Saturday, June 1, 2013

The misleading rubric that will undermine freedom of speech

The First Amendment, which was once used to protect religious freedom, is now being used to undermine it by secularists and advocates for gay rights. A priest shared with me his concern that just a few years ago it was socially acceptable to question the legitimacy of same-sex marriage. However, he went on to say that to question or challenge the morality of same-sex marriage on Facebook or any other venue in the social media, one would run the risk of being called a bigot or lunatic.

As I told students in a morality class for adults just recently, as we advance the cause for the sanctity of marriage, we should expect to be accused of hate and bigotry. Nevertheless, we have to stand up and be counted as Christians; not only counted as Christians but followers of Christ who are proud of what he revealed about the God-given purpose of marriage and sexual intimacy.

With that said, it would do us well to be mindful that as intolerance to any opposition to homosexuality and same-sex marriage increases in the social order, that same intolerance (referred to as the “Dictatorship of Relativism” by Pope Benedict XVI) will certainly find expression in the political order. Indeed, the First Amendment will be used, as it has been used, to silence the Christian teachings on marriage with even greater frequency and forcefulness. Although this general societal shift in favor of same-sex marriage cannot be rolled back in the immediate future, Christians can chip away at the false premises on which it is advanced. One good place to start is to educate people on the historical meaning behind the First Amendment.

Incidentally, there is why Christians should dream big and envision America without a massive State-monopoly on our children’s education . Why? Because our younger generations- and soon-to-be political leaders -are not learning the truth of Christianity’s contribution to our country’s founding; nor do they know the Christian principles which underscore the U.S. Constitution. As a result, religious freedom will soon be unintelligible to a good number of young Americans.

The following passage is taken from the book, Faith and Order: The Reconciliation of Law and Religion by Harold J. Berman (p. 222-223). In the book he maintains that religion and law stand and fall together. What I take away from the book and the passage below is that in the absence of religious influence in the public square  the law will be used against religion. Specifically, I refer to the right to teach the biblical view of marriage, not only in public, but within the enclosure of churches:

“Church and State’….is a profoundly misleading rubric. The title triply misleads. It suggests that there is a single church. But in America there are myriad ways in which religious belief is organized. It suggests that there is a single state. But in America there is the federal government, fifty state governments, myriad municipalities, and a division of power among executive, legislative, administrative, and judicial entities, each of whom embodies state power. Worst of all, ‘Church and State’ suggests that there are two distinct bodies set apart from each other in contrast if not in conflict. But everywhere neither churches nor states exist except as they are incorporated in actual individuals. These individuals are believers and unbelievers, citizens and officials. In one aspect of their activities, if they are religious, they usually form churches. In other aspect they form governments. Religious and governmental bodies not only coexist but overlap. The same persons, much of the time, are both believers and wielders of power.” (John T. Noonan, The Believer and the Powers That Are 1987)

Harold J. Berman elaborated on Noonan’s comment by saying the following: “The Framers of the American federal and state constitutions were keenly aware of the historical experience that is implicit in the phrase ‘church and state.’ They chose at the federal level, and eventually in all of the states as well, a new and different solution, namely, the right of all persons, both individually and in groups, to exercise their religion free of restraint by government, and also the duty of government to exercise its powers and functions without identification with religion. But the fact that religion and government were to be free of each other’s control was not understood to exclude their reciprocal influence on each other. Officeholders, as Noonan indicates, were not expected to shed their religious commitments as the door of the office…

Today religion is often defined solely in terms of personal faith and collective worship. Such a definition neglects the repercussions of such faith and worship in social life. In the Puritan theology that prevailed in America throughout the eighteenth, often in association with both Anglican and ‘free church’ traditions, religion was not only understood in terms of covenant of grace but also in terms of a covenant of works. A person’s relationship to God was understood to involve his active participation in the life of the community…

In seeking the meaning of the religion clauses of the First Amendment, I propose, therefore, in the first part of this essay, to focus attention on the role which religion played in the social life of America in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. To do so is to be faithful to Madison’s conception that religion comprises not only ‘the duty to which we owe to our Creator’ but also ‘the manner of discharging’ that duty. For Madison, as for Americans generally in the 1780’s and 1790’s, and indeed for generations thereafter, free exercise of religion included freedom of religious groups to take an active part in regulating family responsibilities, education, health care, poor relief, and various other aspects of social life which were considered to have a significant moral dimension.”