Loading
February 21, 2012
Citizens, not sheep
By Rebecca Ryskind Teti *

By Rebecca Ryskind Teti *

“Of all the dispositions and habits which lead to political prosperity, religion and morality are indispensable supports. In vain would that man claim the tribute of patriotism, who should labor to subvert these great pillars of human happiness, these firmest props of the duties of men and citizens.”

The Father of our Country, whose birthday we just celebrated, penned those words because he saw a clear connection between the nation’s freedom and the virtue of its individual citizens.

I could fill the entire column with similar quotations from all the Founding Fathers, from conservative and pious John Adams to liberal and secular Thomas Jefferson.

Whatever their private religious views, the men who put their lives, fortunes and sacred honor at stake to found the freest nation in history believed to a man that liberty would not last long in a people without a robust sense of conscience.

Government is necessary, but it isn’t benign. It operates by coercion (the powers to tax and to punish) and has an inherent tendency to try to accrue more power to itself.

It was to restrain the evil effects of that propensity that our forefathers split the three functions of government into separate bodies and set up a series of checks and balances to prevent the concentration of power.

Just to make sure no one missed the point, they passed the Bill of Rights, the first ten amendments to the Constitution, guaranteeing the free exercise of religion among many other rights, limiting the police power of the state, and guaranteeing all powers not enumerated in the Constitution to the states.

They counted religion as liberty’s natural ally, since a serious commitment to pleasing God makes people not only law abiding, but also concerned for their fellow citizens, and therefore committed to the common good, rather than mere self-interest.

Pope Benedict XVI repeatedly makes the same point. Religion does not threaten secular government, it elevates and purifies it, because it helps us think beyond our passions and private interests.

In Martin Luther King, Jr., we have a recent example of how a conscience forged in Church can advance freedom and justice for all citizens.

No wise or just government should deliberately force citizens to choose between obeying God and obeying the law because liberty is always the ultimate loser.

If the citizens choose to obey God, they learn contempt for the law. Thus is sown cynicism, and the petty corruption of banana republics, where no one feels obedience to the law as a moral obligation, but merely a series of hoops to jump.

If on the other hand they submit their consciences to the state, they gradually become sheep, docile to state power and passive even in the face of manifest evil.

The right to free exercise of religion is not absolute. Sometimes private rights must give way to a manifest and overwhelming public good.

Quakers and other pacifists are taxed to support the military, for example, because the main purpose of a federal government is national defense, and there is no practical way to maintain an army if anyone can claim to be a pacifist to evade paying the tax.

The Supreme Court ruled that pacifists are not exempt from supporting the military with their taxes, yet the government still goes out of its way to accommodate conscientious objectors to actual war. It is understood that conscience is precious.

Where there is no manifest and overwhelming public good involved, the state must yield to the rights of conscience so as not to create a dangerous wedge between its people and respect for law.

In the case of the Obama administration’s abortion drug and sterilization mandate, no necessary public good has been asserted. There is no population crisis in the US, and this is not China, where the state controls family size.

It is hard to escape the conclusion that the sole purpose of the mandate is to show all the little people who stand against the Planned Parenthood culture who is boss.

If the nation yields on this point and the HHS rule is perpetuated, it is not difficult to see that a year or two from now we will be protesting an abortion mandate, but to no avail, as our souls will already have been sold.

Rebecca Teti is a wife and mother who writes for Catholic Digest and other publications.
« Previous entry     Back to index     Next entry »
Ads by Google
(What's this?)
blog comments powered by Disqus

RESOURCES »

Ads by Google (What's this?)
Ads by Google

Featured Videos

Little Sisters of the Poor press conference in Denver
Little Sisters of the Poor press conference in Denver
Family thrilled to see Pope Francis in Istanbul
Syrian Refugee, Sara, 14, Before Meeting Pope
Ebola orphans thousands of children in West Africa
One year after Haiyan: Philippines rebuilds homes, lives
An Indian contribution to the Vatican's Synod on the Family
Christ Cathedral CNA video Sept 2014
Alejandro Bermudez of CNA accepts ice bucket challenge
'The Real Albania,' remembering those who fled
Pope Francis in Albania, "one of the most important visits of the post-communist era in Albania"
Pope Francis greets paralyzed man who risked all to see him
Franciscans on the banks of the Tiber in Rome, working for the New Evangelization
Pilgrimage from Czech Republic to Assisi and Rome for intentions
Testimony of young Indian who met Pope in Korea
Preparations of the Closing Mass of 6th Asian Youth Day
Missionary of Charity, Korea
Testimony of Christian Love during Pope's Visit to Korea
Religious Sisters in South Korea react to Pope Francis kissing a baby
Warm atmosphere during Holy Mass at Daejeon World Cup Stadium
Images inside Pope Francis flight to South Korea
Dec
18

Liturgical Calendar

December 18, 2014

Advent Weekday

All readings:
Today »
This year »

Catholic Daily

Gospel of the Day

Mt 21:23-27

Gospel
Date
12/15/14
12/14/14
12/13/14

Daily Readings


First Reading:: Jer 23: 5-8
Gospel:: Mt 1: 18-25

Saint of the Day

St. Romuald »

Saint
Date
12/15/14

Homily of the Day

Mt 21:23-27

Homily
Date
12/15/14
12/14/14
12/13/14
     HTML
Text only
Headlines
  

Follow us: