Masks, Resurrection School, And Religious Liberty

Masks, Resurrection School, And Religious Liberty July 22, 2021

ArtRose: Face Masks / pixabay

If you are going to make a argument as to why you should do or not do something based upon religious liberty, you should make sure your religion obligates you to do as you claim. If it does not, then it is not truly an issue of religious liberty and you are abusing religion and religious liberty for the sake of personal preference. This is especially problematic, and immoral, if you are promoting some agenda which can and will harm the community around you. Thus, if you are a Catholic school arguing in courts that your religious teachings forbid you from wearing masks, and you do this in the middle of a pandemic in which masks help stop the spread of deadly diseases, you deserve all the shame you will get for your lies. Courts, likewise, should make sure those claiming their own particular religion forbids them or obligates them to do certain actions are accurately stating their religious teaching properly before allowing the case be heard (and if it is shown that those making religious liberty claims can be shown to be going against their own religious tradition, they should be held in contempt of court as well as be expected to pay court fees and various penalties for wasting the court’s time).

Catholics have no business claiming religious liberty exempts them from wearing masks. Pope Francis has criticized those who refused to wear masks. He, along with other Catholic authorities,  makes it clear that Catholics should follow pandemic guidelines which protect society from deadly diseases. This demonstrates that there is nothing against wearing masks in the Catholic tradition. Thus, when officials at Resurrection School in Lansing, Michigan argues in court that mask mandates go against their religious liberty, the courts should take into consideration what the Pope and other leaders of the Catholic faith have already indicated and know that such a claim is false. There is no religious liberty violation when Catholic authorities are telling people to wear masks! Their argument, likewise, is ridiculous:

Resurrection School thinks mask-wearing interferes with the institution’s mission of giving its students a Catholic education. The school’s lawsuit argued that in addition to physically blocking God’s image, face coverings make people anti-social and interfere with relationships. The Catholic faith teaches that people are relational beings and that these relationships mirror the relationship between God, Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit — believed to be three people, but one God. [1]

Masks have a long history of use, and Catholic teaching has in no way claimed they are forbidden. Has there been any canon laws telling Catholics children they can’t wear masks for Halloween? Has anyone told soldiers they can’t wear gasmasks in war? Has anyone told actors they can’t wear mask or cover their face with makeup? It is a strange suggestion, especially if we look at the role masks have had in the development of Trinitarian theology: the Latin word persona, used in theology to denote the persons of the Trinity and form the basis by which we understand persons, originally referred to the masks used in plays (or the characters portrayed by those masks). Clearly, masks can be used to represent God, if we can use the term associated with masks to represent the persons of the Trinity.

Of course, if the pure image and likeness of God is not to be covered in any way, then it is not just the face which should be left uncovered. It is the whole human body. We were not told the face is what was made in the image and likeness of God, but the whole person. If masks are to be forbidden because it covers up the image of God, so should clothing: the only logical conclusion is that Christians should be nudists and religious liberty demands Christians should be free from all laws telling them to wear clothes! Ridiculous!

It is clear that Resurrection School has no religious liberty case. Their argument is silly and if followed to the logical conclusion would mean Christians should imitate the way Adam and Eve were said to be in the Garden of Eden, that is, wearing no clothes. Their claim goes against Catholic officials who have said Catholics should wear masks to protect society from the coronavirus. In reality, they are abusing the notion of religious liberty, doing so to promote their own desires (not to wear masks) instead of the common good. This goes against Catholic teaching on religious liberty as presented at Vatican II:

The right to religious freedom is exercised in human society: hence its exercise is subject to certain regulatory norms. In the use of all freedoms the moral principle of personal and social responsibility is to be observed. In the exercise of their rights, individual men and social groups are bound by the moral law to have respect both for the rights of others and for their own duties toward others and for the common welfare of all. Men are to deal with their fellows in justice and civility.[2]

Society has a right to protect itself from harm. Religious liberty cannot be invoked as an excuse to ignore moral obligations. Educators, schools, are especially expected to understand this and so to promote the common good, not private desires. Schools should be teaching the authentic dimensions of religious liberty and its limitations:

On the other hand, not a few can be found who seem inclined to use the name of freedom as the pretext for refusing to submit to authority and for making light of the duty of obedience. Wherefore this Vatican Council urges everyone, especially those who are charged with the task of educating others, to do their utmost to form men who, on the one hand, will respect the moral order and be obedient to lawful authority, and on the other hand, will be lovers of true freedom-men, in other words, who will come to decisions on their own judgment and in the light of truth, govern their activities with a sense of responsibility, and strive after what is true and right, willing always to join with others in cooperative effort. [3]

Resurrection School fails to follow their own Catholic teachings and tradition. Their case should have been thrown out of courts due to that fact alone. But, what is more, its status as a Catholic school should be questioned.  The Bishop of Lansing, likewise, should not have allowed the case go to courts, and should have told the school it would risk losing its Catholic status if it tried to do so because they would be going against the express teachings of the Catholic faith.

Covid19 is no joke. Catholics should take the pandemic seriously. They must not use religious liberty as an argument against their moral obligations. Catholic teaching denies the validity of that kind of argument. Those who do so only do what Vatican II was concerned some would do, which is to abuse the  notion of religious liberty  by using it to deny the common good.[4]

[1] Marisa Iati, “Mask Mandates Violate Religious Liberty By Hiding Faces Made In God’s Image, Catholic School Says,” in The Washington Post (7-21-2021).

[2] Vatican Council II, “Dignitatis humanae,” Vatican translation. ¶7.

[3] Vatican Council II, “Dignitatis humanae,” ¶8.

[4] “Furthermore, society has the right to defend itself against possible abuses committed on the pretext of freedom of religion,” Vatican Council II, “Dignitatis humanae,” ¶8.


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Masks, Resurrection School, And Religious Liberty

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