The U.S. Ambassador to the Holy See, Mary Ann Glendon, warned in an article published by the L’Osservatore Romano that fundamentalist secularism that excludes faith from public life is threatening the United States and is an attack on so-called “positive secularity” and individual freedoms.
In her article, Glendon recounts how Church-State relations have played out in the U.S. since the 19th century, and the recent visit to the country by Pope Benedict XVI, during which the Pope warned of the need to strengthen relations. While in the U.S., Pope Benedict encouraged Catholics to bring their faith into the public square as an explicit way of living out and strengthening freedom.
Glendon went on to note how the 1962 Supreme Court decision outlawing prayer in schools was part of a “secularism that sought to eliminate all vestige of religious faith from public institutions in the United States.”
“The legitimacy of every form of cooperation between the churches and the State is currently in doubt,” Glendon said, adding that the “pressure on organizations to sacrifice their own principles is very strong,” such as in the case of Catholic Charities of Massachusetts, which closed down its adoption program in 2006 out of a refusal to allow homosexuals to adopt.”
Glendon also cites Professor Philip Hamburger, who explains that “the first amendment, originally thought to limit the government, has been increasingly interpreted by the Court to mean limiting religion and confining it to the private sphere.”
“This interpretation—based on a very individualistic concept of freedom—has as its effect the limiting of the religious freedom of many people, people for whom the worship community is important,” the ambassador said.
“Of course there are exceptions to these tendencies,” she continued, but it is not “an exaggeration to say that, in the current situation, the ‘positive model’ of secularity is fighting for its life.”
Glendon also offered an interesting observation on the survival of institutions such as public schools, which “depend on families and the surrounding community.” Preserving “the free society may depend—ironically—on the protection of certain institutions that are not organized on the basis of liberal principles, that is: families, schools, churches and all other intermediate bodies of civil society,” she stated.