Restricting Freedom of Worship
Fr Francisco Nahoe OFM Conv
The Free Exercise of Religion guaranteed in the First Amendment includes the right to believe, to worship, to practice religious and ethical principles based on one’s beliefs and to observe the tenets of one’s religion, even in the public forum. It includes the right to participate in a pluralistic democracy as a citizen formed by a religious conscience. Americans have always cherished and respected these religious liberties. The current administration, however, implies that Americans only have the right to worship. The rest of what has always constituted the free exercise of religion is, in the mind of this administration, subject to governmental oversight. The right to practice particular ethical principles based on one’s religious beliefs, for example, has already been overwhelmed by the HHS Mandate. More and more, the right to belief is rapidly being circumscribed by the powerful GLBT lobby’s persistant, and pernicious, application of the hate crime label to any moral objection to gay marriage or to the public affirmation of marriage as a covenant between a man and a woman. The right to participate meaningfully in a pluralistic democracy on the basis of religious conscience is publicly ridiculed and described as a war on women by unprincipled politicians. Where will it end?
Two recent news items from Europe give a us a pretty clear indication of the direction in which we are headed. In Germany, a June ruling in a Cologne court declared that circumcision, practiced by Muslims and Jews for religious reasons, amounts to the bodily harm of a boy. Jewish and Muslims leaders have condemned the adversarial and explicitly anti-religious nature of the ruling. Ironically, parents may elect the circumcision of their infant sons for medical reasons, but not for religious ones. Likewise, in France today, Catholics prayers said in Catholic Churches during the celebration of Masses in honor of the Blessed Virgin Mary have drawn hysterical accusations of homophobia from gay rights groups as Paris prepares to legalize same-sex matrimony. Philippe Cardinal Barbarin, the Archbishop of Lyons, has explained that the intercessory prayers of the Church on the Solemnity of the Assumption, which also focus on euthanasia, are entirely consistent with traditional Catholic faith, traditional forms of Catholic worship and traditional Catholic morality in recognizing the rights of children to grow up with both a mother and a father. In a poll conducted by Le Figaro today, 70.5% of the participants concluded that there was nothing wrong with the Church engaging such social issues in the context of its own worship activities. Even so, fierce criticism of the Church for being Catholic continues to rage in France.
Neither in Germany nor in France, are the rights even of worship are being respected! How much longer before infant baptism or teaching the concept of sin to a child is deemed to inflict psycho-social harm? This is precisely why defenders of religious freedom in America can never accept the President’s proposition that the free exercise of religion consists only in the freedom of worship. Once you have given away every other dimension of the free exercise of religion, there is nothing then to prevent the further restriction even of worship, as these troubling episodes in Europe make very clear.