Newman and Obama
The following essay was sent to Cal Catholic Daily to commemorate Newman’s birthday on February 21 by Father Juan Vélez, a priest of the Prelature of Opus Dei, who resides in San Francisco. He is author of Passion for Truth, the Life of John Henry Newman, and co-author with Mike Aquilina of Take Five, Meditations with John Henry Newman.
Religious freedom has become the civil rights issue of our time for Americans. The dispute over conscientious objection to providing insurance coverage for the morning-after pill, contraception, sterilization brings the issue to a head.
The cry on interviews regarding any moral issue is: "Why should they (Catholic laity, priests or bishops) impose their morality on us?" The sound bytes do not give people time to reply: "Who is imposing their values on whom?"
In fact, the Obama Administration is dictating its narrow view of morality on its citizens. Legislation and judicial rulings have done likewise with regards to marriage, and the teaching of religion, and of homosexuality in schools.
This unjust interference in the religious beliefs and liberties of individuals and Churches has been directed primarily against the Catholic Church. Catholics have always been the strongest defenders of human life from conception to natural death, and of marriage as the permanent union of one man with one woman.
Nowadays Catholics don’t look much different from other Americans in their religious fervor. Only 25 percent or fewer regularly attend Sunday Mass and many take religion and morality lightly.
Committed Catholics are often regarded as retrograde and intolerant. This is far from the truth. Practicing Catholics represent traditional American values, shared – until recent years -- by Protestants, Jews, and Muslims are in jeopardy.
The current Administration has ably divided and conquered Catholic voters. It has obtained the endorsement of the Catholic Hospital Association and of the Association of Jesuit Colleges and Universities for its revised plan for contraceptive funding.
Groups like these are being depicted as the voice of Catholic Church while the bishops are portrayed as unreasonable, misogynist, and out of touch.
Welcome to yesteryear! In mid-19th century England, the situation was very similar. In the eyes of the British Establishment, Catholic were superstitious, untrustworthy and potentially disloyal. Which makes the analysis of the great theologian, essayist and saint, John Henry Newman of great interest.
In 1851 Newman gave a series of lectures, “On the Present Condition of Catholics in England”. In these he exposed and analyzed the phenomenon of anti-Catholic bigotry: "the infliction of our own unproved First Principles on others, and the treating of others with scorn or hatred for not accepting them." He went on:
"I say, there is no increase of logical cogency; a lie is a lie just as much the tenth time it is told as the first; or rather more, it is ten lies instead of one; but it gains in rhetorical influence.
“Let it be repeated again and again; the utterer has only to go on steadily proclaiming it, and first one, then another, will begin to believe it, and at length it will assume the shape of a very respectable fact or opinion, which is held by a considerable number of well-informed persons."
Today there are lies aplenty being spread by the Obama Administration: "contraception is good for women"; "pregnancy is a burden and something that should be prevented"; "contraception is safe for women"; "if it fails women have a right to abortion"; and "everyone should be given free access to contraception and abortion."
Newman would have understood:
"As Prejudice is the rejection of reason altogether, so Bigotry is the imposition of private reason, - that is, of our own views and theories of our own First Principles, as if they were the absolute truth, and the standard of all argument, investigation, and judgment."
In Newman's time, bigotry was directed against Catholics. Now it is directed to all believers even though Catholics are in the front lines.
However the most important issue is the Administration's assault on people's Constitutional rights. This ruling lays the groundwork for an even more far-reaching intrusion of people's rights.
This is something that will affect all men and women who practice religion in America. It is a breach of the fundamental right of religious freedom protected by the U.S. Constitution. Cardinal Roger Mahony has written,
" Freedom of conscience and religious liberty are not concessions grudgingly granted by the Federal Government -- either directly, or by way of exemption or exception. Our nation was founded on those basic and inalienable rights as the bedrock of who we are as Americans.
“Our Constitution was written precisely to reject and to avoid the dreadful English model whereby the king and the government are the granter of all rights, including religious rights -- as well as the single power to withdraw, limit, or negate those rights."
The present position of Catholics in the US and of people of other religions is not good. There is much at stake: the civil rights of American citizens. In the face of these violations of the fundamental right of religious freedom Catholics and other believers must be able to articulate their beliefs well and to defend them in the legislatures, courts of law, and media.
If democracy is to survive social liberals cannot continue to impose their beliefs on everyone else. Reason and justice, respect for religious freedom and for individuals' civil rights must be upheld.