Religious liberty is an absolute

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Catholics from across the Valley filled Ss. Simon and Jude Cathedral for a morning Mass and Rosary July 4 that closed out the local observance of the nationwide Fortnight for Freedom. (Ambria Hammel/CATHOLIC SUN)
In this 2015 file photo, Catholics from across the Valley filled Ss. Simon and Jude Cathedral for a morning Mass and Rosary July 4 that closed out the local observance of the nationwide Fortnight for Freedom. (Ambria Hammel/CATHOLIC SUN)

Recently there was a case of a woman who petitioned the state of Illinois to be able to wear a colander on her head in her drivers’ license photo as part of her religious beliefs. The woman was a Pastafarian, a member of the faux Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster invented out of the imagination of atheist activists.

Tony Gutiérrez is editor of The Catholic Sun.
Tony Gutiérrez is editor of The Catholic Sun.

While that case goes through consideration, there’s precedent for other so-called Pastafarians being allowed to wear colanders. It is interesting, though, that they are using a religious freedom argument. I say, let them.

This last month we wrapped up the nationwide Fortnight for Freedom, marked this year by a tour of the relics of religious liberty martyrs Ss. Thomas More and John Fisher. In recent news we’ve seen:

According to Dignitatis Humanae, Vatican II’s Declaration on Religious Freedom, “This freedom means that all men are to be immune from coercion on the part of individuals or of social groups and of any human power, in such wise that no one is to be forced to act in a manner contrary to his own beliefs, whether privately or publicly, whether alone or in association with others, within due limits” (2).

Religious freedom is also built into our Constitution. The right to practice our faith, whatever it may be, has to be an absolute. This brings us back to the Pastafarians. How can we expect to be heard, if we can’t stand up for others’ rights to practice whatever wacky practice they have, so long as they harm nobody else?

We’ve heard rhetoric about Muslims in this country, with a tendency to lump all of them in with those who committed the atrocious terrorist attacks in France recently. We’ve heard rhetoric about registering them, monitoring their mosques and arbitrarily banning all Muslims from entering the country.

Can you imagine if this had been Catholics? How would we react if a “Catholic” terrorist organization, perhaps like the IRA of a few decades ago, committed such acts and moves were made to prevent Catholics from entering the country. This was tried 150 years ago out of fears that we were all papal agents trying to take over the country. Can you imagine if we all had to register like the Jews of Nazi Europe, or if our priests and parishes were monitored? How can we in good conscience fight for our rights without standing up for others? This is the very nature of what religious liberty is about!

I’m not arguing that we should agree with their theology. I will gladly debate a Muslim, Protestant, Buddhist, atheist, etc. But we need to be able to live in a society where we’re allowed to have that debate. Digniatis Humanae adds that “the exercise of religion, of its very nature, consists before all else in those internal, voluntary and free acts whereby man sets the course of his life directly toward God. … Injury therefore is done to the human person … if the free exercise of religion is denied in society, provided just public order
is observed” (3).

Religious liberty is for everybody. My right to wear a cross around my neck is the same right as a Muslim woman to wear a hijab to work, it’s the same right of an Orthodox Jew to wear a yarmulke, and it’s the same right as the Pastafarian to wear a colander. For when we have freedom, we have the freedom to choose Christ.

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Tony Gutiérrez is editor of The Catholic Sun. He has worked in Catholic media for a number of years, most recently as associate editor for the North Texas Catholic, the news magazine serving the Diocese of Fort Worth. He is a fourth degree Knight of Columbus and most recently was the social media chair for the Texas State Council. In September 2014, he and his wife, Tiffany, welcomed the birth of their daughter Katie.

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