What Adam Lanza did at Sandy Hook Elementary was evil. It cannot be explained away as solely the consequence of biology, psychology, economics, family situations, or laws. At the same time, Adam Lanza himself was not evil. A person’s act can be evil even if the person is not.
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“The pope was writing about developing nations after the end of the Cold War, but change a few words and it could apply to Western North Dakota. . . . Indeed, Western North Dakota is facing many of the same type — though not perhaps the same scale — of “irregularities and imbalances” that developing nations experience, such as wealth disparity, demographic changes, urbanization, burdens on infrastructure, and threats to natural resources.”
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In my last few columns I wrote about why religious freedom is important from a Catholic and an American perspective. As North Dakotans prepare to go to the polls, we need to put those principles into practice with Measure 3.
As Catholics we believe that every person has a God-given right to religious freedom. Because the right to religious freedom is essential to what it means to be human, it must be respected in the law as a fundamental right.
Contrary to what many believe, neither the U.S. nor the North Dakota constitutions protect religious liberty as a fundamental right. Fundamental rights are those that warrant highest level of protection under the law. If a right is fundamental, government cannot burden it unless it has a compelling interest and does so by the least restrictive means.
Prior to 1990, the Supreme Court treated religious freedom as a fundamental right. All laws – federal, state, and local – had to respect religious freedom. This made sense. After all, our country was founded on the principle of religious freedom.
In 1990, this all changed. For reasons still not clear to many legal scholars, the Supreme Court decided that religious freedom was not a fundamental right. Government, including the North Dakota government, could infringe upon religious freedom even if it did not have a compelling interest and even if other ways existed to achieve the law’s purpose.
It was left to Congress and the states to restore religious freedom to a fundamental right. The federal government and many states have done that, but North Dakota has not had that opportunity until now. At stake with Measure 3 is whether North Dakota will recognize religious freedom as a fundamental right.
Opponents of religious freedom will make outrageous statements about Measure 3, claiming that it will allow spousal abuse, child marriages, and clinic bombings. Those claims are baseless. Measure 3 preserves the government’s ability to enforce important laws.
Some opponents claim that the measure is not needed. What they are really saying is that religious freedom should not be treated as a fundamental right. So long as the law does not protect religious freedom as a fundamental right, the measure is needed.
Like the United States, North Dakota has its own history with religious freedom. Our first citizens, the American Indians, for too long had their religious rights trampled. Our Germans from Russia ancestors came here, in part, because their religious rights were no longer respected by the Russian authorities. North Dakota itself has at times passed anti-Catholic laws, such as the anti-clerical garb law that stayed on the books until 2001.
Yet it is with eyes to the future and not just the past that we should support Measure 3. Measure 3 restores the protections that existed before 1990, but it also preserves and passes to future generations the gift of religious freedom. Some North Dakotans may not feel that their religious freedoms are threatened right now, but for the sake of their children and grandchildren, they should vote “yes” on Measure 3 and ensure that future North Dakotans have the freedom to believe and act according to their religious beliefs.
Executive Director, North Dakota Catholic Conference
The Catholic and American Case for Religious Freedom
by Christopher Dodson
Executive Director, North Dakota Catholic Conference
In June North Dakotans will vote on Measure Three, the Religious Liberty Restoration Amendment. A “yes” vote will mean that North Dakota will join the majority of the states that give real protection to religious freedom.
Protecting religious freedom is part of our cultural heritage as Americans. Our nation was founded on the “first principle” that the government cannot unduly infringe upon conscience and religious expression. As Catholics, however, our support for religious freedom goes deeper than the Constitution and our founding principles.
The Catholic basis for supporting religious freedom goes back to the Bible. Jesus compels to us to make a choice. Each person must decide for himself or herself whether to have a relationship with Jesus Christ, God incarnate.
Although Jesus proclaimed who he was and admonished wrongdoers, he never compelled anyone to believe in him. Likewise, the apostles preached the gospel but never coerced anyone to accept it. Thus, from the time of the church fathers, the church has taught that “man’s response to God in faith must be free. No one is to be forced to embrace the Christian faith against his own will.” At times, representatives of the church have fallen short of respecting this teaching, but the doctrine has never changed.
At the same time, the church recognizes that the dignity of the human person, knowable through the natural law, also demands respect for conscience and religious freedom. The human person is a rational being, with an innate desire to seek knowledge and truth. Not allowing a person to freely to exercise this capacity denies his or her dignity.
One can look at the church’s most recent expression of this teaching as a kind of story that goes from the early church, to America, and back to Rome.
The church had always taught this truth about the human person and religious freedom, but it was often lost in practice in the nations of Christendom. Almost every kingdom had an established religion and allowing other religious beliefs was viewed as detrimental to the common good and a threat to the state.
The founding of the United States was a experiment when it came to religious freedom. Although most of the Founding Fathers were hostile to anything other than Protestantism, and some of the colonies and later states had an established church, the concept of religious freedom found its way into the Constitution and the culture of the new country.
For them, the basis of religious freedom stemmed from the natural rights of man. In other words, it was rooted in their understanding of the human person according to the natural law. They recognized, as the Church has always taught, that denying religious freedom and conscience is a form of coercion contrary to the respect due to all human persons.
Religion flourished in the America. The French writer Alexis de Tocqueville noted during his famous travels through the United States in the first part of the 19th century that America was a land where the state left religious matters to the citizens and the citizens were more religious than in the nations of Europe, all of which had an established religion.
The respect for religious liberty seen in the United States was, however, the exception and it was viewed with caution by those in Europe. For some thinkers in the church, “religious freedom” meant acceptance of relativism among religions and risked leading people away from the one true religion that subsists only in the Catholic Church.
American Catholics, such as Father John Courtney Murray, however, noted that true religious liberty respected the human person and allowed the Catholic Church to flourish with a freely engaged faithful. When the Second Vatican Council took up the question of religious freedom, the council looked at the experience of Catholics in the United States. The final document, Dignitatis Humanae, like the Founding Fathers, speaks of religious freedom as something due to human persons because of their inherent dignity.
In short, we have two reasons to support Measure Three – because we are Catholic and because we are Americans.
The National Statutory Hall in the U.S. Capitol has 100 statues, two for each state. My friend and state Catholic conference director in Rhode Island, Father Bernie Healey, recently pointed out that five of those statues honor Catholic heroes. (There are actually six, if you include Charles Carroll, the only Catholic signer of the Declaration of Independence.)
Mother Joseph of the Sisters of Charity is honored by Washington State. In the 19th century she built hospitals, schools, and orphanages in what was then the great Northwest Territory.
One of California’s statues honors Blessed Junipero Serra, the Franciscan priest who established missions in the 18th century to minister to the needs of the native people from San Diego to San Francisco. His ministry led him to walk hundreds of miles, despite having a crippled, and often infected, leg.
Jesuit Father Jacques Marquette represents Wisconsin. He was a 17th century French missionary who ministered to native peoples and immigrants throughout the Mississippi River region of Wisconsin, Michigan, and Minnesota. Father Eusebio Kino, representing Arizona, was a Jesuit Missionary who spent decades in the late 17the century ministering to the Southwest native peoples of Arizona and New Mexico.
One of Hawaii’s statues is of Saint Damien of Molokai. Saint Damien was a priest from Belgium who voluntarily ministered to the lepers of the island of Molokai. After sixteen years of caring for them, he contracted and died of leprosy himself, becoming a martyr of charity.
The stories of these Catholic American heroes causes us to ask: Why would they do that? Why would Father Damien expose himself to the dreaded disease of leprosy? Why would Father Serra jeopardize his own health to check on the California missions? Why would Mother Joseph brave the wild west with no promise of even decent housing?
Father Bernie answers the question: “Because like all those Catholic heroes and heroines in the US Capitol and beyond: that’s who we are as Church. We minister in imitation of Christ, to anyone and everyone who is in need of healing and love.”
The Department of Health and Human Services has ruled that all but a few employers must by law to provide and pay for health coverage that includes all forms of contraception including the morning-after abortion pill and sterilization services. There are no exemptions for Catholic hospitals, colleges, schools, nursing homes or social service agencies.
On February 19, President Obama announced a “compromise” to address concerns about the mandate. Nevertheless, later that day the administration finalized the original rule without any changes. Even if at some unspecified later date the administration changes the rule, the announced “compromise” still treats religious institutions that serve the public as not truly religious. The President has declared that the work of Catholic hospitals, social service providers, schools, and universities are not deserving of being called religious.
The lives of Saint Damien, Mother Joseph, Blessed Serra, Father Marquette, and Father Kino, as well as the women and men religious who have healed, taught, and cared for North Dakotans since before statehood, prove otherwise. These American Catholic heroes, like the heroes of today who work for Catholic Charities, who serve the poor, feed the hungry, care for the migrant, heal the sick, bury the dead, teach our children, and provide numerous other acts of mercy and charity,do what they do because that it what it means to be a Christian.
How dare someone, especially the government, declare otherwise?
North Dakota Catholic Conference Director responds to Forum letter:
Gene Reierson’s letter (Oct. 30) attacking the Catholic bishops of North Dakota contains several inaccurate claims and lacks a basic understanding of the principles at stake.
Read the letter . . .
To hear them tell it, the suit is merely about having the right to prescribe the kind of “off-label” use permitted for other drugs.
If a court agrees with the clinic’s legal arguments, the ramifications could extend well beyond the use of abortion drugs.
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