Religious Freedom is not Generic

Rick Garnett at Mirror of Justice offers an insightful, but incomplete, account of the religious freedom of Christians with respect to President Obama’s abortion-pill and contraception mandate.

The issue is what is the nature and scope of religious freedom for the laity, as distinct from “church institutions.” Garnett rightly disagrees with the National Catholic Reporter’s Michael Sean Winters, who had criticized Timothy Cardinal Dolan’s defense of the religous freedom of lay Catholics as “not a proper concern for the bishops.”

Garnett’s rebuttal was correct so far as it goes: that religious freedom is the purview of bishops because it is a human right and is affirmed in the Second Vatican Council. Garnett concludes that “religion-based exemptions from general laws should generally be extended, to the extent possible, consistent with public order and the common good.”

But Garnett and Winters both miss the central point made by Cardinal Dolan. The Cardinal’s statement was not a mere affirmation of a generic human right. It was the statement of a shepherd protecting his flock. Said the Cardinal: “In obedience to our Judeo-Christian heritage, we have consistently taught our people to live their lives during the week to reflect the same beliefs that they proclaim on the Sabbath. We cannot now abandon them to be forced to violate their morally well-informed consciences.”

The Cardinal is speaking not of humanity in general, but of “our people.” He is not speaking as a human rights theorist but as a shepherd. He is defending religious freedom of the faithful as such. The Cardinal’s concern flows from the teaching of Vatican II that the Church’s own religious freedom–that she “claims…for herself”–includes “her character as a society of men who have the right to live in society in accordance with the precepts of the Christian faith.” Garnett cites this document but, apparently, only in reference to its discussion of religious freedom in general, not of the freedom of the Church. Winters rejects this idea of religious freedom altogether.

The bishops are not coming to the aid of impersonal “private for-profit employers.” These people are the Christian faithful in the pews–their own flock. The Church exhorts these people to live their faith Monday through Saturday, not just on Sunday morning. The Church’s schools of law and business teach them that they cannot divorce discipleship from their work. Winters himself claims to believe this when he praises Pope Benedict’s criticism of unbridled capitalism and environmental spoilation, and asks both to be bridled by the Gospel. Neither can be bridled by the Gospel if no one has the freedom to adhere to the Gospel except Catholic schools and hospitals and dioceses.

If the bishops surrender on the full freedom of the laity to follow Christ in business, the Catholic Left and Catholic educators alike will cut off the source of their own efforts. If Catholic laity have less freedom than Catholic schools to insist on the pervasive demand of discipleship throughout their lives, how can Catholic schools continue to teach the laity that they should be disciples 100% of the time? There is little point to preserving a church’s freedom to preach and teach and minister, if the church concedes that ordinary people may be commanded by law to not embrace its own teaching and ministry.

Cardinal Dolan’s insistence on the religious freedom of the Catholic faithful draws from the Second Vatican Council’s pervasive theme that the Church and the laity are not two things: the laity are the Church, the “People of God.” There is no basis in the Council to claim that the laity possess second-class religious freedom as compared to institutions run by dioceses. Instead, the Council deems the Church’s religious freedom to include the laity’s adherence to Christian morality, and insists that both stand “over and above” any “due limits” that the state can impose. The religious freedom of Church institutions and the laity as the Church cannot be separated.



  • Frantastic1

    Given the millions that our church has spent on hateful,ads that demonize gay people, I think that’s probably exactly what he’s saying.

  • abadilla

    You are being too logical for some of these folks, but that is exactly my position. If one disagrees with Roman Catholicism, one is not obligated to stay within its boundaries.

  • tranxtian

    Unfortunately, gay people often can not just “leave” the states that pass laws that ban them from marriage. I’m sure that’s what the people would like to see though and I’m sure that is the intent of such legislation.

    • abadilla

      Don’t play dumb! The Reverend was inviting you out of Catholicism, not out of the State.

  • tranxtian

    Why does the church spend so much money trying to ban others from living based on their religious beliefs?

    • abadilla

      Why does Tanxtian spend so much time in trying to attack others for their religious beliefs?

      • tranxtian

        I’m not attacking anyone.

        • Tiago Rodrigues

          Coul’ve fooled me. Please explain your religious beliefs and how the Church “bans” you from living according to them.

          • tranxtian

            Not me. The church bans anyone that disagrees with them from living according to their beliefs.

          • abadilla

            Really? I’ve seen dissenters like you and even dissenting theologians busy at confusing honest Catholics and rarely since the end of the Second Vatican Council have I seen anyone banned. Here you are in a Catholic forum spewing your venom all over the place and even in a Catholic forum you are not banned as you truly deserve. Stop playing the martyr because the only ones buying your message is other dissenters in this forum!

          • Guest

            So, I honestly cannot comprehend fully what your saying here. Are you stating that the church prevents the laity from living according to their own personal beliefs, or that she is forcing her beliefs on non-catholic Americans?

          • Rev. Mark Goodman

            Tranxtian, while I cant seem to determine if you are catholic or not from your posts, I will go ahead and assume you are. That being established, I would like you to clarify in what way the Roman Catholic Church ‘bans’ people from living according to their beliefs? As a Lutheran Priest it would be my position that if you are a member of my church and disagree with what is being taught, your welcome to leave any time you like. The same goes for whatever church you attend.

            The Very Reverend Mark Goodman

        • abadilla

          Are you for real? What do you call someone who suggests Pope Benedict is dividing us rather than uniting us. That’s not an attack on anyone? Pleaseeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee

          • Jerry Marko


          • abadilla

            Hi Guest, I don’t know what you meant be “send.”

          • Frantastic1

            I doubt that you are for real.

          • abadilla

            No, I’m just a ghost my students often read! Poor Mosnignor Charles Mangan, he has been writing to a ghost all the time and get contributions from a ghost.
            The people who are not “real” are the people who claim to believe in Catholicism at the same time they undermine the faith. It’s called lack of integrity.
            I hope the thirty pieces of silver are not too heavy for you.

        • abadilla

          Well, of course not, and we are all morons because we don’t read you right.

      • Frantastic1

        Why does abadilla spend so much time insuring that gay couples are excluded from the laws of the United States? Why does abadilla spend so much time making sure that gay couples can’t get the legal protections for their families that everyone else enjoys? Why does abadilla spend so much time insuring that our laws discriminate against gay people?

        For that matter, why does the hierarchy of the church spend so much time and money doing these same things?

        • abadilla

          I’m in a Catholic forum defending church teaching. It is you and others who insist in coming in here to confuse people with your assertions.
          I did not know that defending Church teaching is the same thing as spending time “discriminating” against gay people.
          Giving your “credibility” here I would be very careful in casting aspersions on people with whom you disagree.



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