Obama’s “Right to Worship” Ushers in New State Religion


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ABSTRACTObama’s “Right to Worship” Ushers in New State Religion | Crisis Magazine A Voice for the Faithful Catholic Laity Subscribe to Crisis Daily Headlines Best of the Week About Politics Church Culture Catholic Living Features The Civilized Reader The Standard Bearers Print Archives Donate February 27, 2014 Obama’s “Right to Worship” Ushers in New State Religion by Rev. James V. Schall, S.J. T he constitutions or laws of many nations provide for what is called “religious liberty.” In practice, this liberty is under severe restrictions in numerous countries, if it exists at all. The fact is that no one can really talk about religious freedom without examining what the “religion” holds. Grace builds on nature but does not contradict it. No religion, without further discussion, can simply believe anything at all. Some minimum criterion of order and right is presupposed to this freedom to follow religion’s teachings or one’s conscience. Concern about “fanaticism” is legitimate, even when such fanaticism is rooted in some religion’s basic explanation of itself. Yet not everything religion holds is ipso facto “fanatic,” despite what many state ideologues want to maintain. Much of the controversy today is not precisely about religious freedom but is instead over matters of fact and truth. Abortion, homosexuality, genetic experimentation, and euthanasia are not primarily “religious” issues but rational ones. On these life issues, not a few religions have come to embrace what are, in effect, irrational “rights” that contradict reason. Therefore, “religious freedom” is really, at bottom, a philosophical and political issue because it pertains to what a reasonable politics can rightly allow. Though religious freedom, in its American form, was almost unique in the world when it was first established at the nation’s founding, this liberty had been almost taken for granted in this country until recently. Now its erosion is suddenly well-advanced. Its very meaning is in doubt. The belated realization of this change in understanding of religious liberty has alerted some few, perhaps too few, to the seriousness of the issue. Indeed, the change extends beyond American borders since our government often seeks to require its new understanding of religious liberty on others as a requirement of any aid or help. Religious liberty is still, however, the reason why many believers leave their country of origin in search of another where their beliefs are welcome. This emigration today is especially from Muslim countries, where “religious liberty” means, basically, that everyone should be Muslim, or if not, agree to second-class citizenship. Any valid theory of religious liberty would allow major religions to hold that its position is true, provided it was not imposed by force or coerced in some other way. Every January 16 since 1996, the American president has issued a proclamation setting aside that day as Religious Freedom Day. The U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom keeps extensive files on religious freedom in most countries. While most declarations retain the phrase “religious freedom,” it has been noted that around 2010, the phrase, “freedom of worship,” rather than “freedom of religion” sometimes appeared. If we understand “freedom of religion” to mean “freedom of worship,” does it make any difference? Small errors in the beginning lead to huge errors in the end, as Aristotle long ago remarked. Freedom of worship, at least in idea, seems to be designed to distinguish or separate religious freedom from freedom to worship. Even when the term “freedom of religion” is used, many of the actions of the current U.S. government, such as those forcing religious believers to support government programs contrary to their faith, indicate that “freedom of worship” is meant. The distinction thus conveniently backs up the Obama administration’s moves to place all health, education, and charitable organizations under the umbrella of state control. Consequently, I am “free” to believe or say what I want within the walls of a church or place of worship. This view implicitly takes all religious people out of the public realm if their religious or philosophical view is contrary to that of the state. This position is the modern version of the political views developed by Marsilius of Padua and Thomas Hobbes. Religion must be solely internal with no public effects. The state controls all external actions. This exercise of control is what the change in wording was designed to accomplish. How does the president understand “religious liberty”? In his 2013 Proclamation for Religious Freedom Day, he wrote: “Foremost among the rights Americans hold sacred is the freedom to worship as we choose.” He then refers to the history of this right. “Because of this protection by our Constitution, each of us has the right to practice out faith openly and as we choose.” In the 2014 Proclamation, the phrase “fre.......