Catholic Transcript Magazine of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Hartford Connecticut

Thursday, April 26, 2018

America can continue to correct its course in history provided that it remembers and acts upon the bedrock principles in its Biblical past.

Just when signs of degeneration seemed to be achieving ascendancy and when the secular order was beginning to dismiss our religious foundations, a frantic cry for freedom of conscience was heard anew in the land, and the United States Supreme Court was carefully listening. While divided on the issue of “closely held” corporations, the Court stated, in effect, that the owners of such entities cannot be compelled by the State to pay for procedures that they view as ethically wrong.

Thus, the first-ever direct assault on religious freedom launched by the Federal Administration was halted in its unquestionably overreaching intrusion. While the decision was narrow in scope, it was expansive in its effect. Conscience was safeguarded in the area of religious liberty.

The Supreme Court’s ruling in the Hobby Lobby case on 30 June prompts recollections of the Constitutional resolve of our forefathers. “Before any man can be considered as a member of Civil Society,” James Madison wrote in 1785, “he must be considered as a subject of the Governour of the Universe…We maintain therefore that in the matters of Religion, no man’s right is abridged by the institution of Civil Society and that Religion is wholly exempt from its cognizance,” as our Founders insisted. Moreover, religion is “exempt from the authority of Society at large,” as well as to that of a “Legislative Body.” Furthermore, as Madison also wrote, “the first duty of Citizens” is “to take alarm at the first experiment on our liberties,” such as religious freedom. (“Memorial and Remonstrance Against Religious Assessments”)

A few years earlier, in 1779, Thomas Jefferson had written that no man should “suffer, on account of his religious opinions or belief.” (“A Bill for Establishing Religious Freedom”)

Alexis de Tocqueville’s (1805-59) diary, called Democracy in America, was, of course, the most powerful follow-up document on the subject after those of Jefferson and Madison. Even though his incomparable jottings are currently being undermined or ridiculed by pseudo-sophisticated cynics, they nonetheless continue to represent authentic and creditable observations.

“When a people’s religion is destroyed,” de Tocqueville wrote, “doubt invades the higher faculties of the mind and half paralyzes all the rest…Such a state inevitably enervates the soul, and relaxing the springs of the will, prefaces a people for bondage. Then not only will they let their freedom be taken from them, but often they actually hand it over themselves.”

In such a real, dynamic sense, freedom of religion is the well-spring from which the other liberties cited in the First Amendment of our U.S. Constitution derive; e.g., freedom of speech, freedom of assembly.

It is also important to emphasize that the U.S. Supreme Court’s split decision on 30 June was disturbing, to say the least, since the issue was, again, related to freedom of conscience. Nor should we forget that this issue was inserted into the Obamacare legislation only after the law had passed and had been signed. (The mechanism used was itself rather insidious.)

Religion in America, according to the Citation of the National Book Award for Yale University’s Sydney E. Ahlstrom’s A Religious History of the American People (1973), is a truly “a saga,” wherein a host of jagged pieces “all fit together” – from the frontier preachers, visionaries and missionaries of yesterday, to the evangelists and church leaders of today – constituting a crucial portion of our heritage. As such, this heritage demands our continuing reverence, support and appreciation. The 30 June ruling by the Supreme Court thrusts it into our vision once again, a vision of Godly faith.