Saturday, July 09, 2011

The Wall of Separation

Published in the Umatuna 7/5/2011

In a previous column, we noted the three most common arguments used by those who prefer to use a selective morality to absolve themselves from taking a public stand on sticky issues such as abortion and same-sex marriage:

1) the “separation of church and state”,

2) “We have no right to impose our religious beliefs”, and

3) “If you don’t want (fill in the blank) then don’t” (e.g. “if you don’t want an abortion don’t have one”).

Working backwards, we have already discussed the 2 and 3 in previous columns, so this week we will examine the concept of the “separation of church and state”.


If you have been following the local versions of the debates over abortion and the legalization of same-sex unions, you are familiar with shouts for the Church to “stay out of politics”.

There are many good reasons for the Church to insert its authority into public affairs, not the least of which is the salvation of souls, ALL souls. But for our present purposes, we will address the relationship between church and state from a secular and legal perspective.

The phrase “separation of church and state” does not appear in the U.S. Constitution as many suppose. The First Amendment simply reads: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof ...."

The intent of the Founders was NOT to keep religion out of government but to keep government out of religion. Had it been the other way around, our founding documents and institutions would not have been so imbued with religious references (e.g. All 50 states reference “God” in their state constitutions.)

The phrase makes its first major appearance almost a century after the U.S. Constitution was penned in a case involving the Mormon Church: Reynolds v. The United States (1892).

Reynolds, a Mormon, who, in accordance with the doctrine of his religion, had two wives. Polygamy had been outlawed thirty years earlier, so Reynolds brought his case for multiple wives to the Supreme Court.

It appears that the Court was subject to some consternation because it first made a strange appeal to English law, and then, perhaps sensing the weak linkage, settled on the fact that the word “religion” was not defined in the Constitution and a definition would therefore have to be provided.

After some digging, the Court unearthed a letter written by Thomas Jefferson to a Baptist church wherein he referred to “a wall of separation of church and state”, a phrase which was not his own, but an echo of similar words penned in 1644 by the founder of that same church, Roger Williams.

The Court, seemingly anxious to put the Mormon, Reynolds, in jail, latched on to another part of the letter wherein Jefferson had opined that though government could not tell citizens what to think about their religion, it could tell them what they could or could not do when religious actions were judged to be “subversive of good order.

The Court adjudged that polygamy was “subversive of good order”, and deduced that since Jefferson had written both the First Amendment and the obscure letter to said "Baptists," Jefferson’s note was thus a clarification of the First Amendment. In other words, the Court, in effect, said, “because Jefferson said so!

Curiously, the “evidence” found by the Court in Jefferson’s letter did not provide a definition for “religion” as the Court had sought, but, provided a basis, after some judicial contortions, for a redefinition of the words “free exercise thereof...” since it essentially declared that while the state could not regulate religious belief, it could in fact regulate the exercise thereof...” if that exercise was adjudged to be “subversive”.

What made things even stranger was that while the case gave rise to the concept of “separation of church and state”, the Court itself appealed - through a reference to a previous case (Holy Trinity Church v. U.S., 1892) - to the Christian basis of “common law” and in so many words, condemns polygamy upon the basis that the United States is a Christian nation:
No free government now exists in the world unless where Christianity is acknowledged and is the religion of the country . . . . Christianity is part of the common law . . . . Its foundations are broad and strong and deep . . . . It is the purest system of morality . . . and only stable support of all human laws”. (Updegraph v. The Commonwealth, 1824 - as referenced in the Holy Trinity case.)
The debate over the relationship between church and state came to a head in 1947 in Everson v. Board of Education wherein the words “the wall of separation of church and state” were further invoked and cemented into the legal lexicon.

The Everson decision paved the path for the disestablishment of all things religious in the public sphere, and the “separation” phrase has henceforth served as a battering ram to beat down moral opinions of every sort, but particularly those involving sexual mores.

It’s a fascinating history of a jerky sort of connect-the-dots from an obscure phrase used by a Baptist minister in 1644 to its current contrived legitimacy wherein it serves as a platform to shout down those who would dare challenge the legal rush to embrace state-sanctioned sexual freedoms.

However, there is still no constitutional basis to deny a public hearing of religious opinion in matters of state. In fact, the very next phrase in the First Amendment (freedom of speech) guarantees that right for everyone, including (members of) the Church, to speak freely in the public square on any matter.

Universally, the Church has the right and the authority to speak to all issues of human consequence. In the United States, it has the additional protection of the First Amendment and cannot be legally silenced.

Elected officials who hide from tough moral positions behind the “wall of separation” either do not understand the Constitution they are elected to uphold or simply find the shadow of “the wall” a convenient place to cower.

Sadly, (or predictably) they often have the company of many Christians.

Friday, July 08, 2011

Commenting on the Commenting on the Case of Fr. Corapi

Apparently there was a bit of back and forth recently between Fr. John Corapi and Fr. Gerard Sheehan, one of his superiors.  Another well-known priest, in an apparent response to the controversy, posted a call to read 2 Peter on Facebook. The post was a bit cryptic as it made no mention of Corapi, but from the avalanche of responses, most seemed to know it was a reference to the Corapi uproar.

Most of the comments called for placing faith in God, not men, etc. One comment called for focusing on the message not the messenger which brought to mind Marshall McLuhan's famous quote and I responded thus:

"The medium is the message". It's easy to say we shouldn't place our trust in men. But Jesus gave us such men and gave them a sacramental office. This is why there are such grave consequences for those who abuse it.

Saying that we shouldn't place our trust in men just because they are called Father is like telling a child that he shouldn't place his trust in the man he calls Father. They are called "Father" for a reason. They represent our heavenly Father on earth. This is why there will be hell to pay for those who "lead the little ones astray" be they spiritual fathers or biological.

In Corapi's case, I'm going to go out on a limb and say it was in large part the fault of his superiors. His wayward life was no secret to them. They allowed him to live apart from community. They allowed him to accumulate massive wealth. They could not have just suddenly become aware of all this. If they are just suddenly aware, then they were bad I would be if my son had been drinking, drugging, and sleeping around.

They had to know and they chose to leave him alone. Perhaps they were getting a nice bit of cash flow off Corapi's stash. I don't know. But for whatever reason, they let him do what he did, and let him do it for a long time. One wonders who his superiors will have to answer to.

Fourth Sunday after Pentecost - Notes from Fr. Eric Forbes

This coming Sunday is the Fourth Sunday after Pentecost - Extraordinary Form (Traditional Latin Mass)
11AM Mass with Fr Andre

One theme for this Sunday's liturgy : WAITING ON A SUPERABUNDANT GOD

INTROIT : sets the tone for this Sunday's liturgy.  All our enemies which we think get in the way of real happiness are no match for God's power.

COLLECT : Nothing happens in the world without God a) actively making it happen or b) passively allowing it to happen.  We ask that God direct the events of this world (our own little world, and in the larger world), in either His active will or His passive will, in a way that is advantageous to us and the whole Church.

EPISTLE : We have to wait.  Little in life happens as quickly as we want it.  Saint Paul is teaching us that all this waiting is not a waste of time, as long as we are waiting for what counts : our salvation.  This future salvation gives us the perfect happiness our hearts desire, including the glorification of our bodies.  We wait and we groan, but for the right thing.  Unfortunately, many others wait and groan for the wrong things; things that don't bring perfect happiness.

The Question of Proper Attire and of "Eucharistic Ministers"

I recently received an email from a friend of a friend, a woman, who had received some criticism from another woman who felt that since my friend's friend was a "Eucharistic Minister" she should not be wearing shorts to weekday Mass (even when not serving as a "Eucharistic Minister" - at which times she doesn't wear shorts).

Apparently she combines some daily exercise (walking) with attendance at weekday Mass. Seeking other opinions, she sent an email to some friends and one of those friends forwarded her email to me asking what I thought.

I found the inquiry interesting because the issue of appropriate attire at Mass is actually only the tip of the iceberg of a much larger and more serious issue about the nature of the Mass itself and our response to it, which effects everything from the music to what we wear. The woman's "position" as a "Eucharistic Minister" (those words are in quotes for a reason, which you soon shall see) not only complicates the issue but illustrates another aspect of the "iceberg", which many are beginning to at least feel.

Following is my answer:

Tuesday, July 05, 2011

Stomaching the new translation

I have been mostly smiling to myself for the last several months as I have read different things regarding the "preparation" of the laity for the new Roman Missal. I have been smiling, and mostly to myself, because of the obvious discomfort of those who have been doing most of the writing. It's quite evident that they are not happy about this. The new translation represents a big step backward for some, if not many. It's another blow to the revolution, their revolution.

In a booklet authored by a Fr. Turner for LTP, the author laments the passing of the old "Sacramentary" telling us that it "has served us well"..."helped entire communities make the jump from praying Mass in Latin to praying it in Enlgish"... "showed us how a good translation can enhance the prayer of individuals and of entire congregation"..."gave us a better understanding of the faith we share"...and "laid a foundation for vernacular worship upon which the Church is now building anew."

Never mind the fact that those "entire" congregations are now much smaller, that only 1/3 of Catholics believe in the Real Presence, and that the Vatican mandated the change more than ten years ago because the wayward translation was doing anything but laying a foundation.

The translations of 1970 and 1973 were seen and used as opportunities to further divorce the the English speaking church, particularly in the U.S., from Rome and any vestige of the "medieval" Church, especially as represented in the Traditional Mass.

That it has taken over a decade for the U.S. to respond to John Paul II's demand for a more authentic translation is indicative of the resistance to the giving up of the last rebel stronghold of the post Vatican II revolution, the Sacramentary that has given us fewer Catholics, less faithful Catholics, less knowledgable Catholics, less reverent Catholics, and less Catholic Catholics.

Lex orandi, lex credendi.
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