In the document on religious freedom from the Second Vatican Council, we find a good summary of the Church’s explanation of the law of God on religious freedom. There we read:
“The highest norm of human life is the divine law-eternal, objective and universal-whereby God orders, directs and governs the entire universe and all the ways of the human community …. Man has been made by God to participate in this law, with the result that, …, he can come to perceive ever more fully the truth that is unchanging. Wherefore every man has the duty, and therefore the right, to seek the truth in matters religious ….
On his part, man perceives and acknowledges the imperatives of the divine law through the mediation of conscience. In all his activity a man is bound to follow his conscience in order that he may come to God, the end and purpose of life. It follows that he is not to be forced to act in a manner contrary to his conscience. Nor, on the other hand, is he to be restrained from acting in accordance with his conscience…. The social nature of man, however, itself requires that he should give external expression to his internal acts of religion: that he should share with others in matters religious; that he should profess his religion in community. Injury therefore is done to the human person and to the very order established by God for human life, if the free exercise of religion is denied in society, provided just public order is observed.” …Furthermore, ”The social nature of man and the very nature of religion afford the foundation of the right of men freely to hold meetings and to establish educational, cultural, charitable and social organizations, under the impulse of their own religious sense.”
Sadly, many of our contemporaries have no issue of conscience when it comes to forcing godly citizens to participate in their evil actions and activities. Because of this, today, our nation is facing a Constitutional crisis pitting the various protections of the Bill of Rights, including the freedom of religion, against politically expedient goals such as the mandate that individuals, churches and church organizations, schools and universities, must provide insurance coverage of contraceptives and abortion-inducing chemicals and, the fairly predictable and soon-to-be constitutional duty to recognize marriages between members of the same sex. (This was written for last Saturday, June 22, 2013).
We need to be clear brothers and sisters that the duty to exercise our religion through the various educational, cultural, charitable and social organizations is integral to our faith. We are told in James 2:16, "If one of you says to them, 'Go in peace; keep warm and well fed,' but does nothing about their physical needs, what good is it?"
I hope that you understand that your cherished faith is truly at risk. You might be thinking that there is no problem since no one is telling you what to believe or where you can go to church, …yet. But I am here to tell you that the threat is just as real and just as serious. As soon as marriage is redefined, and I think it will be, catholic schools, hospitals, universities, and many other religious organizations will be forced to adhere to policies aimed at protecting this new right. Schools will be forced to hire openly gay personnel. The Knights of Columbus and even Churches will be forced to rent their facilities to same-sex couples. I have already altered our parish hall rental policy to include wording which states that the hall can only be used in connection with parish groups, functions, and sacramental events. I doubt, however, that this will be enough to save us from law suits alleging discrimination.
Religious organizations that do not adhere to the thousands of new regulations that will be produced as a result of these laws will soon find themselves at odds with the IRS who grants their tax exempt status. "Rendering unto Ceasar" is going to take on a whole new meaning.
At the Rally for Religious Freedom, I spoke about the law that the Church teaches us about. Our courts have rejected this law. But it was this law that made the difference in the fight against slavery. President Abraham Lincoln built his argument rejecting and eliminating slavery on the basis of a concept of Law of which God is the author. Lincoln reiterated the natural law right to possess the fruits of one’s labor. In the famous Lincoln-Douglas Debates, Lincoln demonstrated that political power is no justification for doing evil. Douglas had argued that, as a US Senator, he would not care whether the people of a territory voted for or against slavery. Lincoln’s reply is instructive: “Any man can say that [he doesn’t care about what people vote for or accept, only when he]… does not see anything wrong in slavery, but no man can logically say it who does see a wrong in it; because no man can logically say he don’t care whether a wrong is voted up or voted down.” Responding to Douglas’s claim that the people can vote themselves the right to have slaves, Lincoln said, “So they have if it is not a wrong. But if it is a wrong, he cannot say people have a right to do wrong.”
Unfortunately, the reverse of Lincoln’s sound reasoning became the basis for a new theory of law which took hold in the government and courts in the 20th Century and which we live under today. This was seen in the writings of one of the most important jurists of the 20th Century, Supreme Court Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr. He wrote, “The first requirement of a sound body of law is that it should correspond with the actual feelings and demands of the community, whether right or wrong.” To borrow a phrase from Pope Benedict XVI, welcome to the tyranny of relativism. Sadly, this tyrannical worldview masquerades as intelligence today. Lawrence Tribe, the famed Constitutional Law professor of Harvard Law, wrote an opinion calling upon the Senate to reject the nomination of Justice Clarence Thomas to the Supreme Court. His strident rejection of Justice Thomas and the reasons for it give us a clear indication of the trouble we are in. Tribe wrote, "Clarence Thomas, judging from his speeches and scholarly writings, seems … to believe judges should enforce the Founders' natural law philosophy -- the inalienable rights 'given man by his Creator' -- which he maintains is revealed most completely in the Declaration of Independence. He is the first Supreme Court nominee in 50 years to maintain that natural law should be readily consulted in constitutional interpretation." I regret to say that practically all jurists today have no idea what Natural Law is and, even many clerics, are unsympathetic. They want freedom--their freedom--but they have no idea how a society can maintain genuine freedom without the value that comes from the Natural Law.
Pius XI, in 1931, issued an encyclical in response to a rapidly changing and challenging social upheaval. It is instructive for us today. Then, there was worldwide economic depression, rising totalitarianism under Stalin, Hitler, and Mussolini, along with the threat of Japanese aggression. Piux XI asked what claims justice makes on humans in unstable times. He looked at the traditional virtue of justice, especially what St. Thomas Aquinas had intended by general justice and gave it the name social justice. He call the laity to organize themselves voluntarily and act for justice. In doing so he emphasized the importance of personal conversion and responsibility, the need to organize with others in solidarity for the common good, and institutional change. To bring about the necessary changes is the object of social justice. True social justice demands that we act for the common good. It is time, once again, for Christians to act together for justice.