Does religious liberty give license for immoral acts?

Hello everyone,
This my first post on CAF. I pose this question in hopes of seeking truth and hope all responses are done seeking the same.
The question I have is given the recent HHS mandate, not to mention other states who have similar mandates, does the first amendment, which gives any religious organization the right to practice the things it believes, necessarily mean that when a religious organization does something intrinsically immoral, e.g. polygamy in certain Mormon sects or any religion that believes Life is not intrinsically valuable, it should not be held accountable to the society in which it lives? Is it that the government has no right to make policy over that? So I guess my question is first on the principle of the matter and secondly on the practicality of how issues should be dealt with. Also I apologize for the wordiness of the question, I don’t know how to phrase it differently.

Please know that I ask this question sincerely as it has been bothering me lately. I hope this question is not only provocative, but also fruitfully to anyone else who may be thinking about this.

I do see what you mean and you make a valid point. If all belief systems insist on the religious freedom regarding all that their particular belief systems approve, moral chaos could follow.
Until you raised the question, I’d not considered this.

The ultimate good and truth is God, and God’s commandments should be the defining authority, however the varied interpretation of religions, faiths, cults, belief-systems, including diametrically opposed interpretations, does in fact create a multifaceted dilemma for religious freedom and morality. If we interpret religious freedom broadly, than yes it could give license for immoral acts.

This provides many dilemmas for interpretation of the Law.

Our only real safeguard is God’s ultimate authority, but not all belief-systems accept God or interpret according to God’s ultimate truth and God’s essential laws

How to deal with that?..I’m thinking…

Remember that the HHS mandate is a government action, not a personal action.

If someone belongs to the KKK and so claims a right to burn a cross, that action can be outlawed by a neutral and nondiscriminatory anti-arson law because the cross-burning is a personal act.

Now say that the government instead enacts a law that requires all people to burn a cross. Now the cross burning is a government action. An African-American family could rightly claim that the law is coercing them to do something that violates their conscience. The HHS mandate is the same thing, except that it orders the killing of babies instead of the burning of crosses.

If someone belongs to the KKK and so claims a right to burn a cross, that action can be outlawed by a neutral and nondiscriminatory anti-arson law because the cross-burning is a personal act. Personal acts of a religious character can be regulated by the government under what is called the test.Lemon

Now say that the government instead enacts a law that requires all people to burn a cross. Now the cross burning is a government action. The Lemon test is out the window. An African-American family could rightly claim that the law is coercing them to do something that violates their conscience. The HHS mandate is the same thing, except that it orders the killing of babies instead of the burning of crosses.

This is an excellent question, but also very difficult. At the time of the founding Fathers this was not as difficult. You had the Church of England, some Protestants, Catholics and Jews. In term of moral values you can say that they would operate on a similar moral basis. Fast forward into the modern area and many new forms of Protestantism arise and alien religions such as Hinduism, Islam, New Age, etc. come into the picture. Our laws view them as equivalent. Unfortunately our founding Fathers could not give Christianity a primacy of place, because of there being so many competing forms and this IMHO is a huge weakness, because a united Christianity could have been enshrined into our bylaws.

In regards to the HHS mandate, well things like abortion, birth control, and artificial insemination are considered normal for most in this country; even though in the past they were seen as abominable. So in the case of the Branch Davidians we saw the necessity of government to intervene in a bad situation. Running a parallel, here most Americans see the Church as an old hopelessly out of date faith who has become a pun for certain types of jokes that has limited rights for women. I would imagine most Americans would not care to see the Catholic Church punished for not being in step with modern American values.

As Catholics we are in a bad position in a country whose values are not traditionally Catholic and which to an extent have persecuted our values from time to time. We have thrived so far and this to date may be the biggest challenge to our faith. Along with the gospel true Catholics are shaped by natural law which is philosophically self-evident in nature. It is not like the subjective values of socialism, which is being used against us in this case. Our hope here is that that based on natural law we are not persecuted under this mandate.

I’m glad someone else has asked this question. I started a thread called Religious Freedom Double Standard in the Social Justice forum a couple weeks ago asking, basically, the same question but only had one response. To what extent should we push for the law of the land to reflect what we hold as the moral law? Should there be a law that prohibits premarital sex or fortune telling? These things definitely are immoral from our view, but are they crimes against justice? They have no place in the life of any Christian, but could, or should, they be imposed on non-Christians? It seems to me that the government should not be the main median through which we promote social sanctification, but rather, social justice. In other words, maybe there are some things that we should not oppose with the laws of the government, although they are sinful, and then there are.those that it would be sinful not to oppose We do not tend to the good of our souls at state houses as we do in churches, but it is good that we should bring our church-tended souls to them. I’ll let this go for now, I think I’m in over my head a little bit.

II. Respect for the Dignity of Persons

Respect for the souls of others: scandal

2284 Scandal is an attitude or behavior which leads another to do evil. the person who gives scandal becomes his neighbor’s tempter. He damages virtue and integrity; he may even draw his brother into spiritual death. Scandal is a grave offense if by deed or omission another is deliberately led into a grave offense.

2285 Scandal takes on a particular gravity by reason of the authority of those who cause it or the weakness of those who are scandalized. It prompted our Lord to utter this curse: "Whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him to have a great millstone fastened round his neck and to be drowned in the depth of the sea."85 Scandal is grave when given by those who by nature or office are obliged to teach and educate others. Jesus reproaches the scribes and Pharisees on this account: he likens them to wolves in sheep’s clothing.86

2286 Scandal can be provoked by laws or institutions, by fashion or opinion.

Therefore, they are guilty of scandal who establish laws or social structures leading to the decline of morals and the corruption of religious practice, or to "social conditions that, intentionally or not, make Christian conduct and obedience to the Commandments difficult and practically impossible."87 This is also true of business leaders who make rules encouraging fraud, teachers who provoke their children to anger,88 or manipulators of public opinion who turn it away from moral values.

2287 Anyone who uses the power at his disposal in such a way that it leads others to do wrong becomes guilty of scandal and responsible for the evil that he has directly or indirectly encouraged. “Temptations to sin are sure to come; but woe to him by whom they come!”

We should always oppose any attempt by the government to promote something we know as evil. For instance if the government was promoting premarital sex and instituted a mandate in schools that premarital sex was to be encouraged, that should be opposed. If the government mandated that we all see a fortune teller once a month that should be opposed. If the government offered a tax credit for those who went to a fortune teller that should be opposed. These are all cases where evil is not just being tolerated but rather it is being promoted as something good.

When it comes to the question of whether something should be made illegal that is another question entirely. The current HHS mandate debate has nothing to do with any of this though since no one is trying to make birth control illegal or believes it should be in our current system. Making certain things illegal has nothing to do with social sanctification, it has to do with justice.

Polygamy is illegal because it presents a threat to the stability of the nation if it were to be undertaken by a good portion of the population. What happens when you all of sudden have a whole bunch of men for which there are no women for them to marry? Polygamy is not a threat to society when only a few people do it, but it has to be illegal to prevent it from ever getting to the point where more than a few people do it.

I have actually heard the social sanctification argument more out of the liberal social justice crowd than anywhere else. “We have to do X program, because Jesus would have wanted it and we are an evil nation if we do not”. “We must raise taxes because that is what Jesus would have wanted”. Every single social program is made into a moral argument. Meanwhile abortion is “a woman’s choice”…

No. Because although religious liberty is very important, it isn’t absolute. If someone is doing something because of religion that will harm another human (e.g human sacrifice–I know it’s extreme, but…) or society in general, then it doesn’t have to be allowed. I recommend reading the Catechism of the Catholic Church about religious freedom or the Syllabus of Errors (read in context!!!). :slight_smile:

Good point, and this is the weakness we as Christians face. Too much diversity within Christianity. Abortion, sterilization, contraception,etc are acceptable in many Christian denominations; heck a famous abortionist was an usher in good standing at his Church. Catholics that follow the official magisterium are the oddballs because we have not adopted these called ‘progressive’ stances that most in our church crave.

When we speak of God’s authority; well whose God the Wiccan, the Hindu, the Islamic, the Christian, the Hebrew, etc? If it is the God of the Christians who speaks for him the Presbyterians, the Catholics, the Baptists, or according to each individual’s chosen understanding of the Christian scriptures?

It is a big dilemma, even if Christianity would have been given an explicit primacy of place by our founding Fathers. This HHS mandate is a threat focused on faithful Catholicism; which constitutes the minority position in our Church.

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