Friday, October 28, 2011
Boo Bishop-Bashing Board. Hooray Church!
In the Minnesota Daily last week, the Editorial Board presented quite an appalling proposal. Their piece suggested that people of faith – specifically Minnesota’s Roman Catholic Bishops and Minnesota Catholics – do not have a right to express their beliefs in the public arena.
According to the the article, because the Minnesota Bishops are on the wrong side of the pending gay marriage amendment, they should not be able to persuade state legislators and lead advocacy campaigns. This is a flawed argument because the right to participate in these activities is not dependent on where one stands – otherwise public discourse would be futile.
The Bishops’ involvement in politics is neither malicious nor is it unique. Throughout US history the Church has lobbied government on behalf of immigrants and indigent, against wars and for education. They probably had a stance on prohibition and definitely played a role in early unionization movements. Recently, the pope authored a white paper about protecting the environment. And through it all, religious freedom in the United States has managed to survive.
The editors are correct to assert that the Catholic Church or any religious group cannot force the state follow their same beliefs or practices. As Jason Adkins, the Minnesota Catholic Church’s director of public policy, said in a Star Tribune editorial, “the church only proposes; she imposes nothing.” Minnesota Catholics, Archbishop Nienstedt, and the institution of the Church can make policy recommendations like any other citizen or organization; that doesn’t mean they automatically become law. Rather, they are subject to the same standards of democracy as are any other proposals from any other source. In other words, if the state were to accept the Bishops’ position on gay marriage, it would not be an official endorsement of the Church, but rather a democratically accepted position that happens to be one supported by the Church.
In this regard, the Church is no different from the thousands of lobbying and advocacy organizations across Minnesota and the country. When the Minnesota Legislature passes a budget with provisions for nursing home support, it is not adopting AARP as the official retired persons’ group of the state.
The First Amendment does not suggest that people of faith are prohibited from participation in government or public affairs. Rather, it says that Congress cannot establish an official State Church, restrict people from practicing religion, or constrain free speech So, while the Government cannot endorse a church, the Constitution in no way says that the Church or Catholic Minnesotans should be excluded from political dialogue. Just as Philadelphia Phillies phans get to vote (at least since the abolition of literacy tests) and engineers can weigh in on budget issues, Catholics (as well as their leaders), have the right to contribute to public discourse.
Regardless of the Boards’ evaluation of the “justice” of the Bishops’ claims, people of faith, even at their leaders’ recommendations, have the constitutional right to express their opinions about the state of public affairs. The issue of gay marriage is debatable. The issue of whether or not certain members of our society are allowed to participate in the public discourse never has been and never will be.
The Board’s grand mistake is confusing the Church’s right to participate in public affairs and what they are lobbying for. The Board does not seem to be critiquing the Church’s vast amount of advocacy on any number of issues locally or nationally. Rather, they simply disagree with the Church’s stance on the gay marriage amendment. This is what the article should have said rather than confounding this argument with the Church’s right to participate in political discussions. Unless they actually meant that Catholics shouldn’t be allowed to vote – THEN we really have a problem.
-Joe and Patrick