Right on time the charge comes that I am pretending Hillary poses no threat to religious liberty because I point out that the claim that she pledged to persecute Christians over abortion in the US is bunk.
Nope. I don’t say that. Hillary will take the same line as Obama: she will attempt to restrict freedom of religion to “freedom of worship”. And that is a real danger. But to understand the danger, we need to know what “religion” means.
*Religion* pertains to how we live out our faith in the public square. I discussed this some time ago over at OSV:
Depending on who you talk to, religion means various things, all of them bad. For some, it means mystical mumbo jumbo like a lucky rabbit’s foot: a thing to be patronizingly indulged until it conflicts with the consensus of up-to-date people. For others, it is Bronze Age savagery that, in the memorable phrase of Christopher Hitchens, “poisons everything” — an evil thing to be terminated with extreme prejudice. For others, particularly of the “Why I hate religion, but love Jesus” or “I’m not religious, I just love the Lord!” variety, it is a human creation that cuts the heart off from a personal relationship with Jesus and encrusts the Gospel in an impenetrable husk devoid of living faith, hope and charity.
But in biblical (which is to say Catholic) parlance, religion is not a bad thing but a good thing. St. Paul, for instance, in 1 Timothy says: “Undeniably great is the mystery of devotion, who was manifested in the flesh, vindicated in the spirit, seen by angels, proclaimed to the Gentiles, believed in throughout the world, taken up in glory” (3:16).
Likewise, James remarks: “If anyone thinks he is religious and does not bridle his tongue but deceives his heart, his religion is vain. Religion that is pure and undefiled before God and the Father is this: to care for orphans and widows in their affliction and to keep oneself unstained by the world” (Jas 1:26–27).
In short, the problem is not religion but those who “make a pretense of religion but deny its power” (2 Tm 3:5). Religion derives from the Latin “religare” meaning “obligation, bond, reverence.” In other words, it refers to our bond of sacred kinship to God and to neighbor. What kind of bond is that? Love. When we perform acts of worship to God and acts of love toward our neighbor, we are living out what the Catholic Faith (and the New Testament) means by loving the Lord with all your heart, mind, soul and strength and loving your neighbor as yourself. That is truly living a relationship.
So “Freedom of religion” pertains to the belief and practice of people both in the sanctuary and outside it. So, for instance, the remarkably gutsy Joan Cheever was fined $2000 by the city of San Antonio for feeding homeless people and her magnificent reply was “This is my Church and this is how I pray“. St. Lawrence would applaud that. And best part: San Antonio backed down and rescinded the fine.
What that brave woman did was assert freedom of religion: the right to live out her faith outside the sanctuary. Every believer should make exactly the same argument as they seek to live out the teachings of the gospel in the public square. Why are you observing 40 Days for Life peacefully outside an abortion clinic? “This is my Church and this is how I pray.” Why are you feeding the homeless? “This is my Church and this is how I pray.” Why are you protesting the largest police state on planet earth and its massively disproportionate incarceration of minorities? “This is my Church and this is how I pray.” Why are you protesting against euthanasia? “This is my Church and this is how I pray.” Why are you bearing public witness to the Church’s teaching on marriage and family? “This is my Church and this is how I pray.” Why are you protesting the death penalty? “This is my Church and this is how I pray.”
But it will also be vital to, for heaven’s sake, not become hysterical and babble that she is Diocletian. Have some perspective.
Speaking of perspective, suppose Hillary declared that there must be a ban on all Christian immigration to the US. How about a demand for a government database with the names of all Christians? Or, in the midst of such rhetoric, talked approvingly of internment camps for Japanese and complains that it is a sign of weakness that we don’t want to do that now?
Christians would rightly scream their heads off about such truly menacing rhetoric. And they would recognize that such actions by the state are a damn sight closer to Diocletian than mere lawyerly weasel words.
Yet that is exactly the kind of language Trump has used in his reckless war on the first amendment. Except the targets are Muslims and so it’s all fine.
And that’s the thing: Trump, yet again, advocates exactly the same evils as Clinton. Indeed, he advocates the evil of state oppression of religion far more extremely than she does. He is, in fact, the most dangerous enemy of religious liberty since the Know Nothings. And in their folly, conservative Christians are backing him to the hilt, stone blind and short-sighted to the fact that once you give Caesar the power to do it to Muslims, you’ve given him the power to do it to every other religion too.
Hillary’s soft hostility to the Church on matters of marriage and abortion is real. It does not, however, make her Diocletian. Trump’s fake promises to give the Church all the kingdoms of the earth if we will bow down and worship him likewise do not make him Constantine.
Those who care more about saving their skins from an imaginary Diocletian by buddying up with an authoritarian who promises to persecute those they hate are simply saying yes to doing evil that good may come of it. Will Hillary likely try to muscle the Church when it gets in her way? Sure. But it is, in the Christian tradition, better to suffer harm innocently than to inflict harm sinfully.
Do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul; rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell. (Mt 10:28).
If you are reproached for the name of Christ, you are blessed, because the spirit of glory and of God rests upon you. But let none of you suffer as a murderer, or a thief, or a wrongdoer, or a mischief-maker; yet if one suffers as a Christian, let him not be ashamed, but under that name let him glorify God. (1 Pe 4:14–16).