(Last week I ran across a commentary on President Obama’s commencement address at Notre Dame. I had not paid much attention to it, so reading some of his comments, now, were shocking. His definition of faith was a false one. I had not heard one commentary disputing the way he described faith. His definition certainly lies at the foundation of what he is doing now. The false definition of faith was so bad, I can but guess that whoever wrote the speech had not bothered to look up the Catholic teaching on this matter and was simply arguing from a false premise that faith is always riddled with doubt. This made me think of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. I do not believe that he would have tolerated this redefinition of faith. So, I began looking for something about his position on religious freedom. The thoughts written below are the fruits of that reflection.)
I would like to consider this quotation on the Constitutional guarantee of religious freedom:
The First Amendment guarantees two interrelated aspects of religious freedom: the freedom to believe and to practice one’s religion and the freedom from government sponsorship of religion. … Because the First Amendment’s religion clauses ensure we all have true freedom of conscience, we are not told what to believe or prohibited from practicing religion. ...
The circumstance that makes this interesting is that this quote is part of a larger commentary from a surprising source. It was not written by the nation’s founders, or by politician, or by a legislator. It was not written by Pope Benedict or Cardinal Dolan or any other bishop or priest. It was published in January of this year on the ACLU website, written by a lawyer, Tyler Ray, commemorating the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King and the passage of the Virginia Statute for Religious Liberty, 226 years ago. The commentary reminds one of the great legacy of faith in our country.
Today, as we remember the birth of that great figure of the New Testament, John the Baptist, we recall, at the same time that we are in a battle for the soul of our nation. The right to the free exercise of religion is fundamental to the make-up of our political system. We would not have a nation but for the passion for the freedom to serve God as one’s conviction of faith demands. James Madison, often called the Father of the Constitution, identified conscience as "the most sacred of all property." He wrote that "the Religion then of every man must be left to the conviction and conscience of every man; and it is the right of every man to exercise it as these may dictate." George Washington wrote that "the establishment of Civil and Religious Liberty was the Motive that induced me to the field of battle." (USCCB, Religious Freedom; educational materials).
Without freedom of religion we would never be able to correct the moral wrongs which afflict us as a people. As the commentary from the ACLU stated, “ It was this religious freedom that enabled black churches and houses of worship across the country to participate in the civil rights movement and bring about societal change. ….
Obviously, this exercise of religious freedom was not always welcomed. John the Baptist was not too popular among the authorities at his time. Herodius had him killed for his challenge to her immorality. He was, for the rulers of his time, the unmistakable voice of conscience. Religious freedom is the source of the protection for our equality as free citizens of a free nation. It is the means by which we, as a nation, choose to hold ourselves accountable to God for our misdeeds as a free country with a free people. If our nation loses its conscience, we citizens cease to be free.
Allow me to quote again from that ACLU commentary. Now remember, this is not Fox News! This is the ACLU website blog:
…. True freedom of religion is the guarantee that all are free to follow and practice their faith — or no faith at all — without governmental influence or interference. Dr. King might have said it best, that the church “is not the master or the servant of the state, but rather the conscience of the state. It must be the guide and the critic of the state, and never its tool." (I will reveal the author of this text later).
The Church is not a tool of the state. How can we carry out our social and charitable works freely if the government has the power to determine what those works shall be or how we go about living out our faith in those endeavors. The Church is not the tool of the state in hospitals. It is not the tool of the state in schools. It is not the tool of the state in charities. The Church is not the tool of the state when the state needs to be corrected and when the people need to be reminded that they are sinners who need a savior.
For some years now, our nation has been slowly trying to recreate itself after the vision of socialist Europe. But our nation’s constitution, founded upon the inalienable and God given rights of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, cannot withstand a schizophrenia where justice is defined only by such political authority, where the individual is increasingly dependent upon the all-consuming state, and our nation's conscience, our churches, have no voice in the social and political arena. Justice comes from God. If we surrender to the idea that the government is the grantor of justice, we are not free.
Our nation was built with a conscience. That conscience is the church and without the freedom to live out our religious and moral convictions without government interference, our nation’s soul is extinguished.
And finally, back to that commentary:
“Dr. King said, ‘legally, constitutionally, or otherwise, the state certainly has no such right’ to interfere in an individual’s exercise of religion. This statement held true 226 years ago, it held true when Martin Luther King Jr. said it, and it holds true today…” http://www.aclu.org/blog/content/celebrating-martin-luther-king-jr-and-religious-freedom, Tyler Ray, June 23, 2012.