George Weigel has written an outstanding article in First Things on the attack on religious freedom in the United States.
“Exclusive humanism” is an aggressive drive to remove any trace of religion or morality from the public square. We’ve seen this grow in Europe and Canada and the problem is getting worse in the United States.
As Weigel writes, the Catholic Church asks two things of a society:
The Church asks for free space to be itself: to evangelize, to celebrate the sacraments, and to do the works of education, charity, mercy, and justice, without undue interference from government….the Church refuses to concede to the state the authority to tell the Church what to think and preach, or how to order its ministerial life and serve the needy. Moreover, the Church asks, and if necessary demands, that the state respect the sanctuary of conscience, so that the Church’s people are not required by law to do things the Church teaches are immoral.
The Church also asks any society to consider the possibility of its need for redemption. The “world” sometimes doesn’t take kindly to this suggestion, as the history of the martyrs reminds us….Cultures can mock the moral truths taught by God’s revelation to the people of Israel and God’s self-revelation in his Son, Jesus Christ. Educational systems can inculcate an ethos of nihilism and hedonism, teaching that the only moral absolute is that there are no moral absolutes.
As Weigel notes, the Church is under attack on both of these issues.
Over the past four years, the federal government has made unprecedented efforts to erode religious freedom. The gravest assault was the “contraceptive mandate” issued earlier this year by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services: an offense to conscientious Catholic employers who believe what the Church believes about the morality of human love and the ethics of the right to life, and a frontal attack on the institutional integrity of the Church. For with the HHS mandate, the federal government seeks nothing less than to turn the Catholic Church’s charitable and medical facilities into state agencies that facilitate practices the Catholic Church believes are gravely evil.
Will agressive humanism have the last word in our society? Much depends on the upcoming election. Weigel summarizes:
U.S. Catholics can, and must, demand of all candidates an unambiguous commitment to the Church’s institutional freedom, and to the freedom of the Church’s people to follow the dictates of conscience as shaped by the moral truths the Church guards and teaches. Self-respect requires nothing less.