By Stuart Reid
Utah State Senator, District 18
The Roman Catholic bishops in America recently issued a proclamation calling upon every priest and lay member to participate in a “great national campaign” to defend religious freedom. The proclamation further declared that: “If we face today the prospect of unjust laws, then Catholics in America, in solidarity with our fellow citizens, must have the courage not to obey them.”
It is always troubling when individuals choose civil disobedience of laws they don’t agree with, but it is particularly shocking when a revered religious institution like the Catholic Church urges its members and others to disobey the law. Encouraging such tactics to win a policy battle in the public square is beneath the church.
No matter how “righteous” the cause, it is irresponsible and even dangerous for any religion to unleash the passions of its people by calling on them to disobey the laws of the land. Particularly when it is not known how they will react.
The Founding Fathers believed that religious liberties are inalienable, God-given rights to mankind. They memorialized these freedoms in the Bill of Rights. They anticipated that religious principles, freely promulgated throughout the nation, would produce and strengthen a virtuous society necessary to maintain order and secure the public good. They hoped religion would provide the healing balm for the ills of society, bridle passions within the public square and encourage civility in public discourse. The call to disobey the law is not in harmony with the founders’ aspirations for religion’s role and its transcendent covenant with America, and therefore should be reversed.
Nevertheless, the Catholic Church is justified in its view that religious freedom is under siege. Its proclamation cites several examples when religious freedoms were violated by government. Other religions could significantly add to its list of grievances.
Clearly, religious freedom, once known as the First Freedom, has lost standing with the government when confronted by the so-called “new civil rights.” Religious leaders throughout America suspect government is waging a war against religious rights in support of other interests. This is a serious concern, and if it is not properly addressed it will become a serious problem for the nation. Government leaders should not trifle with protections afforded religion.
It is the right of people of faith and others to work in one accord securing religious freedom within the rule of law. If their petitions are ignored by government, they can and should encourage the formation of legal, independent political action organizations to elect those who will more earnestly protect religious rights of conscience and freedom.
If religious leaders will inspire their followers, including local and national business leaders, to support the work of the IPAOs, they will be able to shield themselves from those trying to wield government against their freedoms, while sustaining the primary missions of their faith.
In a nation forged by faith, it is the responsibility of religion to prophetically proclaim the sacred principles of religion’s God-given freedoms; to educate and inspire all people to properly protect religious freedom; and to properly help unify and organize the most effective petition for the government to do its duty — the duty to first and foremost preserve religious freedoms.
If religious leaders will call upon the better angels of humanity, they can bless America and the rest of the world. Hopefully, the Catholic Church, along with others, will see the virtue in this course of action.
Originally published May 3rd, 2012, in the Salt Lake Tribune.
Photo Credit: Teotwawki