The Puzzle of Religious Liberty | Benjamin Wiker | Catholic World Report
Why the affirmation of religious liberty can lead, ironically, to its extinction at the hands of the secular state.
A Most Puzzling Puzzler
I invite the reader to think through an interesting and very serious conundrum. Many of us are rightly alarmed at ever-bolder attempts by our increasingly secular state to violate the religious liberty of its citizens.
To ward off such violations, we embrace the relevant part of the First Amendment: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof …” We therefore invoke the so-called “Free Exercise Clause” as a shield to impede attempts by the state to control or prohibit the free exercise of our religious convictions (and implicitly, the “Establishment Clause,” as we’ll see).
We do not tend to regard this shield as something merely man-made, a rule that happened to be adopted in a game and now we must stick to (“Collect $200 if you pass Go”), but a rule written, somehow, into our very nature—indeed, a kind of sacred, inviolable right.
That is certainly the way the American Catholic bishops wielded the First Amendment last summer when the Obama Administration attempted to use an HHS mandate to force Catholic institutions to provide insurance coverage for contraception, abortifacients, and sterilizations. The bishops cried out, “Religious Liberty.”
The embrace of religious liberty as a right was memorably expressed by James Madison in his “Memorial and Remonstrance” (1785). Madison, one of the great Founders, is considered to be the father of the Bill of Rights, so it would seem we’d want his opinion about the First Amendment. “The Religion…of every man,” Madison proclaimed, “must be left to the conviction and conscience of every man; and it is the right of every man to exercise it as these may dictate. This right is in its nature an unalienable right.”
In fact, Madison declared that this right was rooted in a duty, “the duty of every man to render to the Creator such homage and such only as he [i.e., every man] believes acceptable to him [presumably, but not unambiguously, God].”
Here comes the puzzler, which I’ll set out in semi-syllogistic enumerated steps.