The children excelled in music and many joined three- or four-part choirs after school hours. Year after year, they won gold medals in choral competitions. They were ready and eager to take their responsible place in American life there to enjoy the freedoms denied their forebears.
Religious Liberty: A Burning Question
The First Amendment to the Constitution states that the government has certain limited powers to preserve the good order of the people, but "government is not juridically omnipotent." One of its limitations has to do with the distinction between church and state, in their purposes, methods, and manner of organization.
"The freedom of the Church is a pregnant phrase," writes Fr. John Courtney Murray, S.J. His thoughts as articulated in We Hold These Truths: Catholic Reflections on the American Proposition (1960).
In the first place, it means the freedom of the Church as a spiritual authority to carry out her divine commission.
But, secondly, it means the freedom of the Church as the Christian people to live within its fold an integral supernatural life, a life with inherent super-political dignity that transcends the goals and power of the state.
The Church then lays claim to immunity from subordination to the state and its temporal ends. The chief example of this concerns the dignity of the whole person, marriage and the family.
Freedom from Coercion
Religious freedom is freedom from coercion. It is the absence of constraints and restraints on individuals in their efforts to pursue freely the positive values of religion.
Religious freedom is the recognition of the inviolability of the human person, individually and in association with others in what concerns religious belief and action.
The people are united in their religious freedom to believe and practice without any governmental coercion, restraints or constraints.
The political or civil freedoms of the First Amendment, unlike later freedoms or rights, were assurances against coercive action by government and society (Francis Canavan, S.J., "Religious Freedom: John Courtney Murray, S.J. and Vatican II")
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Vatican II's Declaration on Religious Freedom (1965)
The Council Fathers spoke to the issue of religious freedom, though they could not have predicted the urgency of their words in today's world. Religious communities, they wrote, "have the right not to be hindered in their public teaching and witness to their faith, whether by the spoken or by the written word."
In addition, religious communities "should not be prohibited from freely undertaking to show the special value of their doctrine in what concerns the organization of society and the inspiration of the whole of human activity."
The Religion Clause of the First Amendment
We celebrate our liberty in law, and the establishment clause has two parts: the government (a) shall make no law establishing a religion, and the government (b) shall not prohibit the free exercise thereof. This clause is a good law but not a religious law; it is not an article of faith but an article of peace in a pluralistic society. What can be further stated about the First Amendment?
1. America has proved by experience that political unity and stability are possible without uniformity of religious belief and practice, without the necessity of any governmental restriction on any religion.