Mirror of Justice

A blog dedicated to the development of Catholic legal theory.
Affiliated with the Program on Church, State & Society at Notre Dame Law School.

Thursday, June 24, 2021

The Tablet's mistake about church-state "separation"

In this editorial ("Bishops must not bar Biden"), the editors of The Tablet say the following:

[The American bishops] want Mr Biden, a practising Catholic, to commit to the repeal of federal laws that allow women access to legal abortion, which he has said he will not do, though he is personally opposed to abortion. The pressure they hope to apply to him by denying his access to Communion is a brazen infringement of the separation of Church and State, guaranteed by the Constitution of the US.

The first sentence inaccurately characterizes the policy matters in question:  President Biden has committed (that is, he has changed his mind about) to change federal policy and to provide public funding for abortions and supports a federal move to displace regulations, in state law, of abortion.  (It is the Supreme Court's interpretation of the Constitution, and not any particular federal laws, that "allow women access" to legal abortion.)  It also reports that the President is "personally opposed to abortion" and while I do not purport to know all that the President believes, it is not clear to me that it is plausible, given his policy positions and his public statements and campaigning on the matter, to describe his view that way.  

The second quoted sentence is entirely mistaken about the "separation of Church and State" which is "guaranteed by the Constitution of the US."  (See Robby George's earlier post, here.)  The Constitution's no-establishment rule has nothing, at all, do to with what religious leaders say to their co-religionists about their moral obligations, including their obligations as public officials.  Although I welcome a concerted and focused effort by the bishops to better teach American Catholics about the Eucharist, I am, as I have said elsewhere, skeptical about the prudence of calls or attempts to deny, publicly, the Eucharist to Catholic political figures who support abortion rights (although these figures are wrong to do so) or who take other policy positions that are clearly immoral.  I am certain, though, that it would not (somehow) violate the Constitution to do so.   


Garnett, Rick | Permalink


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