We are the soul of the world in this age. That vocation has never been comfortable. That is why we have as our sign a cross. Intolerant Secularism is on the rise. We must not cower when confronted by those who attempt to silence us. Our message is not our own. It is for the whole world and it still sets the captives free.
WASHINGTON, DC (Catholic Online) - On January 11, 2012 the United States Supreme Court issued its opinion in Hosanna-Tabor Evangelical Lutheran Church and School v. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. Though the case dealt with the ministerial exception, it was a rare moment for the High Court to speak favorably about religious institutions and their rights.
The First Amendment of the Bill of Rights to the US Constitution reads: "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances."
The Establishment Clause of the First Amendment (the first part) was intended to protect against the establishment of a National Church and a forced adherence to its doctrine by all citizens. It was more aptly understood as an Anti-Establishment Clause.
Poor judicial decisions have contributed to the erosion of the protections which were supposed to be associated with this clause. They have also led to an interpretation of a Church/State separation which is hostile to religious institutions, discriminates against people of faith and seeks to censor religious speech and expression in the public square.
The Free Exercise Clause of the First Amendment (the second part) was intended to protect religious institutions and people of faith in their vital role in speaking and acting with freedom in an authentically pluralistic society - in order to serve the common good.
Yet, the Free Exercise of Religion is now routinely violated. The unconstitutional Edict issued by the Health and Human Services through which the Affordable Care Act will be applied is a recent example. The current US Administration seeks to compel the Church, in her institutions of care, charity and service, to violate her deeply held religious convictions.
For the longest time in our history it was presumed in the United States of America that the values informed by religious faith - and the active participation of religious institutions - were to be welcomed because they serve the common good.
Now, both the Free Exercise Clause and the Establishment clause have been turned on their respective heads. They are used to silence the Church and the religious speaker and actor - or in an to compel the Church to act in a way which she cannot and will not.
The Free Speech clause of that same First Amendment has also been subverted. When the message and the messenger being examined under its increasingly hostile scrutiny is determined by the State to be speaking what it considers to be a religious or moral message, the Amendment's protections seem to no longer apply.
Religious or moral speech is censored and locked behind the four walls of a Church. The once robust American vision of the free exercise of religion is being reduced to a freedom of worship. The right to speak freely and contend in the public square is in danger.
In a culture which claims there is no objective truth, those who claim otherwise are now perceived as a threat.
Given this hostility, the Supreme Court's reaffirmation of the rights of Churches and religious institutions to follow their own internal doctrine in Hosanna-Tabor was a welcome decision. However, one decision is not enough to turn the tide.
The establishment clause has been twisted into a permutation which the American founders would not have even recognized.
One has only to look at the treatment of the poor senior citizens in this story. They have been told they must remove their Christmas tree in a private facility. Or, the edict of the Governor of Rhode Island to call the Christmas tree a "Holiday tree".
Or, the 9th Circuit Justices ruling last year that the Mount Soledad cross, which had stood on Mount Soledad since 1913, had become a violation of the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment to the United States Constitution because they said so.
Too many Federal Judges make up their own rules by which they decide whether a religious symbol, especially a Christian religious symbol, will be allowed to stand on public land or in a public building. There is not even a pretense that the actual words of the Establishment Clause have any precedential value.
The Establishment Clause was once properly understood as an "anti-establishment" clause. It was intended to prohibit the "establishment" of one particular religion - in the sense of a Federal or State sponsored Church which mandated adherence from unwilling citizens.
The American founders fled coercive approaches to religion which compelled adherence to a particular sect. Yet, they were certainly not anti-religious. They were also not against religious symbols or religious expression. Our history is filled with them.
Or, more accurately, it once was. Religious symbols are no longer seen as a wonderful sign of the history of the West and the American founding by the new Judicial Oligarchs or the secularist ideologues that hold some public offices.
Rather, they are seen as a threat in an increasingly intolerant secularist order. When they are allowed they must be demonstrated to have been eviscerated of any religious meaning and somehow thereby rendered "secular" and acceptable.
We will make it through this challenging time. We have done so in the past. However, we need to recognize what is really at work. We need to remember our history not only as American citizens but, even more importantly, as Christians.
The early Roman authorities charged the Christians of that era with "odium humani generis" [hatred of the human race] when they arrested them. Some in Rome had lost respect for the dignity of all human life while still claiming to be enlightened and progressive.
They practiced primitive forms of abortion as well as exposure, the killing of unwanted newborns. The Emperor Nero was overt in his promiscuous homosexual behavior. Some historians note his having taken a male "wife".
The history of ancient Rome shows a correlation between the growth of hostility toward the Christians and the spiraling moral decline of the Republic. The Romans of that age did not want hear the Christians oppose abortion and the practice of "exposure" (the killing of newborns).
Their hedonism was threatened by the Christian witness and lifestyle. They accused those Christians of intolerance and upsetting the public order.
One of the ancient Christian manuscripts from that age, written to a pagan inquirer into the Christian faith, is entitled a "Letter to Diognetus". It spoke of the distinctly different practices of the Christians:
"They reside in their respective countries, but only as aliens. They take part in everything as citizens and put up with everything as foreigners. Every foreign land is their home, and every home a foreign land. They marry like all others and beget children but they do not expose (kill or abandon) their offspring. Their board they spread for all, but not their bed."
The insistence of those early Christians on defending all human life and the witness of their faithful monogamous marriages - eventually - transformed ancient Rome. But it was not without opposition, hostility and, sadly, persecution. So it may be in our day.
Out in front in our own age, speaking truth and refusing to worship the new false gods are faithful Catholics. Fortunately the government has not (yet) charged us with "hatred of the human race."
However, there seems to be a growing effort to brand us as extreme or intolerant.
The letter to Diognetus also contained these words:"what the soul is in the body that the Christians are in the world." Those who insist on remaining faithful as Christians (Protestant, Catholic or Orthodox) must not retreat.
We are the soul of the world in this age. That vocation has never been comfortable. That's why we have as our sign a cross.
Our position is the opposite of hatred of the human race. It is borne out of a love for the dignity of all men and women in their person, their bodies, and their families. It expresses our hope to see all men and women experience authentic human freedom and flourishing.
Intolerant Secularism is on the rise. We must not cower when confronted by those who attempt to silence us. Our message is not our own. It is for the whole world and it still sets the captives free.
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