Anti-Catholic cartoon by American polotical
cartoonist Thomas Nast (1840-1902) illustrating
fear of Catholic Takeover of the United States
Until the notoriety of the Murray silencing, most American Catholics were unaware of the conflict between the United States Constitution and Catholic Magisterial teaching. American Protestants, however, knew it. Anti-Catholicism in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries was primarily linked to anti-immigrant sentiment. If you look at the right hand column where it is marked “Labels” you will see thirteen postings on “anti-Catholicism.” One of the reasons that so many Americans feared the growth of the Catholic Church in the American Republic is that they saw that Catholicism posed a danger to American liberties. We ridicule the idea that Catholics, if they attained a political majority, would take away Freedom of Religion in the United States—but remember, that is precisely what the papacy expected them to do. I doubt it ever would have come to that. I think Americans of whatever religious faith make a clear distinction in their public and political life between one’s religious convictions and the commitment we have to the freedoms outlined in the Bill of Rights. While we might vote our faith, and while our electoral choices should—like all decisions in our lives—reflect the values our Christian and Catholic faith has given us, I think the civic values of the American Constitutional tradition are a firewall against religious extremism.
Now although Catholic doctrine has changed to embrace freedom of conscience, this question does have relevance today. Just as Catholics can expect neither their faith nor the canon law of their Church to determine the laws of the Nation or of any State, County, or local jurisdiction, we must also insist that no other creed or religious law find its way into public legislation. There must be no more room for Sharia than there is for Canon Law or the Mosaic Law in public life. Individuals are free, indeed should be encouraged, to follow religious precepts in their individual lives and within the framework of their particular religious community, but the anti-establishment clause of the first amendment protects us from having any one religious philosophy imposed on the American people.
Sharia law might be the obvious threat today but there are Catholics who still want to see Catholicism established as the official religion of the United States. I used to think they were all crazies like Solange Hertz, a Leesburg Virginia doyenne with more bats in her belfry than Hogwarts at Halloween but then a couple of years ago along came Michael Voris from Real Catholic TV suggesting that what we need now is a Catholic Monarchy to replace our Republican Government. Fortunately Voris has no support from the Church for his bizarre ideas and little influence among everyday Catholics but he is articulate and, adjusting for the observation that his reality coordinates are off kilter, within his own world of factoids he invariably has a well thought out and philosophically consistent patter. Indeed he is not alone in his parallel universe. There is a considerable faction among the neo-traditionalists who reject the Second Vatican Council whose fundamental opposition to the Catholic Church is not about the liturgy but about the Conciliar Decrees, especially Dignitatis Humanae and its assertion of Freedom of Conscience. In the end, the ascendancy of Catholic Law over the larger society would be as fatal a blow to the Human Dignity with which our Creator has endowed us as would be Sharia law. We may be more familiar with Catholic theology and law than Sharia Law, and Catholic hegemony might require less adjustment on our part, but are we willing to yield to any outside force the sovereignty of our conscience, the consciences of which God has made us each a steward and for which God will hold us accountable?
Religion cannot be banned from public life—nor should it be. We are guaranteed the free exercise of religion. There is no effective way in a democracy to keep religion out of public life because religious citizens will (hopefully) have their political philosophies shaped by their religious faith. Even non-believers have their attitudes and values shaped by their non-belief. Religion (or lack thereof) will all come to the lawmakers’ table but it must only come to the table through the agency of the individual citizens and never through the direct influence of religious institutions over government. And if the Churches (and Synagogues and Mosques and various Atheistic Associations) are performing their role in raising the consciousness of their individual members, making convincing arguments for the political consequences of their beliefs, those beliefs will be reflected in the democratic process. But the attempt to coerce believers into voting blocs sorted by religion undermines the constitutional processes. I expect my pastor to tell me that abortion is wrong. I expect my pastor to tell me that same-sex marriage is not consistent with our Christian understanding of matrimony. I expect my pastor to tell me that we have a responsibility to provide for the needy and vulnerable among us. I expect my pastor to pass on the Church’s teaching regarding immigration and the death penalty as well as contraception and divorce. I hope my pastor will have the coglioni to tell me to vote my conscience (not my religion [collective] but my conscience [individual]) and not my wallet. And I hope I will have the intelligence to know the difference and the integrity to be truthful as to which is which.