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Attacks on Religious Liberty Intensify

Janet Brazill

Americans are spoiled. After 200 years of living under the Constitution, we tend to take religious freedom for granted. We are so accustomed to choosing our individual religious beliefs or nonbeliefs that we ignore threats to that freedom. Even when newspapers proclaim in bold headlines that a certain religion is openly directing politicians of that faith to pass laws imposing its dogma on all citizens, we never completely acknowledge the danger this presents.

Where is the indignation? Why is there no uprising to demand that all religions respect the neutrality our Constitution mandates? In the 1963 decision, Schempp v. Board of Education, Justice Clark wrote, "In the relationship between man and religion, the state is firmly committed to the position of neutrality." It is this refusal to take sides that protects Americans' religious freedom, insuring their right to worship or not worship without fear that the state will force another religion's doctrine on them.

Our first Catholic president, John F. Kennedy, understood this principle of democracy well when he said, "I believe in an America that is officially neither Catholic, Protestant nor Jewish--where no public official either requests or accepts instructions on public policy from the Pope, the National Council of Churches or any other ecclesiastical source ..."

In recent years, Catholic officials have begun openly defying this principle, some even threatening to excommunicate Catholic politicians who do not legislate according to Church dogma. Now we see Bishops in St. Louis and Boston saying that John Kerry, the Democratic presidential candidate who happens to be a pro-choice Catholic, should not seek Holy Communion in their dioceses.

A Catholic priest giving the Morning Prayer in the Colorado House of Representatives used the opportunity to make this stump speech against abortion: "Almighty God, please change and convert the hearts of all the representatives in this House. May they be the antithesis of John Kennedy, may they be women and men of God, and may their faith influence and guide every vote they make."

With Colorado having three Catholic candidates for an open U.S. Senate seat, one of whom supports abortion rights, the Denver Archbishop made his choice clear by writing in the Denver Catholic Register: "Candidates who claim to be 'Catholic' but who publicly ignore Catholic teaching about the sanctity of human life are offering a dishonest public witness. They may try to look Catholic and sound Catholic, but unless they act Catholic in their public service and political choices, they're really a very different kind of creature. And real Catholics should vote accordingly."

Cases like these are widespread across the country.

Roman Catholicism is now the predominant religion in our U.S. Congress with 150 members belonging to that church. The American Life League, upset that not all Catholic politicians vote in line with the Church's teachings on abortion and contraception, is targeting 71 of those members of Congress, along with 340 Catholic state politicians and other Catholic politicians around the country in the next election. They call this a "Crusade for the Defense of Our Catholic Church."

All these Catholics seem to be fulfilling a recent directive from the Vatican called the Doctrinal Note on Some Questions Regarding the Participation of Catholics in Political Life. This orders Catholic officeholders to adhere to church teachings on contraception and abortion, physician-assisted suicide, parochial school aid, divorce, and same-sex marriage. Insisting that democracy must be based on nonnegotiable ethical principles, this text states that the Catholic Church's view of these contentious issues must prevail--even if that means the differing views of other religious groups must yield.

This is outrageous! Why aren't these "other religious groups" objecting? Americans cannot have freedom of religion unless they are free from other people's religions.

Such blatant disregard for American values calls for two responses:

  • The Roman Catholic Church should be made to give up its tax-exempt status and register as a political action committee. Tax-exemption is a privilege based on nonparticipation in politics, since all taxpayers subsidize the tax-free status. By paying its own way as a PAC, the church could participate legally in political issues.
  • We should immediately withdraw our ambassador from the Vatican. Certainly, we would not tolerate any other foreign nation telling our legislators how to vote.

Our constitutional principle of Separation of Church and State is being undermined by those who see an advantage to promoting their own religious agenda. Emboldened by the favorable political climate in the current administration, and energized by the upcoming election, they seem to be intensifying their attacks. Unless stopped, they will succeed in changing the very foundation of this country, bringing to an end the religious liberty we now take for granted.




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Published:
  2004-05-05

Categories:
  Church and State, Politics

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