You Will Have to Pry Our Bibles Out of Our Cold, Dead Fingers.
Both Catholic social teaching and the U.S. Constitution put religious freedom first.
In my last piece, I called out those who use “Catholic social teaching” as a meaningless leftist mantra, the “abracadabra” for a sleight of hand switching the real demands of the Gospel for some secular socialist wish list. Now let’s get down to the real thing.
The first claim that St. Paul and the Apostles made on the Roman state was the freedom to preach the Gospel. Both logically and chronologically, this freedom must come first. I don’t think it’s any accident that the U.S. founders put this essential human freedom first in our Constitution. The Anglo-American classical liberal tradition was deeply infused by the Christian respect for the human person — whose first duty, of course, is to try to get to heaven, and to do so by following the honest dictates of his conscience.
I’m relieved that by the time I looked into joining the Catholic Church, it had at Vatican II followed the logic of its own deepest teachings to extend this crucial principle not only to the Faith it preaches as true, but to every other honest exercise of human conscience — even when it leads someone to embrace some other religion. The ugliest wounds within the Body of Christ are those which Christians inflicted on each other, and also on Jews and others, when we placed the State in a role it never deserved: as the arbiter of men’s souls.
I have seen firsthand, among personal friends of mine, the brutal price people pay when they are shouted down by the lies of persecutors with power — backed up by the guns and jails of the state, or the terror of vigilantes — when all that they wish to do is obey the still small voice that whispers in their soul, “But this is true!”
As part of the mission of I Am Whole Life, the pro-life non-profit I founded nine years ago, we made it our business to help on the front lines of religious persecution, in Sudan and Iraq, to try to put protection between violence and the vulnerable. We’ve heard the anguished stories of Sudanese civilians, Iraqi priests, and Yezidi families, whose lives were upended and families threatened with death or abduction to “rape camps,” by young men whose pride, anger, and lust were inflamed by a false kind of faith that lets them use the name of “God” as a pretext to act like beasts.
We have raised money for front line relief for such refugees, helped dig wells and deliver medical supplies, and worked to warn the world about these forgotten victims. I served as executive producer of the powerful short film “Sing a Little Louder” that uses a potent historical anecdote from the Holocaust to awaken our sleeping consciences about the genocides that are taking place today. We used connections with the Ted Cruz campaign to put Iraqi Christians in touch with a candidate who wanted to hear their urgent concerns. Senator Cruz invited Rev. Simon Esshaki to one of the GOP debates, where he could hand each of the candidates a letter from his embattled bishop in Iraq.
Even as a million mostly economic migrants throng Europe and threaten its civil peace, the real religious refugees are being left out in the cold, excluded even from UN-run camps that are dominated by intolerant Sunni Muslims.
But Americans aren’t safe either. Readers of The Stream will have seen Maggie Gallagher’s sobering account of the Democratic party’s almost total neglect of religious freedom for Christians, which it warns us will not be allowed to include “the misuse of religion to discriminate.” Of course, the robust “free exercise of religion” is made impossible if we cannot “discriminate” between beliefs and activities that match what our consciences tell us, and those that are sinful and false. If our colleges cannot prefer to hire those who accept and live out our faith, then they cannot be really Christian in any meaningful sense.
The left knows this fact perfectly well, which is why Democrats in power are using “freedom of worship” instead of the actual text of the U.S. Constitution. A bare, narrow freedom of worship is what oppressed, dhimmi Christians are sometimes granted by nations that practice sharia law. Do we really need to ask ourselves why the Left seems more sympathetic to Muslims who hold to sharia than it is toward practicing, orthodox Christians? Islamists and leftists agree on one crucial principle: preventing faithful Christians from living out our beliefs. They have made a tacit pact to sort out their other differences later.
Faithful American Christians have felt the heavy hand of an intolerant secular state, which is constantly grabbing more power, pressing down on their freedom of faith. I wrote in The Race to Save Our Century about Mary Anne and Christopher Yep, the owners
of Chicago-based Triune Health Group, which they founded in 1990, and which employs almost a hundred full-time workers. As Crain’s Chicago Business reported, “The couple raised eight children and simultaneously built their business, starting from the basement of their home.”
In 2012, the Yeps were informed along with thousands of other business owners that they would have to provide medical insurance that covered contraception, sterilization, and the abortifacient “morning-after pill.” With their own limited resources, they decided to sue the federal government.
It took four long years, and millions of dollars in resources, before the Supreme Court ruled narrowly in favor of the Yeps, Hobby Lobby, and the Little Sisters of the Poor, exempting people of faith from being forced to subsidize the killing of unborn children.
How will the Supreme Court rule in the next such case, and the next, once Hillary Clinton has packed the court with appointees like Mark Tushnet, the Harvard Law professor who argues that Christians, as “losers” in the Culture Wars, should be treated like the defeated Nazis and Imperial Japanese? When our fellow citizens see us as the moral equivalent of war criminals, we had better look to our liberties.
Since God comes first for us, the freedom to serve Him must come first, too. It’s the first freedom which those who hate us will come for, and the very last one we will ever surrender.