What Would Father Richard Say?


National Review

Go to this article

Want to understand the Catholic faith?

ABSTRACTWhat Would Father Richard Say? - George Weigel - National Review Online Get FREE NRO Newsletters   Log In   |   Register Follow Us Everywhere         April 16 Issue  Subscribe to NR  Renew  April 16 Issue   |   Subscribe   |   Renew Home The Corner The Agenda Campaign Spot The Home Front Right Field Bench Memos The Feed Media Blog Critical Condition Larry Kudlow David Calling Exchequer Phi Beta Cons Planet Gore UK Between the Covers Radio Derb Tweet Tracker NR / Digital Subscribe: NR Subscribe: NR / Digital Give: NR / Digital NR Renewals & Changes Shop! Donate Media Kit Contact Zubrin: Carbon Emissions Are Good Derbyshire: March Diary Costa: The Ron Johnson Factor Hanson: Iran’s Win, Win, Win Bomb Habeeb: Too Young to Die Sowell: Argument from Disparity Charen: Violence and Family Breakdown Fonte: Saving Sovereignty Prager: They Don’t Know Us Lowry: Meltdown with Keith Olbermann Pipes: It’s Not Road Rage, It’s Terrorism O'Sullivan: The Significant ‘Little War’ Lopez: Desperately Seeking Women Ponnuru: The Culture Warrior Geraghty: Senate 2012 Outlook Fund: Penny Anti Interview: Ringing a Bell for Liberty Barone: The Constitution’s Comeback Sowell: The Death of Mrs. G Murdock: Socialist Hong Kong? New on NRO . . . Close To: Your Email: Your Name: Subject: March 1, 2012 4:00 A.M. What Would Father Richard Say? Neuhaus 101 on church and state. By George Weigel Archive Latest RSS Send Father Richard John Neuhaus during an appearance on Meet the Press Print Text   Comments 15 George Weigel  S ince his untimely death three years ago, there have been many moments to regret the loss of Father Richard John Neuhaus, who redefined the church-state debate in America and introduced the phrase “public square” into the national vocabulary. Even now, one can imagine him hunkered down in the bunker-like basement of his East Gramercy house, pounding out his monthly commentary in First Things and “smiting them hip and thigh” (as he liked to put it privately), as the nation engaged in yet another round of not-altogether-high-minded controversy over religious freedom. Yet Neuhaus left such a voluminous body of work behind that it’s not impossible to suggest some answers to the question, “What would Father Richard say?,” were he still among us and surveying the current controversies over church and state. In his seminal 1984 book, The Naked Public Square , Neuhaus made three points that remain as salient today as they were 28 years ago. Advertisement The first had to do with the Constitution, whose proper interpretation has taken another battering in recent weeks. The First Amendment’s address to religion, Neuhaus insisted, was integrated and synthetic: “No establishment” was meant to serve the cause of the “free exercise of religion.” Free exercise was the end; no-establishment was the means. Thus the two parts of what Neuhaus insisted were one “religion clause” were not in tension, and the Supreme Court’s First Amendment jurisprudence that began from the premise of that tension was deeply flawed — as the historical studies of scholars like Philip Hamburger have confirmed. Moreover, Neuhaus would have been among the first to point out, and demolish, the incoherence of the Obama administration’s reduction of religious freedom to a private right of worship. The free exercise of religion, he would have insisted, involved religious institutions as well as religious individuals, and any suggestion to the contrary was both constitutionally and theologically ludicrous. Thus Neuhaus would have been at the forefront of the condemnation of the administration’s HHS mandate, because it violates the religious freedom of both individual employers and institutional employers, making both into simulacra of the state for purpose of delivering “preventive health care.” Neuhaus’s second point in The Naked Public Square has been just as fully vindicated in recent weeks: the claim that religious people in America have more secure and compelling arguments for tolerance than their secular counterparts. Yes, there were still a few religious wing-nuts in America, Neuhaus conceded. But as he once wrote in a brilliant article for Commentary called “What Do the Evangelicals Want?,” the vast majority of American Christians are tolerant of the religious convictions of others — and thus able to contribute to a civil public square — for the strongest of reasons: They believe that God commands that they be tolerant. Or as Neuhaus put it, the overwhelming majority of Christians believe that it is God’s will that they be tolerant of others who have different notions of God’s will. Religious tolerance, for Christians, is not a mere pragmatic accommodation to the fact of .......