Fr. James V. Schall, S.J., who taught political philosophy at Georgetown University for decades until recently retiring, wrote in the Catholic World Report that the secular state’s efforts to narrow the definition of religious freedom must be thwarted.
The Church has consistently proclaimed that freedom of religious is paramount, according to Fr. Schall. “Part of religious freedom means we leave our neighbors in peace with their own religion,” he wrote. “The public and civil freedom of religion until recently was taken as a given in what were said to be free and democratic states. This freedom included the ability to practice one’s faith with no civil impediments.”
Fr. Schall continued:
As the secular state has taken over more and more of the health, educational, and charitable functions once pioneered by Christianity, however, it has increasingly restricted “freedom of religion.” It now protects only what goes on inside churches. Nearly everything outside churches is under control of the ideology and power of the state. Religion and its adherents must conform to the mandates of the state, whatever one’s conscience dictates to the contrary, at the price of civil disenfranchisement, if not positive persecution and imprisonment.
The enormous varieties of religion, however, made it necessary to ask about limits on religious proselytism. Not all religions held the same things by any means. Many were frankly at odds with, if not at war with, other religions or the state. The civil notion that all religions were equally insignificant was the result of the proposals of Hobbes. Religion was seen as a cause of civil war and domestic strife. Civic peace, as we learned from Marsilius of Padua, could only be maintained if all religions fell under state power in all their external actions. Religion was exclusively a thing of the spirit; it had nothing to do with the body. Such a view effectively made incarnational Christianity impossible.
The distinction between natural and supernatural religions was not recognized. Philosophy and politics controlled all things called in anyway “religious”. We even find proposals for a world parliament of religion under the control of the United Nations and its ideology. All conflicts between religion and politics are resolved in favor of the state, and the state in effect becomes itself a substitute religion or metaphysics. The state decides what religion can hold; it has no transcendent check on itself.
Schall wrote that, sadly, religious freedom has come to mean not a freedom to practice one’s religion but “permission to do what the state allowed.”
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