The election of Robert George as Chair of this international commission is good news. Hopefully, the commission will not only examine violations of religious freedom in other nations, but also violations in the United States of America. However, the woeful lack of knowledge concerning the First Amendment revealed in this recent survey is bad news. We have a lot of work to do.
WASHINGTON, DC (Catholic Online) - There is good news and bad news concerning religious freedom in the United States of America. First - the good news. The Press release can be read in full here. One of the truly good guys of our age, Princeton Professor, First Amendment scholar and faithful Catholic Robert "Robby" George has been elected the Chair of the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom.
With both a law degree and a Doctorate in Philosophy, this Princeton Professor and faithful Catholic has been busily raising the water level of political discourse in the nation. His career has been committed to reaffirming the universal principles which formed the foundation for the American experiment. They are at increasing risk as we veer away from our founding principles.
Robby George knows this all too well and is working very hard to defend the first freedom. His efforts to develop a language with which to reassert the existence of the Natural Law in order to prevent the collapse of western civilization is respected even by those who, like me, hold to a different approach to the Natural Law.
However, there is also bad news.
The First Amendment Center at Vanderbilt University and the Newseum released its survey on the state of the First Amendment last week. The ignorance of the American public concerning the fundamental rights protected under the First Amendment to the United States Constitution is depressing and dangerous.
From 1991 through 1997, I served as the Executive Director of the American Center for Law and Justice, a public interest law firm engaged in religious freedom and pro-life work. During that time I wrote a small booklet entitled "Religious Cleansing in the American Republic". The booklet was distributed to half a million people. But it was not without its critics.
I was accused by some of overstating the problem. I did not. The growing hostility toward the symbols of our religious heritage, the mocking of the values informed by religious faith and the overt and open hostility toward people of faith and religious institutions is proof. It signals a clear and present danger.
Religious freedom has been called the first freedom in the American experiment for good reason. It ensures that the leavening role of revealed truth helps us to form our conscience and shape the choices we make as individuals, families and as a society.
Religious faith, religious institutions and religious speech are protected by the First Amendment to the Bill of Rights of the Constitution for good reason. The Birth Certificate of our Nation, the Declaration of Independence, affirmed the existence of inalienable rights and self evident truths. Those Rights of Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of happiness are endowed by our Creator and not conferred by a Federal Government.
Increasingly, the Federal Government fails to recognize that the Right to Religious Freedom is a fundamental human right. The First Amendment prohibition against the establishment of a National Religion was never meant to be used to justify governmental hostility toward religious faith, religious persons or religious institutions.
It 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. It should always be interpreted in light of the Free Exercise and free Speech clauses of that same First Amendment. Religious freedom is a fundamental human right which must be secured and protected by the positive law.
Religious faith, religious persons and religious institutions should be encouraged and accommodated by the federal and/or state government, not treated with hostility. Rightly understood and applied, religious freedom means a freedom for religious expression; not a removal of such expression. Religious faith and the values informed by faith serve and promote the common good.
The Right to Religious Freedom protects people of all faiths in their right to participate in the public square and to be a part of the daily social interactions that constitute the very tapestry of our social life. Religious faith is a human and social good. The values informed by faith have provided a firm foundation for our understanding of freedom and belief in unalienable rights, endowed by a Creator not conferred by any government.
At the beginning of the Third Christian Millennium we must defend the first freedom, religious freedom. As a Nation, we must reaffirm our support for religious freedom; rightly understood and applied, as a freedom for religious expression not a freedom from such expression.
Hostility toward the role of faith in our life together as a free people and efforts to censor the vital role it has played in our history and founding, is corrosive to freedom.
Sadly, an incorrect interpretation of the Establishment Clause has arisen in the American polity which promotes a notion of a Church/State separation that 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 was intended to protect religious institutions and people of faith in their vital role in speaking and acting in an authentically pluralistic society so as to offer their contribution to the overall common good. The Free Exercise Clause has been turned on its head - and is now used all too often to silence the Church and the religious speaker and actor.
Finally, the Free Speech clause has been subverted. When the message and the messenger being examined under its increasingly hostile scrutiny is determined by the State to be speaking a religious or moral message, its important protections no longer apply.
The appointment of Robert George to this international commission is good news. Hopefully, the commission will not only examine violations of religious freedom in other nations, but also violations in the United States of America.
However, the woeful lack of knowledge concerning the First Amendment revealed in this survey is bad news. We have a lot of work to do. We need the leadership of people like Robert George to help.
By Kenya Sinclair (CALIFORNIA NETWORK)
Ron and Becky Miscavige escaped the California Scientology compound known as the "Gold Base" and have stepped forward to share their story. LOS ANGELES, CA (Catholic Online) - Scientology is a quiet religion shrouded in secrets - many of which are believed to be ... continue reading
By J. Kenneth Blackwell
While much of our attention is on the Presidential race, the looming battle over a Supreme Court nomination merits no less attention. The battle lines are clear in this nomination and the future of the Court and our Constitutional principles are at ... continue reading
By Fr. Frank Pavone, National Director, Priests for Life
Amoris Laetitia is a timely and loving exhortation for families towards genuine charity that begins within the nuclear family. It can be described as a new road-map for a culture that has taken a sad and tragic detour. The Joy of Love recognizes women's ... continue reading
By Deacon Keith Fournier
Father, raise up women like Catherine of Siena for this new missionary age of your Church. Women who are so in love with you, and so conformed to the Image of your Son, they can do for your Church in this hour, what she did in her own. Saints are a gift for the ... continue reading
By Kenya Sinclair (CALIFORNIA NETWORK)
Andrew Cash practiced his religious rights at Missouri State University - and was dismissed from the master's program in counseling as a result. LOS ANGELES, CA (Catholic Online) - According to the Catholic News Agency, Cash was referring same-sex couples to another ... continue reading
By David Drudge (CALIFORNIA NETWORK)
Does the news seem a little too pro-American to you? Does it seem reporters pull punches and that the real issues are ignored? Perhaps that's the result of a quiet change to the law that took place in 2013. A law banning the use of government propaganda on the American ... continue reading
By Matt Hadro (CNA)
Experts from across the political spectrum are calling for criminal justice reform, as a new White House report shows the human and economic costs of the current justice system. Washington D.C. (CNA) - "This is a singular moment in one of the most challenging issues ... continue reading
By Abigail James (CALIFORNIA NETWORK)
An appalling portrayal of Jesus plastered to a dartboard was posted up as artwork inside the Art Library at Rutgers University in New Brunswick, New Jersey. LOS ANGELES, CA (Catholic Online) - The "art piece," titled "Vitruvian Man," shows Jesus nailed to the dartboard ... continue reading
By Marshall Connolly (CALIFORNIA NETWORK)
The American people are seemingly obsessed with public restrooms these days and precisely how people use the potty. The fear is being stoked by concerns that individuals who "self-identify" as the opposite sex, will take advantage of liberal policies and assault ... continue reading
By Deacon Keith Fournier
Jesus said to his disciples: Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks, receives; and the one who seeks, finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened. CHESAPEAKE, VA. ... continue reading