By Rose O’Connor | Correspondent
Regardless of where a person’s political affiliation may lie, Catholics need to be informed of the important issues facing society.
That belief was the impetus for “The Good, the Bad and the Anxious: Recent and Pending Supreme Court Decisions on Religious Liberty,” a discussion sponsored by the Adult Faith Formation Committee of St. Gregory the Great Parish, Hamilton Square.
“It’s important for Catholics and parishioners to be informed of government and Supreme Court cases that deal with religious liberties,” Father Michael McClane, pastor, said of hosting the event. “The cases are not irrelevant and do hit home. As Catholics, we need to be informed of our liberties protected by the Constitution.”
More than 60 people gathered Sept. 19 for the presentation given by Dr. Matthew J. Franck, director of the William E. and Carol G. Simon Center on Religion and the Constitution at the Witherspoon Institute, an independent research center located in Princeton. Franck, a parishioner of St. Gregory the Great, where he also serves with the Knights of Columbus, is also professor emeritus of political science in Radford University, Radford, Va., as well as a visiting lecturer in politics at Princeton University.
Franck introduced the lecture by offering an example of religious liberties and philosophical influences on constitutional traditions taken from recent headlines.
“On Wednesday, Sept. 6, an event occurred in Washington. The Senate Judiciary Committee held a hearing in which the senators publicly interviewed two women nominees for federal judgeships: Justice Joan Larsen, Michigan Supreme Court, nominated to the federal Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals, and Professor Amy Coney Barrett of Notre Dame Law School, nominated to the Seventh Circuit,” he began.
“Professor Barrett is known from public speaking … as a devoted, outspoken, faithful, Catholic, a mother of seven whose scholarship and public speaking has considered legal issues from the standpoint of her Catholic faith,” he said.
Franck explained how the Democratic senators focused their questioning on an article Barrett wrote in 1998 as a law student in the University Notre Dame, South Bend, Ind., that she co-authored with Professor John Garvey, now president of The Catholic University of America.
“They pondered what obligation a Catholic judge might have if his faith leads him to oppose the death penalty, but his duty under the law is to sentence someone to death as punishment. Their conclusion was a judge in that situation must not twist the law to conform to his religious opposition to capital punishment, but he must therefore recuse himself, passing the case to another judge to impose the sentence,” Franck explained.
He said the senators’ line of questioning “insinuated in some way that her devout Catholic faith would lead her away from impartial judgment,” specifically citing Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif.
“Sen. Feinstein muttered the most memorable line of the day,” Franck shared. “She told Professor Barrett, from where she sat as senator, ‘the dogma lives loudly within you.’”
He also discussed how, in the last few years, “leading politicians paid their respects to ‘freedom of worship,’ a phrase that suggested they would like to pare back full religious freedom and minimize it, leaving only the core freedom to believe and worship privately – in our homes, churches, synagogues and mosques.
“Religious freedom in full, in contrast to mere freedom of worship, included our freedom to act on our religious faith outside our home, outside our churches – to act on our beliefs, our consciences in the public square, in our civil interaction and commercial interactions,” Franck said. “This religious freedom in full has been under attack in recent years.”
He spoke of court cases that highlighted significant victories in protecting religious freedom, but also focused on those cases in which it was challenged.
“Each of these examples, including the ones of good news, suggest that a secularist belief is intent on treating people of faith as outsiders in American society,” he said.
He also referred to court cases mandating religious organizations to provide coverage for abortifacients, contraceptives and sterilization, a situation that is continuing to evolve under the Trump Administration.
After the presentation, those in attendance had the opportunity to ask Franck questions and discuss the importance of being aware of legal cases and legislation that impact religious freedom.
“Our religion is under attack,” parishioner Ed Kohler said. “We have to be able to have logical arguments to respond to these issues.”
Added his son Sam, 17, “I came to further my political views.”