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Devra Torres

Freedom of Religion vs. Freedom of Worship: More than Semantics

Jan. 10 at 2:16am

Now that various courts are beginning to weigh in on the HHS Mandate, it’s worth re-examining what the commotion is all about.  Over at Bad Catholic, one article lays out convincingly why religious liberty is worth making a fuss over. 

Here's another aspect: the reductionism of abandoning constitutional terminology and quietly replacing “freedom of religion” with “freedom of worship” as Barack Obama, Hilary Clinton, and some others have been doing for years now.

Maybe they thought no one would notice.  Maybe they believed the core of a Catholic’s faith is a fondness for quaint liturgical customs and a sentimental sense of belonging. 

Still, in his community-organizer days,and throughout his extensive travel, Obama must surely have noticed that Catholics seem to place an awful lot of value on caring for the poor.

But maybe, like many of us, he tends to assume there are two kinds of Catholics: one concerned with doctrine, liturgy, and debating the relative merits of “and also with you” vs. “and with your spirit”;

the other, more interested in effecting "real-world" progress.

Maybe he thought concrete acts of charity are only of interest to the social-justice Catholic, not the traditional, doctrine-minded kind.  He might have thought we’d be willing to close down Little Sisters of the Poor

in exchange for the right to mumble our rosaries and novenas in peace.

Not if he’d ever read Pope Benedict, though.

Remember how the newly elected Pontiff’s reputation preceded him?  Everyone thought they knew Cardinal Ratzinger: enforcer, right-hand man to John Paul II, bad cop to his good cop, cold water on his “new springtime.”

Some imagined it was out of character when Benedict commenced his pontificate with Deus caritas est, an encyclical on (of all things) love.  But the longer he reigns, the harder it is to remember that silly old caricature.  A more gentle and loving pastor, or human being, is difficult to imagine.

The encyclical, too, if you read it carefully, is full of surprises.  Certain passages, in particular, unmask the phoniness of the orthodoxy/social-justice dichotomy. 

As…the Church spread further afield, the exercise of charity became established as one of her essential activities, along with the administration of the sacraments and the proclamation of the Word: love for widows and orphans, prisoners, and the sick and needy of every kind is as essential to her as the ministry of the sacraments and the preaching of the Gospel. (no. 22, emphasis mine)

“Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself” is no novelty, of course, dating as it does from Leviticus 19:18.

Jesus reaffirms it and expands the understanding of neighbor: as the Church grew, Pope Benedict notes, it became clear that

[a]nyone who needs me, and whom I can help, is my neighbor.  The concept of “neighbor” is now universalized, yet it remains concrete.  Despite being extended to all mankind, it is not reduced to a generic, abstract, and undemanding expression of love, but calls for my own practical commitment here and now. (no. 15)

Can we separate “freedom of religion” into two neat little compartments, then: freedom to participate in liturgical worship on the one hand, freedom to serve your neighbor on the other?  Does it make any sense to say “I’ll respect your freedom to worship your God in church, but not your freedom to obey His commandments and take care of the widow, the orphan, or the stranger”?

Well, no, it doesn't.  To reduce “freedom of religion” to “freedom of worship” is to misunderstand them both.  How silly to imagine that God wants us to pray to Him in our pews and proclaim His word in our pulpits, and then stop short, never putting into practice what we express or preach.  He’s not a hypocrite.

Even if our constitution had only enshrined “freedom of worship,” that wouldn’t make it permissible to restrict that freedom to the duration of particular ceremonies inside particular buildings.  Worship is not that kind of thing. 

You can’t isolate it without deforming it.

So that's one kind of reductionism: to misread “freedom of worship” as “freedom to pay lip service to God.”  The other kind sees nothing in care for the poor but the humanitarianism of a social worker. Pope Benedict rejects this distortion, too:

The Church’s deepest nature is expressed in her threefold responsibility of proclaiming the Word of God (kerygma-martyria), celebrating the sacraments (leitourgia), and exercising the ministry of charity (diakeonia).  These duties presuppose each other and are inseparable.  For the Church, charity is not a kind of welfare activity which could equally well be left to others, but is a part of her nature, an indispensable expression of her very being.  (emphasis mine)

Whether or not we grasp the mysterious interlockings of all three elements, one thing is clear: this is not empty rhetoric.  Nor is any of it something the government should feel free to tinker with or intrude upon.

In short, if you mean we can preach all we want as long as we don't practice, then no, sorry, you can't even pass it off as freedom of worship.  

What then?  Limitations on Obedience to God?  The HHS Anti-Integrity Act?  State Regulation of Love of Neighbor?  

I don't know.  It's a tough one.  I wouldn't want to be your director of marketing.  


 

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