5 comments

  1. There is a widespread unstated assumption that the First Amendment’s Free Exercise and Establishment clauses adequately protect libertas ecclesiae. But this is not true. Of course, the First Amendment does indeed provide some very strong limitations against state interference in internal Church affairs, which is indeed one of the core aspects of libertas ecclesiae. And it is certainly helpful that the U.S. Constitution forbids laws that uniquely single out the Church for disfavor Yet, beyond these, the protections offered to the Church by the First Amendment are relatively meager. The reason for this should be obvious. The First Amendment arises out of an uneasy alliance of low-church Protestants and Enlightenment Deists. Despite their differences, they both agreed that religion is above all a personal matter– not something that is expressed above all in a concrete visible institution. In contrast, libertas ecclesiae requires that the Church be given certain rights, privileges, and autonomy as an institution. This necessarily requires the Church, its property, and to a large extent its personnel to be exempt from a large portion of “generally applicable” laws. It would also require tax-exempt status as a matter of principle–not as a statutory concession which (if I’m not mistaken) could easily be revoked without any First Amendment problems (and far too many Catholics do not realize this).

    A few years ago, when I first read Pope Leo XIII’s 1895 letter to the U.S. bishops “Loginqua Oceani” I thought the pope was naive and did not adequately understand American political and religious culture. But now I better understand just how wise Leo XIII was. He recognized that the U.S. legal structure was quite favorable to Catholicism at the time. But he cautioned the American Catholics against growing complacent. Instead, he urged them to seek concrete guarantees, protections and privileges. Leo XIII understood that a generalized “neutral” religious liberty will not necessarily ensure libertas ecclesiae.

  2. I’d be more in favor of this event if it was renamed to something like the Fortnight For Real Marriage. Religious freedom isn’t a hill for any Catholic who knows the Tradition of the Church to die on. I would go as far as saying it has contributed to leading us down the path we are on today.

  3. but their instincts are in the right place.

    I don’t know I think the Americanists have done more damage by successfully positioning themselves as “orthodox” Catholics. Also their hero John Courtney Murray deserves a lion-share of the blame for the worst document promulgated at Vatican II. Say what you want about the left of center types but they have (until recently) been more consistently anti-Americanist. George Weigel and John Zmirak get one thing right when they claim they have more in common with Protestants and Mormons than they do with leftist or illiberal Catholics.

    1. I would say their instincts are in the right place with respect to their desire to use extant legal protections to allow the Church to breathe in an atmosphere dominated by secularism. However, that doesn’t mean I don’t think they are naïve or even wrongheaded. In fact, I think what we are seeing is the definitive proof of how bad their bets were. It’s a rough situation.

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