Yesterday was Sunday, and I have been thinking why a person of faith might be a better American this week because of it....
Besides yesterday being Sunday, the day before was Saturday - the Jewish Sabbath. What makes this day special such that those of the Jewish faith are better Americans because of it?
I'm thinking about this because yesterday I went for the first time to the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, DC. Sobering is all I can say.
For one, it is reassuring to know that there is a religious group in this country that takes their ancient faith, one that seems to celebrate covenants with the Creator, so seriously. In my mind it follows that this people will, then, be exceptionally vigilant in doing their part to make sure the government of the United States honors its dual religious liberty clause of the First Amendment, "that Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof...."
This is one reason why those of the Jewish faith are better Americans because of their Sabbath.
Stephens: Muslims, Mormons and Liberals Why is it OK to mock one religion but not another?
'Hasa Diga Eebowai" is the hit number in Broadway's hit musical "The Book of Mormon," which won nine Tony awards last year. What does the phrase mean? I can't tell you, because it's unprintable in a family newspaper.
On the other hand, if you can afford to shell out several hundred bucks for a seat, then you can watch a Mormon missionary get his holy book stuffed—well, I can't tell you about that, either. Let's just say it has New York City audiences roaring with laughter.
The "Book of Mormon"—a performance of which Hillary Clinton attended last year, without registering a complaint—comes to mind as the administration falls over itself denouncing "Innocence of Muslims." This is a film that may or may not exist; whose makers are likely not who they say they are; whose actors claim to have known neither the plot nor purpose of the film; and which has never been seen by any member of the public except as a video clip on the Internet.
No matter. The film, the administration says, is "hateful and offensive" (Susan Rice), "reprehensible and disgusting" (Jay Carney) and, in a twist, "disgusting and reprehensible" (Hillary Clinton). Mr. Carney, the White House spokesman, also lays sole blame on the film for inciting the riots that have swept the Muslim world and claimed the lives of Ambassador Chris Stevens and three of his staff in Libya.
So let's get this straight: In the consensus view of modern American liberalism, it is hilarious to mock Mormons and Mormonism but outrageous to mock Muslims and Islam. Why? Maybe it's because nobody has ever been harmed, much less killed, making fun of Mormons.
Here's what else we learned this week about the emerging liberal consensus: That it's okay to denounce a movie you haven't seen, which is like trashing a book you haven't read. That it's okay to give perp-walk treatment to the alleged—and no doubt terrified—maker of the film on legally flimsy and politically motivated grounds of parole violation. That it's okay for the federal government publicly to call on Google to pull the video clip from YouTube in an attempt to mollify rampaging Islamists. That it's okay to concede the fundamentalist premise that religious belief ought to be entitled to the highest possible degree of social deference—except when Mormons and sundry Christian rubes are concerned.
And, finally, this: That the most "progressive" administration in recent U.S. history will make no principled defense of free speech to a Muslim world that could stand hearing such a defense. After the debut of "The Book of Mormon" musical, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints responded with this statement: "The production may attempt to entertain audiences for an evening but the Book of Mormon as a volume of scripture will change people's lives forever by bringing them closer to Christ."
That was it. The People's Front for the Liberation of Provo will not be gunning for a theater near you. Is it asking too much of religious and political leaders in Muslim communities to adopt a similar attitude?
It needn't be. A principled defense of free speech could start by quoting the Quran: "And it has already come down to you in the Book that when you hear the verses of Allah [recited], they are denied [by them] and ridiculed; so do not sit with them until they enter into another conversation." In this light, the true test of religious conviction is indifference, not susceptibility, to mockery.
The defense could add that a great religion surely cannot be goaded into frenetic mob violence on the slimmest provocation. Yet to watch the images coming out of Benghazi, Cairo, Tunis and Sana'a is to witness some significant portion of a civilization being transformed into Travis Bickle, the character Robert De Niro made unforgettable in Taxi Driver. "You talkin' to me
A defense would also point out that an Islamic world that insists on a measure of religious respect needs also to offer that respect in turn. When Sheikh Yusuf Qaradawi—the closest thing Sunni Islam has to a pope—praises Hitler for exacting "divine punishment" on the Jews, that respect isn't exactly apparent. Nor has it been especially apparent in the waves of Islamist-instigated pogroms that have swept Egypt's Coptic community in recent years.
Finally, it need be said that the whole purpose of free speech is to protect unpopular, heretical, vulgar and stupid views. So far, the Obama administration's approach to free speech is that it's fine so long as it's cheap and exacts no political price. This is free speech as pizza.
President Obama came to office promising that he would start a new conversation with the Muslim world, one that lectured less and listened more. After nearly four years of listening, we can now hear more clearly where the U.S. stands in the estimation of that world: equally despised but considerably less feared. Just imagine what four more years of instinctive deference will do.
On the bright side, dear liberals, you'll still be able to mock Mormons. They tend not to punch back, which is part of what makes so many of them so successful in life. Write to email@example.com
A version of this article appeared September 18, 2012, on page A15 in the U.S. edition of The Wall Street Journal, with the headline: Muslims, Mormons and Liberals.
By PHILIP RYKEN AND JOHN GARVEY
American Evangelicals and Catholics have not always been the best of friends. But in recent years, many in both camps have moved from suspicion to mutual understanding and appreciation.
Charles Colson, the evangelical founder of Prison Fellowship, began one such effort with Richard John Neuhaus, the Catholic editor of First Things, 20 years ago. The fruit of their labor was a document titled "Evangelicals and Catholics Together."
That statement shows that alongside our theological differences, we hold important beliefs in common. For example, the statement says, "we contend together for religious freedom. . . . In their relationship to God, persons have a dignity and responsibility that transcends, and thereby limits, the authority of the state and of every other merely human institution." Recent efforts by the Department of Health and Human Services to implement the Affordable Care Act have brought us together to defend that freedom.
On Wednesday, represented by the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, the trustees of Wheaton College joined The Catholic University of America in filing a lawsuit against the Department of Health and Human Services. They did so because the HHS mandate requiring the college to provide and subsidize insurance coverage for abortion-inducing drugs violates the conscience of the school and its members, and denies their First Amendment freedom of religion.
When Catholic University began its own legal action on May 21, it asserted a moral and a constitutional right to practice its religion without government interference. Defending liberty is also deeply rooted in Wheaton's identity as a Christian liberal arts college, founded by abolitionists on the Illinois prairie at the outset of the Civil War.
Wheaton's first president, Jonathan Blanchard, believed that slavery was something more than an "ordinary political problem." He felt a religious imperative to act in defense of freedom. "A command against my conscience," he said, "I would not obey."
Our institutions do not agree on all points about HHS's mandated services. The regulations require religious institutions (except churches) to guarantee coverage for all government-approved contraceptives. Wheaton College does not, as Catholics do, view all forms of artificial contraception as immoral.
But the list of required services includes "morning after" and "week after" pills that claim the life of an unborn child within days of its conception. During the period for public comment, Wheaton and many other evangelical colleges and universities objected that this requirement violated their belief in the sanctity of human life.
We must cherish life, not destroy it. This belief is shared by both campus communities. The Catholic Church's unqualified defense of the unborn is too well known to need restatement. Wheaton's commitment is equally firm.
As a systemically Christian college, all of Wheaton's students, faculty and staff undertake to live a distinctive lifestyle. In its Community Covenant, the college affirms "the God-given worth of human beings, from conception to death." Because abortion destroys innocent human life, the college regards the HHS mandate as contrary to its deepest convictions.
Many Americans disagree with our shared belief in the immorality of abortion. That is their right. But there should be no dispute about a second point we hold in common: Religious schools like Wheaton College and Catholic University should have the freedom—guaranteed by the United States Constitution—to carry out our mission in a way that is consistent with our religious principles.
"If there is any fixed star in our constitutional constellation," Justice Robert Jackson wrote in West Virginia State Board of Education v. Barnette
(1943), "it is that no official . . . can prescribe what shall be orthodox in politics, nationalism, religion, or other matters of opinion or force citizens to confess by word or act their faith therein." It is not just churches that have these religious rights, but all Americans who gather in voluntary association for distinctively religious purposes, such as Christian education.
The danger in ignoring Justice Jackson's principle is not limited to institutions like Wheaton College and Catholic University. The real danger is to our republic. As Colson and Neuhaus observed in "Evangelicals and Catholics Together": "[T]his constitutional order is composed not just of rules and procedures but is most essentially a moral experiment. . . . [W]e hold that only a virtuous people can be free and just, and that virtue is secured by religion. To propose that securing civil virtue is the purpose of religion is blasphemous. To deny that securing civil virtue is a benefit of religion is blindness."
A government that fails to heed the cries of its religious institutions undermines the supports of civil virtue and puts in jeopardy our constitutional order. Messrs. Ryken and Garvey are the presidents, respectively, of Wheaton College and The Catholic University of America.
By TIMOTHY M. DOLAN
Religious freedom is the lifeblood of the American people, the cornerstone of American government. When the Founding Fathers determined that the innate rights of men and women should be enshrined in our Constitution, they so esteemed religious liberty that they made it the first freedom in the Bill of Rights.
In particular, the Founding Fathers fiercely defended the right of conscience. George Washington himself declared: "The conscientious scruples of all men should be treated with great delicacy and tenderness; and it is my wish and desire, that the laws may always be extensively accommodated to them." James Madison, a key defender of religious freedom and author of the First Amendment, said: "Conscience is the most sacred of all property."
Scarcely two weeks ago, in its Hosanna-Tabor
decision upholding the right of churches to make ministerial hiring decisions, the Supreme Court unanimously and enthusiastically reaffirmed these longstanding and foundational principles of religious freedom. The court made clear that they include the right of religious institutions to control their internal affairs.
Yet the Obama administration has veered in the opposite direction. It has refused to exempt religious institutions that serve the common good—including Catholic schools, charities and hospitals—from its sweeping new health-care mandate that requires employers to purchase contraception, including abortion-producing drugs, and sterilization coverage for their employees.
Last August, when the administration first proposed this nationwide mandate for contraception and sterilization coverage, it also proposed a "religious employer" exemption. But this was so narrow that it would apply only to religious organizations engaged primarily in serving people of the same religion. As Catholic Charities USA's president, the Rev. Larry Snyder, notes, even Jesus and His disciples would not qualify for the exemption in that case, because they were committed to serve those of other faiths.
Since then, hundreds of religious institutions, and hundreds of thousands of individual citizens, have raised their voices in principled opposition to this requirement that religious institutions and individuals violate their own basic moral teaching in their health plans. Certainly many of these good people and groups were Catholic, but many were Americans of other faiths, or no faith at all, who recognize that their beliefs could be next on the block. They also recognize that the cleverest way for the government to erode the broader principle of religious freedom is to target unpopular beliefs first.
Now we have learned that those loud and strong appeals were ignored. On Friday, the administration reaffirmed the mandate, and offered only a one-year delay in enforcement in some cases—as if we might suddenly be more willing to violate our consciences 12 months from now. As a result, all but a few employers will be forced to purchase coverage for contraception, abortion drugs and sterilization services even when they seriously object to them. All who share the cost of health plans that include such services will be forced to pay for them as well. Surely it violates freedom of religion to force religious ministries and citizens to buy health coverage to which they object as a matter of conscience and religious principle.
The rule forces insurance companies to provide these services without a co-pay, suggesting they are "free"—but it is naïve to believe that. There is no free lunch, and you can be sure there's no free abortion, sterilization or contraception. There will be a source of funding: you.
Coercing religious ministries and citizens to pay directly for actions that violate their teaching is an unprecedented incursion into freedom of conscience. Organizations fear that this unjust rule will force them to take one horn or the other of an unacceptable dilemma: Stop serving people of all faiths in their ministries—so that they will fall under the narrow exemption—or stop providing health-care coverage to their own employees.
The Catholic Church defends religious liberty, including freedom of conscience, for everyone. The Amish do not carry health insurance. The government respects their principles. Christian Scientists want to heal by prayer alone, and the new health-care reform law respects that. Quakers and others object to killing even in wartime, and the government respects that principle for conscientious objectors. By its decision, the Obama administration has failed to show the same respect for the consciences of Catholics and others who object to treating pregnancy as a disease.
This latest erosion of our first freedom should make all Americans pause. When the government tampers with a freedom so fundamental to the life of our nation, one shudders to think what lies ahead. Timothy Dolan is archbishop of New York and president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.