Another Glimpse of Extreme Secularism

Last week on the blog we discussed the rise of vocal, extreme secularism, as exemplified by New York Governor Andrew Cuomo (here). Extreme secularism is not merely a worldly attitude devoid of God, it is a position that actively denies that faith, prayer, and/or religious expression play a role worthy of recognition. Militant secularists go further, seeking to remove any religious practice or mention of God from the public square.

This past week we saw another example of this extreme secularism in remarks made by Bill de Blasio, Mayor of New York City. Asked why state/city COVID-19 protocols have been almost completely ignored and unenforced during recent protests in NYC (and across the nation), Catholic News Agency reports:

New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio said Tuesday that ongoing protests in the city merit exceptions to coronavirus regulations, while religious services do not. The mayor’s remarks have drawn criticism from New York’s archdiocese.

“When you see a nation, an entire nation, simultaneously grappling with an extraordinary crisis seeded in 400 years of American racism, I’m sorry, that is not the same question as the understandably aggrieved store owner or the devout religious person who wants to go back to services,” de Blasio said at a June 2nd press conference, while defending his policy of allowing mass protests while continuing to restrict religious gatherings during the coronavirus pandemic.

… New York has been under a strict stay-at-home order starting March 22nd, and it is only in the early stages of reopening public spaces. New Yorkers are being instructed to “wear a mask and maintain 6 feet distance in public.”

Back on March 27 the Mayor warned that if the religious services continued, he said, “our enforcement agents” would shut them down, and he threatened fines and even permanent closure of houses of worship for further disobedience of the order. He threatened future religious gatherings with mass arrests.

Meanwhile, protesters have gathered nightly by the thousands across the city to demonstrate against racism and police brutality following the May 25th death of George Floyd in police custody.

… On Thursday, the mayor announced that restaurants in the city will shortly be allowed to serve patrons outdoors.

“New York’s restaurants are part of what make us the greatest city in the world. They’ve taken a hit in our fight against COVID-19and there’s no recovery without them,” de Blasio stated. Churches are not slated to fully reopen until stage four of the state’s reopening program, along with schools, theaters, and entertainment venues [CNA June 4th 2020].

So, here is the situation: Protesters get waivers, but those who want to attend religious services are told to wait, even if we state that we will follow the state/city guidelines on social distancing, disinfection of surfaces, etc. This raises several questions and brings me to make a few observations.

If protesters are permitted to violate state/city regulations that just a week ago were called essential for public health during an emergency unprecedented in our lifetimes, were those guidelines really that critical after all? How does this engender respect for the seriousness of emergency measures?

This is especially the case for New York City, which has been an epicenter for the virus. They had even stricter guidelines there than we have here in Washington, D.C. One would think that Mayor de Blasio would be particularly adamant about enforcing these critical measures. We were told that hundreds of thousands of additional deaths would occur if we did not observe the state/city regulations. Are we to conclude, from a health perspective, that the restrictions were not really that necessary and that health experts and/or government officials knew this? How else can the abandonment of the regulations be explained?

I believe that the Mayor is correct in stating that the cancer of racism has existed for 400 years (in fact, I think longer). However, this feeds off a deeper wound going back much farther: Original Sin. This grievous wound has left behind in us a tendency toward sin; toward selfishness, hostility, unchastity, and greed. Racism emerges from this cauldron of simmering sin. Religious teaching, the sacraments, and prayer are focused on healing the wound of original sin and its effects. Peaceful protest has its place, but so does prayer. It is shortsighted to think we can heal a visible wound like racism while ignoring its underlying causes. We do not simply have a lapse of justice in racism; we have deep, festering wounds that require prayer and repentance.

I would ask Mayor de Blasio to consider how much more fierce, angry, unjust, and unkind our world has become since we have denigrated prayer, marginalized God, and banished biblical teaching from the public square. No age is perfect, but we are clearly in one of the darkest periods in a long, long time.

In a display of further shortsightedness—and, I would argue, to heap further contempt on religious practice—Mayor de Blasio then waxed eloquent on the need to reopen the restaurants of New York very soon. He said, “New York’s restaurants are part of what make us the greatest city in the world. They’ve taken a hit in our fight against COVID-19—and there’s no recovery without them.”

Churches, on the other hand, are not slated to fully reopen until the final phase of the state’s reopening plan, along with schools, theaters, and entertainment venues. In New York State churches will reopen sooner, but not, it seems in the City.

This is how he views religious people. We are not what makes NYC great, nor are we essential to its recovery—but restaurants are. We are lumped in with entertainment, theater, and perhaps a little education.

So, welcome to the world of extreme secularism. The Church is irrelevant. Protests—even if they bring along those who loot, burn, and destroy—are an essential element of the secular world, so important that they override the health norms we were told one week ago would lead to the deaths of hundreds of thousands if ignored. Yet religious gatherings, even following strict guidelines, are both dangerous and irrelevant at the same time.

The masks are off. There is no mincing of words, just a dismissal of and contempt for all things religious.

Not all public officials have succumbed to this mentality, do not take my critique here to be a critique of all public officials, but there is an extreme secularism growing that has no room for religious practice of any sort and ascribes no value to it.

We have been here before. In the Office of Readings for Friday’s Feast of St. Boniface there is an exhortation from a man who endured the fury of unbelieving leaders in his day:

The ancient fathers showed us how we should carry out our duty: Clement, Cornelius and many others in the city of Rome, Cyprian at Carthage, Athanasius at Alexandria. They all lived under emperors who were pagans; they all steered Christ’s ship—or rather his most dear spouse, the Church. This they did by teaching and defending her, by their labors and sufferings, even to the shedding of blood.

… Since this is the case, and since the truth can be assaulted but never defeated or falsified. … Let us stand fast in what is right and prepare our souls for trial. Let us wait upon God’s strengthening aid and say to him: O Lord, you have been our refuge in all generations ….

Let us continue the fight on the day of the Lord. The days of anguish and of tribulation have overtaken us; if God so wills, let us die for the holy laws of our fathers, so that we may deserve to obtain an eternal inheritance with them.

Let us be neither dogs that do not bark nor silent onlookers nor paid servants who run away before the wolf. Instead let us be careful shepherds watching over Christ’s flock. Let us preach the whole of God’s plan to the powerful and to the humble, to rich and to poor, to men of every rank and age, as far as God gives us the strength, in season and out of season, as Saint Gregory writes in his book of Pastoral Instruction (From a letter by Saint Boniface, bishop and martyr (Ep. 78: MGH, Epistolae, 3, 352-354).

Amen!

On Presidents Day We Should Remember That Washington and Lincoln Often Called us to Prayer

We live in a secular age. Religious utterances by government officials are greeted with surprise or even indignation by some. While the primary role of civil leaders is not a religious one, insisting that never express religious sentiment is a form of extremism rooted in exaggerated conception of the idea of the separation of Church and State. In fact, “separation of Church and State” appears nowhere in the United States Constitution.

On Presidents’ Day we do well to look to history to clarify that these extreme, modern concerns were not shared by Washington, Lincoln, and many other leaders.

Religion and the First Amendment

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.

While the First Amendment prohibits Congress from passing a law respecting an establishment of religion (the “Establishment Clause”), but it also specifies that it shall pass no law prohibiting the free exercise of religion (the “Free Exercise Clause”). This second pillar, protecting the free exercise of religion, has been eroding over the years, with the definition of “exercise” ever-narrowing. Increasingly, the claim is made that religious bodies (especially the Catholic Church, it seems) are seen to have no right to attempt any influence in the legislative process. This, of course, would limit our ability to freely exercise our faith, a major tenet of which is that we should evangelize, be a light to the world, and testify to the truth. More and more, secularists are proposing that the only acceptable place for religious expression of any kind is within the four walls of a church building.

Many argue that America’s founding fathers wanted it this way, that they wanted a “wall of separation” because most of them were either irreligious or deists. It is interesting to note that despite this most of them spoke freely of God, including appeals to Him and His will in their remarks. This is true even of Thomas Jefferson (who famously referred to a “wall of separation between Church and State” in a letter). Of the five inscriptions on the walls of the Jefferson Memorial, culled from his writings, three refer God and one to the Creator. Most of the founding fathers (who purportedly wanted this dramatic separation of Church and State) were involved in drafting the Constitution.

Many people love to point out that God is never mentioned in the Constitution. Oh, but He is! The final line of the Constitution reads as follows:

Done in Convention by the Unanimous Consent of the States present the Seventeenth Day of September in the Year of our Lord one thousand seven hundred and Eighty-seven and of the Independence of the United States of America the Twelfth. In Witness whereof, We have hereunto subscribed our Names

“In the year of our Lord …” where did that come from? I guess the drafters of the Constitution never got the memo that God is not to be mentioned in government documents or at government functions. The Lord referenced here is none other than Jesus Christ, for the year corresponds to the number of years since His birth.

The first signature on the Constitution is that of George Washington. Apparently he also never got the memo about keeping God and religion out of all things governmental because he mentioned God frequently in his writings and speeches. Below are just three examples. The first speaks of our obligation to give thanks to God; it is a decree declaring a Day of Thanksgiving in the United States on November 26, 1789. The second is from a speech to an assembly of Delaware Indian Chiefs in 1779 (it would be considered highly politically incorrect today). The third is from his last speech to the U.S. Legislature.

  1. Whereas it is the duty of all nations to acknowledge the providence of Almighty God, to obey His will, to be grateful for His benefits, and humbly to implore His protection and favor; and Whereas both Houses of Congress have, by their joint committee, requested me to “recommend to the people of the United States a day of public thanksgiving and prayer, to be observed by acknowledging with grateful hearts the many and signal favors of Almighty God, especially by affording them an opportunity peaceably to establish a form of government for their safety and happiness:” Now, therefore, I do recommend and assign Thursday, the 26th day of November next, to be devoted by the people of these States to the service of that great and glorious Being who is the beneficent author of all the good that was, that is, or that will be; that we may then all unite in rendering unto Him our sincere and humble thanks for His kind care and protection of the people of this country previous to their becoming a nation; for the signal and manifold mercies and the favorable interpositions of His providence in the course and conclusion of the late war; for the great degree of tranquility, union, and plenty which we have since enjoyed; for the peaceable and rational manner in which we have been enabled to establish constitutions of government for our safety and happiness, and particularly the national one now lately instituted for the civil and religious liberty with which we are blessed, and the means we have of acquiring and diffusing useful knowledge; and, in general, for all the great and various favors which He has been pleased to confer upon us. And also that we may then unite in most humbly offering our prayers and supplications to the great Lord and Ruler of Nations and beseech Him to pardon our national and other transgressions; to enable us all, whether in public or private stations, to perform our several and relative duties properly and punctually; to render our National Government a blessing to all the people by constantly being a Government of wise, just, and constitutional laws, discreetly and faithfully executed and obeyed; to protect and guide all sovereigns and nations (especially such as have shown kindness to us), and to bless them with good governments, peace, and concord; to promote the knowledge and practice of true religion and virtue, and the increase of science among them and us; and, generally to grant unto all mankind such a degree of temporal prosperity as He alone knows to be best. Given under my hand, at the city of New York, the 3d day of October, A.D. 1789 George Washington, President.
  2. You do well to wish to learn our arts and ways of life, and above all, the religion of Jesus Christ. These will make you a greater and happier people than you are (Speech to the Delaware Indian Chiefs on May 12, 1779).
  3. I now make it my earnest prayer that God would … most graciously be pleased to dispose us all to do justice, to love mercy, and to demean ourselves with that charity, humility, and pacific temper of the mind which were the characteristics of the Divine Author of our blessed religion (Last Official Address of George Washington to the Legislature of the United States).

Abraham Lincoln also often referred to God and faith:

  1. On Faith as among the civic virtues – Intelligence, patriotism, Christianity, and a firm reliance on Him, who has never yet forsaken this favored land, are still competent to adjust, in the best way, all our present difficulty (First Inaugural Address, March 4, 1861).
  2. On Divine ProvidenceIn the very responsible position in which I happen to be placed, being a humble instrument in the hands of our Heavenly Father, as I am, and as we all are, to work out his great purposes, I have desired that all my works and acts may be according to his will, and that it might be so, I have sought his aid—but if after endeavoring to do my best in the light which he affords me, I find my efforts fail, I must believe that for some purpose unknown to me, He wills it otherwise. If I had had my way, this war would never have been commenced; If I had been allowed my way this war would have been ended before this, but we find it still continues; and we must believe that He permits it for some wise purpose of his own, mysterious and unknown to us; and though with our limited understandings we may not be able to comprehend it, yet we cannot but believe, that he who made the world still governs it (Letter to Eliza Gurney, October 26, 1862).
  3. On Religious Liberty – But I must add that the U.S. government must not, as by this order, undertake to run the churches. When an individual, in a church or out of it, becomes dangerous to the public interest, he must be checked; but let the churches, as such take care of themselves. It will not do for the U.S. to appoint Trustees, Supervisors, or other agents for the churches (Letter to Samuel Curtis, January 2, 1863).
  4. On the Justice of God – Fondly do we hope—fervently do we pray—that this mighty scourge of war may speedily pass away. Yet, if God wills that it continue, until all the wealth piled by the bond-mans two hundred and fifty years of unrequited toil shall be sunk, and until every drop of blood drawn with the lash, shall be paid by another drawn with the sword, as was said three thousand years ago, so still it must be said “the judgments of the Lord, are true and righteous altogether” (Second Inaugural Address, March 4, 1865).

These are just a few samples showing that the aversion to any religious reference is relatively new and is a disposition largely unknown to our founding fathers as well as to those of Lincoln’s era. These quotes do not “prove” that Presidents Washington and Lincoln were perfect Christians or that they were never critical of any aspects of religion, but they do indicate that they both understood the importance of religious faith to our country and were quite comfortable articulating both the need for faith and its benefits.

Extremism – Recent attempts to completely ban any religious expression, any spoken appreciation for religion, or any encouragement of its practice, would surely seem extreme to these men—extreme and far removed from the embrace our country has historically extended to faith.

Washington and Lincoln did not hesitate to invoke God, ask His blessings, and exhort their fellow citizens to prayer. Let us pray for our country and for all of our leaders. Happy Presidents’ Day!

Religious Liberty Threats: Two Recent Incidents Raise Serious Concern and Show the Road Ahead May be Rocky

101914Two stories recently in the news illustrate that the path for religious liberty is going to get increasingly rocky in the days ahead. Up until now, the main dispute of the Church with the federal government has been over the “HHS Mandate” requiring us to provide contraception and abortion coverage. We have seen some legal victories on this front, but the battle is far from over and the cost in terms of money, time, and other resources has been enormous.

The two new cases involve same-sex attraction. One case centers on certain rights being afforded to “gay” (LGBTQ) citizens and religious objections to this. The second case involves requiring certified Christian ministers to perform same-sex unions.

With these sorts of cases, there are always going to be those who want to argue the subtleties of the particular case and thereby suggest we ought not get too worked up about things because there are just small technical issues at stake. But beware the incremental quality of these sorts of things. Abortion was originally championed only in those rare cases in which the “life or health of the mother was at stake.” The open sale of contraceptives was originally only to be to married couples and surely minors would be prevented from purchasing them. Now things have gone so far that children are not only supplied with contraceptives, but are referred for abortion without parental consent or even in spite of parental objections.

Yes, things begin in small, “restricted,” and subtle ways. Gradually we are desensitized and barely notice that our liberties are being stripped from us. Many think that it will never happen in America, that a minister speaking to his congregation about moral issues would face penalties for it. This is America, after all, and we have constitutional rights to speech and religious liberty!

Well, stay sober, my friend. Liberties of any sort are seldom taken away instantly. Rather, the thing to be more concerned about is their steady erosion.

Let’s look at these two cases. The first is from Houston and the excerpts that follow are from an article in Time magazine. The full article is here: Houston Pastors’ Sermons Subpoenaed

Houston, … in recent days … subpoenaed sermons of several pastors who oppose a recently passed equal rights ordinance for gay and transgender residents. The subpoenas are an attempt by city officials to determine how the preachers instructed their congregants in their push to get the law repealed …

The law, passed into law by Mayor Annise Parker in May, is often derided as a “bathroom bill,” because it allows transgender individuals to choose whether to use a male or female restroom.

… Mayor Parker, meanwhile, has pledged not to enforce the ordinance until there’s a court decision. But the move by the city to subpoena Houston’s pastors, who have been vocal on the issue and have urged their congregants to support a repeal referendum, has drawn national attention …

“The chilling effect of government scrutiny of our pastors is unconstitutional, and unconscionable,” Tony Perkins [of the Family Research Council] said in a statement. “Mayor Parker’s use of her bully pulpit to silence pulpit freedom must be stopped in its tracks.”
Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott also issued a letter saying the city impinged on the pastors’ First Amendment rights and called for the subpoenas’ immediate reversal … “The people of Houston and their religious leaders must be absolutely secure in their knowledge that their religious affairs are beyond the reach of the government.”

… Mayor Parker and City Attorney David Feldman appeared to backtrack on the subpoenas Wednesday, saying they had only recently learned of them and that outside lawyers handled the lawsuit. They argued the city is merely looking for communications from those pastors regarding the petition drive, but that the subpoenas’ language was inappropriate.

“There’s no question the wording was overly broad,” Parker said in a news conference Wednesday. “But I also think there was some deliberate misinterpretation.”

Feldman, the city attorney, called the uproar over the wording “ridiculous,” but also has argued that if a pastor is speaking about political issues from the pulpit, it’s not protected.

Note especially the final line of the quote, wherein our concerns are called “ridiculous,” but even more important, note that the city attorney refers to concerns over the public advancement and legal protection of the LBGTQ agenda as “political.”

Never mind that for some 5,000 years the Judeo-Christian moral tradition has spoken of homosexual acts (as well as heterosexual acts of fornication and adultery) as sinful. That’s right, never mind all that. The city attorney gets to tell us that the concerns that these pastors are raising are simply “political.” Note that it is he who gets to determine that, and that it is the government that will back up his assessment with penalties simply because it is speech that he or other officials determine is “political.”

Many speak in the same way about abortion. Many a Catholic priest who has spoken about abortion from the pulpit has been scolded for “talking about politics” in church. But of course abortion is, first and foremost, a moral issue. Sadly, it is been usurped into the political process, where different parties largely take opposing sides.

To some degree the same thing is happening regarding homosexual acts and whether they should be affirmed or provided special legal protection. But just because this moral issue has been drawn into the political process does not mean that it is no longer a moral issue.

The government does not have an unrestricted right to tell ministers what is a political and what is a moral issue. It will be granted that outright partisan politics from the pulpit is a bridge too far. In churches that have tax-exempt status, the ministers ought not say, “Vote for candidate ‘X’ or “Vote straight party line ticket ‘B’.” But on an issue by issue basis, churches and ministers can and must speak to the moral issues of the day.

Things like theft, murder, lying, illicit sexual activity, greed, and so forth remain moral issues no matter how these things play out in the political process. A government attorney does not get the right to tell a minister that moral  issues, constantly held by the Judeo-Christian tradition extending back 5,000 years into record human history, are now simply “political” issues.  Any person of good will ought to see that this is chilling.

Not only are the government officials saying this, but they are threatening with penalties those whom they say transgress. The word subpoena, as you probably know, means (literally from the Latin) “to be under penalty.” In other words, if compliance is not forthcoming, penalties will follow. SO this is not just a debate over semantics of what is political and what is moral. This is a matter that, had the law gone forth, was going to carry the force of law and involve penalties.

Yes, stay sober, my friends. Although the government officials in Houston walked this back a bit, calling it just a big “misunderstanding,” this is just the first shot across the bow.

The Second Story is even more sobering:

City officials told Donald Knapp that he and his wife Evelyn, both ordained ministers who run Hitching Post Wedding Chapel, are required to perform [same-sex] ceremonies or face months in jail and/or thousands of dollars in fines. The city claims its “non-discrimination” ordinance requires the Knapps to perform same-sex wedding ceremonies now that the courts have overridden Idaho’s voter-approved constitutional amendment that affirmed marriage as the union of a man and a woman.

[A Lawyer for the minsters said] “Many have denied that pastors would ever be forced to perform ceremonies that are completely at odds with their faith, but that’s what is happening here – and it’s happened this quickly. The city is on seriously flawed legal ground, and our lawsuit intends to ensure that this couple’s freedom to adhere to their own faith as pastors is protected just as the First Amendment intended.”

“The government exists to protect and respect our freedoms, not attack them, The city cannot erase these fundamental freedoms and replace them with government coercion and intolerance.”

The Hitching Post Wedding Chapel is across the street from the Kootenai County Clerk’s office, which issues marriage licenses. The Knapps, both in their 60s and who themselves have been married for 47 years, began operating the wedding chapel in 1989 as a ministry. They perform religious wedding ceremonies, which include references to God, the invocation of God’s blessing on the union, brief remarks drawn from the Bible designed to encourage the couple and help them to have a successful marriage, and more. They also provide each couple they marry with a CD that includes two sermons about marriage, and they recommend numerous Christian books on the subject. The Knapps charge a small fee for their services.

[Last] Friday, the Knapps respectfully declined such a ceremony and now face up to 180 days in jail and up to $1,000 in fines for each day they decline to perform that ceremony. (These are excerpts, full story here: Government Threatens Ministers for Not Performing Same-Sex Weddings)

Let me say from the outset that I am not a big fan of this sort of “wedding chapel” ministry. Couples need to spend time to prepare and not rush out from getting a license and go across the street to a “hitching post.” However, the couple has been doing this for over forty years and are “ordained” ministers who do focus their effort in religious themes and settings.

Whatever my personal reserve about their catering to impulsive couples, it is surely though not the place of the government to compel them to perform their religious ceremonies for people whose clear behavior violates the ministers deep-seated religious beliefs.

Yet it would seem that this is exactly what is happening if the facts are reported correctly here. Carterers, photographers, and others are facing the same penalties nationwide.

Now this leads to a very critical point in the religious liberty issue: it is not the Church alone that has religious liberty, but YOU, the American citizens have religious liberty. The State should not be able to compel you to violate deeply held religious beliefs.

It will be granted that a compelling concern could permit the State to overrule a religious practice. For example if a religious group called for child sacrifice, that would create a compelling State interest in preventing the exercise of such a grave violation of natural and civil law. But the ability of a same-sex couple to be able to do as they please in terms of a “wedding” venue is not a compelling State interest.

Further, the religious concern in play here is not some obscure doctrine but one that has been operative for millennia, and only recently abandoned by some.

Yes, be sober, my friends, the steady erosion of religious liberty continues apace in this country. Political correctness, cultural change, intolerance, and expansive government power are becoming the “perfect storm” that is eroding the religious liberty of many. The storm may still seem offshore to many, but its outer bands are already spreading a dark mantle over the land.

Here’s a video that speak of storms that come when we do not resist sin:

Jesus and Christian Faith in the Public Square? Yes! And Proclaimed by a Military Band!

Maybe I’m just not listening to the news enough, but I haven’t heard a lot about the Christmas wars this year. These are the annual wars wherein a Christian seeks to put up some display of Christmas, be it a creche or Christmas tree, and soon various atheists or civil liberties groups lodge protests or initiate lawsuits to stop the practice; even going so far as to ban the colors red and green in public schools during the Christmas season and banishing Santa, (a secular Christmas feature but somehow tied to Christmas nonetheless).

Anyway, I haven’t heard a lot of it this year. Perhaps some of you will correct me on that.

Much to my pleasant surprise, a Facebook friend sent me the video that is below of a “flash mob” by the United States Air Force Band of which she is a member. They surprised people that the Air and Space Museum here in Washington DC with the surprise Christmas concert.

What makes the event significant to me, is that the United States Air Force Band did not simply play some secular tune like “Santa Claus is Coming to Town” or “White Christmas.” In fact, they didn’t really even play what most people think of as a Christmas song as the main piece. As you will see, and hear, the opening strains sounded by the cello are of the familiar Bach piece Jesu, Joy of Man’s Desiring. “Wow,” I thought!

Well of course, as the other instruments began to join from various parts of the museum, I figured that no words would be sung, rendering it less “offensive” to seculars.

But then, I began to see singers appear prepared to sing! “Would they dare?” I thought. As the first singers opened their mouths to sing, they did not pronounce the words, rather they hummed the melody. “Ah! that’s what they’re going to get away with it,” I thought.

But then, Lo and behold! They began to sing the words:

Jesu Joy of man’s desiring!
Holy wisdom love most bright.
Drawn by thee our Souls aspiring,
Soar to uncreated light!

Wow, a military band and choir, sponsored by the United States Government, singing of Jesus Christ, in a public museum largely funded by federal money. Wow!

And then things got even more explicit with the words of the Carol:

Joy to the world, The Lord is come!
Let earth receive her King!
Let every heart prepare Him room,
Let heaven and nature Sing!

Joy to the world, the savior reigns.
Let men their songs employ
While fields and floods, rocks hills and plains
Repeat the sounding joy.

The choir ends by singing Jesu! Jesu! Joy!

Thanks be to God! I’m glad to know that among average people, this is still acceptable and pleasing. As the camera pans the crowd I see delight, and reflective joy. Perhaps someone did walk out, maybe even to file a lawsuit, but I did not see it.

In my own parish last night, the United States Army Band came and played a Christmas concert. And here too, many of the works were sacred. At the height of the concert, the beautiful young soloist led us in singing O come all ye faithful, a song inviting us to adore Jesus. And we also sang Hark the Herald Angels Sing, glory to the newborn King! As of today, I received no threats of lawsuits and, as far as I know, neither did the Army Band. Again, I say, praise God!

And yet I know, some are in fact deeply disturbed by any affirmation of faith by the military, or any part of our government. How would I feel, they ask, if instead of singing about Jesus, the Air Force Band or the Army Band sang of Allah and trumpeted the Muslim call to prayer.

I’d like to think, that I could find room for that in my world. I admit it would be hard, because like anyone else, I’m comfortable with what is familiar, uncomfortable with what is unfamiliar. I will say, that I am neither offended or angered when I see a menorah or Hanukkah candles, or the star of David, or other Jewish things in the public square during the time of Hanukkah or other Jewish feasts.

As for things Muslim, I suppose I could get used to it, but I will say that are a few things that hinder my appreciation of things related to Islam. Certainly, among these are the great persecutions suffered by Christians throughout the world, largely at the hands of Muslims. So I admit, I would have more trouble with the celebration of things related to Islam.

That said, I know Muslims, I have even work with several Imams in matters of social policy here in Washington. I do not personally dislike Muslims that I know or see. I am not angry when I see Muslims at certain times of day on their prayer rugs. In fact, I see what they do as honorable and a good witness to others that there is a God to whom we must answer one day. Even if their understanding of God is not mine, we are certainly allies when it comes to resisting secularism and anti-theistic movements.

But I do admit I would be uncomfortable, at least at first, seeing a United States Military Band play a worship song related to Islam.

But for those who will simply excoriate me and say, “Aha! Then away with all religious traditions, it must all leave the Public Square; the government must have nothing whatsoever to do with faith including the Jewish and Christian faith.”

To them I will say that part of the heritage of this country, and the genius behind our constitutional and governmental system, is the Judeo-Christian faith. Like it or not, liberal democracies emerged from the Christian tradition. The founding fathers all referenced the Scriptures frequently, and found inspiration in them for the form of government we enjoy today.

I would therefore argue that references to the Jewish and Christian faith do have a certain pride of place in the American experience, at least at this point in our history. For United States Military Bands to play music from this tradition is qualitatively different than if they were to play something from Buddhist, Druid, or Islamic traditions.

Like it or not, the holidays, Christmas as I would call it, are times of tradition, where our religious heritage is celebrated and appreciated. This is just reality, and it is reflected on the faces that you see in the video below. People were not shocked, or horrified, or angered. The vast majority, if not all, were both pleased and moved.

Those who would wish to remove all references to this cultural heritage of the faith, or just substitute other traditions merely for the sake of diversity, seek to placate a small number who can be acknowledged at other times. And they are willing to offend the vast majority who still believe, or at least appreciate the great cultural heritage to our faith has bestowed.

So, admitting that some do not appreciate this sort of thing, and also admitting that I would not exactly be pleased to see our Christmas tradition either ended, or be crowded out with many other things for the sake of diversity, I simply asked my fellow countrymen and women who do not exactly appreciate these things to make room for us in your heart.

What a beautiful moment took place in the Air and Space Museum. Thank you USAF band!

Some thoughts on the five stages of religious persecution.

It is rare that a respected segment of American life would become vilified and hated overnight. The usual transformation from respect to vilification goes in stages which grow in intensity. And hereby the Church, once a respected aspect of American life, along with the Protestant denominations has become increasingly marginalized and hated by many. It may help us to review these stages of persecution since it would seem that things are going to get more difficult for the Church in the years ahead. Generally there are distinguished five basic stages of persecution.

By way of giving due credit I want to say that these stages were recalled to me by Johnette Benkovic, of Women of Grace EWTN. She spoke at a recent fundraiser here in DC for WMET 1160 AM, Our Catholic Radio Station in the Guadalupe Radio Network. She gave a wonderful talk and a summons to courage. And among the things she set forth was a sober vision of how we have come to this current place where the culture is increasingly hostile to Christians and to Catholics particularly. The stages are from her talk, the commentary is my own.

Here then are the Five stages:

I. Stereotyping the targeted group – To stereotype means to repeat without variation, to take a quality or observation of a limited number, and generalize it of the whole group. It involves a simplified and standardized conception or view of a group based on observation of a limited sample.

And thus as the 1960s and 70s progressed Catholics and Bible-believing Christians were often caricatured in the media as Bible thumpers, simpletons, as backwards, mentally simple, haters of science, hypocrites, self-righteous, old-fashioned and so forth.

Catholics in particular were also accused of having neurotic guilt, hatred or aversion of sexuality, of being in a sexist institution. of it being stuck in the past, with too many rules, being authoritarian, of having clergy who were sexually repressed, homosexuals or pedophiles.

Basically as the stereotype goes, Catholics and Bible believing Christians are a sad, angry, boring, backward and repressed lot. To many who accept the stereotyping we are a laughable, even tragic group, caught in a superstitious past, incapable of throwing off the shackles of faith.

To be sure, not everyone engages in this stereotyping to the same degree, but here are the basic refrains of it. And the general climate of this sort of stereotyping sets the foundation for the next stage.

II. Vilifying the targeted Group for alleged crimes or misconduct, – As the stereotyping grows in intensity, Catholics and Christians,  who did not toe the line in the cultural revolution were described as, close-minded, harmful to human dignity and freedom, intolerant, hateful, bigoted, unfair, homophobic, reactionary and just plain mean and basically bad people.

The History of the Church is also described myopically as little more than bad and repressive behavior as we conducted crusades, inquisitions, and hated Galileo and all of science. Never mind that there might be a little more to the story, or that the Church founded universities, and hospitals, was the patron of the arts, and preached a Gospel that brought order and civilization to divided and barbarous time in the aftermath of the Roman Empire. Stereotyping will hear little of that, or, if it does, it will give the credit to anything or anyone but the Church and the faith.

In writing this, I fully expect to get a bevy of comments saying in effect that this is exactly what we are. And not only will they feel justified in saying this, but even righteous as they say so, so ingrained has this vilifying become in the wider culture.

As with any large group, individual Christians and Catholics will manifest some negative traits, but stereotyping and vilifying, and crudely and indiscriminately presuming the negative traits of a few to be common to all in unjust.

Yet all of this has the effect of creating a self-righteous indignation toward believers and of making anti-Catholic and anti-Christian attitudes a permissible bigotry for many today.

III. Marginalizing the targeted group’s role in society – Having established the (untrue) premise that the Church and the faith is very bad, and even harmful to human dignity and freedom, the next stage seeks to relegate the role of the Church to the margins.

To many in secularized culture, religion must go. They will perhaps let us have our hymns etc. in the four walls of our churches, but the faith must be banished from the public square.

In this stage it becomes increasingly unacceptable and intolerable that anyone should mention God, pray publicly or in any way bring their Christian faith to bear on matters of public policy. Nativity sets must go, out with Christmas trees, even the colors green and red at “holiday time” are banished from many public schools.

Do not even think of mentioning Jesus or of publicly thanking him in your valedictorian address, you could very well have a Circuit Court judge forbid you under penalty of law. You can thank the Madonna, but only if you mean the singer.

The LGBT club is welcome to set up shop and pass out rainbow colored condoms at the high school, but Christians better hit the road, no Bibles or pamphlets better see the light of day anywhere in the school building…separation of Church and state you know.

IV. Criminalizing the targeted group or its works – Can someone say HHS mandate?

But prior to this egregious attempt to violate our religious liberty there have been many other times we have had to go to court to fight for our rights to openly practice our faith. Increasing litigation is being directed against the Church and other Christians for daring to live out our faith.

Some jurisdictions have sought to compel Catholic hospitals and pro-life clinics to provide information or referrals for abortion, to provide “emergency contraception” (i.e. the abortifacient known as the morning after pill), Several branches of Catholic Charities have been de-certified from doing adoption work because they will not adopt children to gay couples. The State of Connecticut sought regulate the structure, organization and running of Catholic parishes in 2009. And recently a number of Christian valedictorians in various states have suffered legal injunctions when it was discovered that they would dare to mention God, and Jesus in their talk. (More HERE)

Many of these attempts to criminalize the faith have been successfully rebuffed in the courts, but the frequency of lawsuits, and the time and cost involved with fighting them is a huge burden. It is clear that attempts to criminalize Christian behavior is a growth sector in this culture and signals the beginnings and steady erosion of religious liberty.

Many indeed feel quite righteous, quite politically correct in their work to legally separate the practice of the faith from the public square.

V. Persecuting the targeted group outright – If current trends continue, Christians, especially religious leaders, may not be far from enduring heavy fines and jail.

Already in Canada and parts of Europe Catholic clergy have been arrested and charged with “hate crimes” for preaching Catholic Doctrine on homosexual activity.

In this country there are greater provisions for free speech but, as we have seen, there is a steady erosion in religious liberty and many Catholic dioceses are well familiar with having to spend long periods in courts defending basic religious liberty. The trajectory points to suffering, lawsuits, fines, desertification, and ultimately jail.

Unlikely you say? Alarmist? Well, stages one through four are pretty well in place. One may wish to whistle past the graveyard but it looks like we’re pretty well set for Stage V. You decide.

Maybe a heavy post requires a light video. Paul and Silas land in jail. It’s so bad its good: 🙂

Archdiocese of Washington speaks out over choice of Kathleen Sebelius as Speaker at Georgetown University

The Vicar General of the Archdiocese of Washington, Bishop Barry Knestout forwarded the following editorial from the Catholic Standard, the official newspaper of the Archdiocese. He asked the we priests share it in any way we deem appropriate with the people of the Archdiocese. In this matter.

Many of you write me and ask when and if the Archdiocese will speak out on this or that matter. In this matter, I am able to report that it has. And frankly the editorial pull no punches, as you will see. The original text is below in bold black italics. My comments are in plain red text. The original article is here: Cathstan.org and a PDF of it is here: Disappointed but Not Surprised

Late last Friday, Georgetown University announced that U.S. Secretary of Health and Human Services Kathleen Sebelius is the featured speaker for an awards ceremony at the University’s Public Policy Institute. This news is a disappointment but not a surprise.

As is well known, Secretary Sebelius is the architect of the “HHS mandate”, now federal law, which requires all employers — including religious institutions — to provide health insurance coverage of abortion-inducing drugs, sterilization and contraceptives for its employees and redefines religious ministry to exclude Catholic social services, hospitals and universities if they serve or employ non-Catholics. Given her position, it is disappointing that she would be the person that Georgetown University would choose to honor.

Founded in 1789 by John Carroll, a Jesuit priest, Georgetown University has, historically speaking, religious roots. So, too, do Harvard, Princeton and Brown. Over time, though, as has happened with these Ivy League institutions, Georgetown has undergone a secularization, due in no small part to the fact that much of its leadership and faculty find their inspiration in sources other than the Gospel and Catholic teaching. Many are quite clear that they reflect the values of the secular culture of our age. Thus the selection of Secretary Sebelius for special recognition, while disappointing, is not surprising.

Pay close attention to this paragraph. The editorial, while not using canonical language,  in effect sets forth the view that Georgetown has largely become a secular University, along the line of Harvard, Yale et al. It goes even further, stating that the primary source of inspiration at Georgetown is not the Gospel or Catholic teaching, but instead, is other unnamed sources.

To be clear, there are surely some very fine teachers and students on campus. I know at least several who are striving to maintain some semblance of Catholic identity there. It remains true that Mass is still offered on campus, but that is true of Secular universities as well.

So, what is Catholic about Georgetown? Very little, it would seem by the editorial’s assessment. This assessment, I know, many of you will share, in the wake of one discouragement after another emanating from the campus of Georgetown.

Blessed John Paul II, in his 1990 apostolic constitution on Catholic Universities, Ex Corde Ecclesiae, invites Catholic universities into a relationship of faith and excellence. He calls them to share in the Church’s task of bringing the Gospel and Christian values into the culture of our day.

He reminds us that a Catholic university is “a living institutional witness to Christ and his message, so vitally important in cultures marked by secularism… Moreover, all the basic academic activities of a Catholic University are connected with and in harmony with the evangelizing mission of the Church,” among them, “dialogue with culture that makes the faith better understood” (ECE I: B.4.49).

Basic Catholic Mission stuff here. Sadly Georgetown and many other Catholic Universities are not clear on “Job 1.”

One can only wonder how the selection of Secretary Sebelius for such a prominent role as a featured speaker can be reconciled with the stated Catholic mission and identity of Georgetown University. Secretary Sebelius’ vision on what constitutes faith-based institutions presents the most direct challenge to religious freedom in recent history.

Yes, I wonder if Georgetown and others who think like this, have any  idea where intrusive government will end? It does not take a prophet to see that if the Federal Government can intrude on a matter like this (Catholic sexual and life teachings) which many at Georgetown sniff at, that the same Government will be back with more demands.

And these demands, the faculty and administration at Georgetown may be less sanguine about. Who is to say and more conservative administration could not demand that Georgetown teach, facilitate, and fund abstinence based programs as part of a healthcare mandate, or perhaps that they require all students and employees to contribute to and pay for a pro-life crisis pregnancy center to help bring babies to term, and that they fund an adoption agency on campus to encourage single moms to adopt their children to intact families. What if all this was in a future health care mandate that sought to preserve and foster the lives of infants and Georgetown was required to pay for all this?

I doubt Georgetown faculty and staff would be so sanguine about this, and say, “Well of course Government knows best, and if Government calls this women, infant and children’s healthcare, who are we to say no?” No, I rather doubt Georgetown would be inviting the HHS Secretary from a conservative administration proposing this. If they did, the protests would be so thick, that he or she couldn’t even get on campus.

But wake up Georgetown! You celebrate a woman who is helping to gut religious liberty. But your religious liberty is just as much on the line as any one else’s. Uncle Sam will be back, and you might not be so pleased the next time. Time for sobriety Georgetown.

On the same weekend that the Georgetown announcement was made, Pope Benedict XVI spoke of the importance of Catholic education and the intellectual and cultural challenges of the New Evangelization in the context of contemporary American society. The Holy Father recalled that during his pastoral visit to America in April 2008, in his homily at the Mass at Nationals Stadium, he called on the Church in America to cultivate “a mindset, an intellectual culture which
is genuinely Catholic”. Last weekend he reiterated the need for American Catholic institutions of higher learning to commit to “building a society ever more solidly grounded in an authentic humanism inspired by the Gospel and faithful to the highest values of America’s civic and cultural heritage”.

With all of the people struggling so hard to preserve freedom of religion, and with all that the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops has said in defense of this important value, Georgetown’s choice of the architect of the radical challenge of such freedom for special recognition can only be seen as a statement of where the university stands – certainly not with the Catholic bishops. Clear and unambiguous

Georgetown University’s response to the commencement speaker decision is disappointing, but not surprising. When the vision guiding university choices does not clearly reflect the light of the Gospel and authentic Catholic teaching, there are, of course, disappointing results.

In other words, the fruit does not fall far from the tree. And the editorial could not be more clear, the vision at Georgetown is not the Gospel and it is not Catholic teaching.

So who wrote this? The editorial is unsigned. But the Catholic Standard is the official paper of the Archdiocese of Washington. As such it is a recognized voice of the Archdiocese and editorials like this are not published without review by the Cardinal’s senior staff.

I hope you will agree that the editorial lays out a very serious need for soul searching at Georgetown. And, while some of you may wish that universities like Georgetown would have long ago been censured and/or had their Catholic identity officially removed, that involves extensive and careful canonical procedures. I have no knowledge that any such actions are underway or have ever been tried in the past. And such matters are wholly left to the pastoral discretion of the bishops. I think we ought to allow the bishops their rightful prudential judgements in these sorts of matters and not be too hypercritical of them. They know a lot more than we ever will, and they have a bigger picture in mind as well, as they try to hold everyone as close to Christ as possible.

In your comments please consider charity, and remain prayerful about this matter, as I know most of you do.

This video is from the Cardinal Newman Society

New Rule Excludes Religious Workers from Benefits Offered to Others. Another Example of Hostile Secularism in the Federal Government

As the recent battle for a proper understanding of religious liberty shows, our culture and many of our government leaders and organizations are becoming increasingly secularized and hostile to religion and religious practice.

Yet another example of this is a recent rule change in the Public Service Loan Forgiveness (PSLF). According to this program, a person who has been engaged in Public Service employment for ten years, can have the remainder of their Student Loan form the government forgiven, presuming they have faithfully been paying it up till then.

However, a recent rule change now excludes those who are involved in any work of a religious nature. In the Washington Post “On Faith” section writes the following to explain the change:

What counts as public service?

Until the end of January, the government definition was clear and inclusive. It read as follows:  “Qualifying employment is any employment with a federal, state, or local government agency, entity, or organization or a non-profit organization that has been designated as tax-exempt by the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) under Section 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code (IRC).

Now though, the rules have changed. At the end of the description of who qualifies for this program, a new paragraph appears and it’s striking not only in that it re-defines things, but that it does so in a way that seems purposefully disingenuous.

“Generally, the type or nature of employment with the organization does not matter for PSLF purposes. However, if you work for a non-profit organization, your employment will not qualify for PSLF if your job duties are related to religious instruction, worship services, or any form of proselytizing.” [1]

Thus, the new policy explicitly goes out of its way to exclude religious work. In effect it implies that such work is NOT public service, merely because it is exercised through a religious organization for a religious purpose.

Consider that the PSLF program exists because work for a tax exempt organization is generally considered to be of special value to the community. Many tax exempt organizations (like the Church), and those who work them provide care for the poor, special outreach to immigrants, pro-bono or lower cost legal assistance, and the like. The Church, in particular, runs shelters, soup kitchens, schools, hospitals, dental clinics, and so forth.

And, further, there was a traditional appreciation for the fact that religious instruction, and the care of souls, was something that benefited the entire community,  since such care helps to instill personal stability, generosity, commitment, respect for law, strong families and other civic values.

In recognition of the value of such work, and in order to encourage others to undertake it, programs like the Public Service Loan Forgiveness are offered, and churches, non-profits and other 401-C3 organizations have been granted tax exempt status.

Again, note the reason, they are tax-exempt and receive certain other benefits in recognition of the fact that they provide a valuable service to the the community.

The new wording of the law says, in effect, that offering religious benefits and services, the care of the soul, is no longer to be considered worthy of the benefit, that is, such work is no longer to be considered valuable enough that such workers will qualify.

Endless arguments will likely ensue as to the Church/State debate. But note that this is a CHANGE in the law. Those involved in religious work have always been included until now. Mr Hirschfield in his article asks,

Are clergy and teachers of religious faith/thought public servants? Is their work on par with that of others who work for 501c3 non-for-profit groups and for government agencies? It used to be, but as of January 31st, the federal government has changed its mind about that….[2]

He adds,

While religion can be abused in the most horrendous ways, it remains a source of enormous social good and unprecedented public service. The new regulation seems to uphold only one of those truths, and in doing so, is actually taking a position on faith (dare I say, “establishing” one?) – a hostile one. [3]

Yes, hostile would seem to be the word. And that, in a word, is increasingly what secularization is coming to mean: Hostility to religion. In the recent past we who are believers considered secularization to be an unfortunate forgetfulness of God or a disregarding of things spiritual and Godly. But in recent years secularization has increasingly taken on a direct hostility to religious faith, to its existence in the public square, and to its practice anywhere outside the four walls of a Church.

The new PSLF wording illustrates and proceeds from just that kind of growing and “accepted” cultural hostility. Mr. Hirschfield concludes:

…While church-[state] separation is a wise and necessary policy, separation is not about discrimination against, or hostility towards, religion. The regulation, as newly reformulated is clumsy at best, insensitive for certain, and may even be illegally hostile to religion. This one needs to change. [4]

Here’s a video on the well known and related matter of Religious Liberty in case you missed it: