturday. And Catholics have the right not to marry people of the same sex, but they should not use the power of the government to forbid others from marrying the person they love.
Most of this is not controversial: People should not be compelled to live their lives in accord with others' "religious dictates". (Indeed, they should not be compelled by government to live in accord with their own "religious dictates".) Prof. Stone's mistake, I think, is in suggesting that securing a legislative provision that prevents financial subsidization of abortion "use(s) the authority of government to compel individuals to live their lives in accord with" "religious dictates." First, it is an accessible, reasonable moral position -- not a "religious dictate" -- to hold that abortion violates basic commitments to human equality. Second, and in any event, the government's refusal to fund abortion does not compel people to do anything. (Now, if Prof. Stone wants to argue that the government's refusal to fund school vouchers for parents who object, on religious grounds, to the ideology conveyed in public schools . . . ).