Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Why the Religous Liberty and Freedom Debate Is More Heated Today

Bill Tammeus a  Presbyterian elder and  former Faith columnist for The Kansas City Star , has written a column at the National Catholic Reporter Why the vitriol when discussing religious liberty today? In his post he hearkens back to perhaps the more "civilized" days of 1988 in his view.

Now let me say at this outset  civility is needed in the religious liberty debate as well as many other issues.

Still I wanted to engage this piece on some other points.

Time always makes us look at the past in a more rosy light. I would contend the religious liberty battles have got more heated. Of course back in 1988 this creature called the social media did not exist which makes a difference. We have gone from the opinions of a few pushing the debate to voices of thousands that have a tweeter account / web site pushing the debate.

Still there is no doubt times have changed. Many of us that are trying to defend religious liberty wonder how we got to this position in such a short period of time. I would submit that perhaps for the famous Bob Jones case most religious liberty battles were of a different subject matter. Lots of can we pray at a Football game or post the ten commandments in a courtroom type thing. I am not saying those cases were not important , but they are nothing like we see today.

For instance we have :

- Of course the infamous HHS Contraception mandate in which now a major nationwide business is suing on since  they don't want to have to pay for abortion inducing drugs.

- We have troublesome over broad anti shari laws being passed by State Legislatures.

- We have an administration that shocked many by advocating in front of the Supreme Court is no specific ministerial exception based in the religious clause of the First Amendment  .

-We have an mosque in Tennessee that had to fight tooth and nail to get a house of worship built.

-Also in Tennessee we have one of America's most premier private university trampling on religious freedom values.

-In a sign of things to come as to "discrimination" issues we have the Elane photographer case in New Mexico.

On that note respected religious law scholars and activists already know we are already engaging in a new front as to religious liberty and being able to be licensed to do one 's vocation in life.

The list could go on and on. In other words we are dealing with religious liberty  concerns that have a more added urgency than the sort of can a High School graduate mention God in her graduation speech.

So how did we get here from the days of 1988 where there seemed  to be much more consensus on the topic.  Why are we  if  Ross Douthat is indeed correct “Defining Religious Liberty Down”

 First  I would recommend Another Coalition for Religious Freedom? No matter your opinion of George Weigel there is no doubt we seem to be light years from the huge Bipartisan effort that passed the Religious Freedom Restoration Act of 1992.   Related to that is the observation of  Professor Robert Vischer at this NCR article Professor Vischer on New Conscience Regs where he said in part :   One relevant development is progressives’ tendency to conceive of freedom – and the government’s responsibility to safeguard that freedom – in terms of positive liberty, not just negative liberty. Negative liberty requires protection against interference with the pursuit of basic goods; positive liberty requires affirmative assistance in securing basic goods. As progressives have tended to expand the range of goods for which the government’s affirmative assistance is required, the potential for conflict with a provider’s liberty becomes greater. Nowhere is this trend more pronounced than in the debates over reproductive rights.

That was one full display this year at the Democratic convention. We have gone from a line of legal cases that says the Government is not competent in making intimate choices on contraception to now a Party wanting it mandated. We have gone from the Democratic talking point of abortion being safe , legal, and rare to Government paid forabortions for any reasons it appears.

Last but not least are the Churches are not in the same boat as to this issues. It needs to be recalled that four  leading Protestant fatih communities  involved with a very important  advocacy and lobbying group thought the HHS mandate did not go far enough. That is  it did not go into the four walls of the Church itself.

The words are more heated because much more is being attacked and under siege.

Returning to Bill Tammeus piece let me engage a few parts of his concerns.

But what I find so distressing is that so many of the more aggressive religious participants in that debate have lost sight of some foundational principles on which religion obligates them to operate.

First -- and always -- they are obliged not to make religious liberty, however it's defined, an idol. All sin ultimately is idolatry. It's why the first of the Ten Commandments -- "no other gods before me" -- is first..

I wish there was names associated with these aggressive religious participants and a body of work we could reference to check out this claim of idolatry. I have no seen that among the more serious of the participants in this debate. But on that note it's worth looking at what Prof Garnett who played a role in the Bishop's statement had to say in response to a similar perhaps charge at A response to Morning's Minion on the Bishops' Religious Freedom efforts

...With respect to your [concern that the Bishops' statements have been too nationalistic]:  On the one hand, I do think there are some aspects of American constitutionalism that are distinctively good, and my sense is that the Church has recognized as much.  (In various documents, for example, our separation-of-powers and checks-and-balances structures are praised.)  And, I think that the teaching in Dignitatis Humanae owes a lot to the American experience with religious freedom, warts and all.  That said, and obviously, religious freedom is a human right, not an American right; it is a gift from God, not from James Madison.  Still, I think it’s fine for a document, written by American bishops and addressed to Americans primarily, to highlight the centrality in the American experience – at least in its aspirations – of religious liberty.  True, in an academic paper, one would want to complicate the narrative, but the basic point is sound, and worth emphasizing:  Religious freedom is protected by modern democracies, true, but it was (at least aspirationally) protected here, first.  This something that we can celebrate, and try to live up to....

Returning to the article :

Pope Benedict XVI was right when he said that "when religious freedom is acknowledged, the dignity of the human person is respected at its root." But part of religious freedom is the freedom to decide what religious freedom means. Its meaning cannot be dictated from above.

I am not exactly sure where that is going. But it should be recalled how we got here at least as to the HHS Contraception mandate. That is a rule making body bypassing many political avenues to where what "religious freedom means" could be discussed to just decreeing it. They were the ultimate "above" at least as to this matter..

Thus, many of those standing tall for religious freedom today seem not to have made room in the discussion for what Catholic social teaching calls the common good. The great Hebrew Bible scholar Walter Brueggemann has it right when he says that "the great crisis among us today is the crisis of 'the common good,' the sense of community solidarity that binds all in a common destiny -- haves and have-nots, the rich and the poor."

And who are these people and what body of work are we referencing. It seems rather vague and to be honest I have not seen that.

However the writer is correct that civility is needed in this debate. However the flip side of that coin is the more heated language is in part because much more is at stake. If we moot our words to a degree where its sounds like we are dealing with minute  details of the Columbia Free Trade Act I am not sure that is a service either.

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