Freedom of speech not limited to individuals

The Catholic Church has finally decided to take a stand against the powerful Kennedy clan. Bishop Thomas Tobin has asked Senator Edward Kennedy not to take Communion because of his open support of abortion. Kennedy’s position is in direct conflict with the church’s teaching on the abortion issue.

As a result, my friend Werner Janssen has found it necessary to attack the Catholic Church for having the audacity to actually require their members to adhere to the tenants of their professed faith. (The complete text of his KOHO radio opinion is in the sidebar story.)

In Janssen’s world it is one thing for the church to teach members about the church’s stand on issues like abortion, but it is up to the individual member to decide what they believe. It strikes me that my left leaning friend has clearly not thought this through. Many who reject religion do so on the basis that what people profess to believe is in contradiction to how they actually live their life. They are religious hypocrites. But according to Werner, hypocrisy in the pews is perfectly acceptable. It’s not important what your church teaches. It’s what you personally believe that is important. Well, if you don’t really believe what the church you are attending is teaching, then you are a hypocrite.

Continuing to attend a church whose theology you do not agree with is dishonest. You should join another church with teachings that are more acceptable to your personal beliefs. Churches are not social clubs. They are places where serious believers gather to study their faith and hopefully find meaning and purpose for their life.

Janssen says he is really upset that the Catholic Church is using its ecclesiastical power to influence legislation. What Janssen is really upset about is that the church would exercise its free speech rights under the first amendment to the Constitution. But Werner and his progressive friends have always twisted the constitution’s position on separation of church and state. In fact the Constitution’s first amendment is a restriction on the government’s regulation and control of religion. It is not a restriction on the freedom of churches to express their beliefs or attempt to influence government policy.

Just to make it clear, here is the actual wording under the first amendment: Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.

By arguing that the church has no right to express their opinion on the issue of abortion you are in fact prohibiting the church’s “free exercise thereof.” And by denying a church’s right to discipline one of its members for taking a position contrary to the teachings of that church, you are denying the church’s rights under the first amendment.

Janssen then goes on to justify Muslim atrocities as no worse than those committed by Christians opposed to abortion, and to blame war on religion. It is a popular secular progressive rant that somehow the world would be better off without these trouble making religious nuts. But to claim the actions of “misunderstood” Muslim religious zealots is somehow comparable to modern day Christianity is truly absurd. Christians have loudly condemned the actions of those who have killed in the name of the innocents, while the Muslim world remains eerily silent.

Finally, Janssen’s claim that “killing with words or killing with guns has the same outcome.” I can only say that I will meet anyone halfway on the battlefield of ideas where egos, ignorance and lies are the only casualties. But when intolerance, hate or ignorance gives way to murder then there is no room for diplomacy or discussion. Those who must use violence to force their ideas onto the rest of us have already lost the debate. They have given us no real choice but to defend ourselves.

I am not a Catholic, but I am a Christian. In my view Christian religious leaders have been far too timid in addressing the loss of their freedom of expression. This country was founded to protect people’s ability to celebrate their faith as they see fit. The Constitution guarantees them the right to do that. Including the right to “petition the government for a redress of their grievances.”

If the opinions of religious leaders were given more consideration, then just possibly we would find more honesty, civility and true compassion in the halls of Congress and in our society.