A collection of personal reflections. Copyright © 2005-2011 K. Gurries

Friday, January 29, 2010

Religious Freedom: Disputed Questions (Part V)

Variable Application of “Due-Limits”
In this installment we will take a closer look at how the application of the due limits to religious freedom will vary according to the requirements of a given social context.  Bishop Ketteler has articulated some key principles in this area.


In the first place, Bishop Ketteler establishes that religious unity is a blessing for society.  Additionally, he establishes that societies have a natural right to preserve and protect those bonds of social unity (i.e., their common faith) from corruption.  Consequently, in a context where there is lacking true religious unity among the body politic the temporal authority, as such, has no justification or foundation in natural law to employ coercive power in matters of supernatural faith (i.e., religious truth that is beyond the reach of unaided natural reason).  In this sense, Bishop Ketteler says that “treating heresy as a civil matter is no longer legitimate once the unity of the Faith has been shattered.  Disunity destroys the essential prerequisites…”  Therefore, within the context of a mixed society where religious unity is lacking, civil rulers have the obligation to protect the religious freedom of everyone (Catholic and non-Catholic citizens), within the due limits of the natural moral law.  In this sense, Bishop Ketteler refers to the situation of Germany in his day when he wrote that “…today we will have to bear with each other as the best we can, and the State will have the obligation, above all, to preserve the religious freedom of all.”  Here we must pause to consider an objection raised by Chris Ferrara who rejects Ketteler’s teaching on this point as “pure liberalism”.  The main thrust of Ferrara's argument goes as follows:

Without even defining the term religious freedom in the first place, von Ketteler has moved from acknowledging the validity of “natural laws” protecting the faith of the Christian people from error in “those times” to an “obligation” on the part of the State not to enact or enforce such laws any longer…Notice the non sequitur implicit in the argument: Since protection of the true religion by admittedly “natural laws” has become impracticable in Catholic countries because they are no longer religiously united, therefore everyone in Catholic countries must have “religious freedom”…Now, if the current non-enforceability of “natural laws” defending true religion implied a correlative general “freedom” from such laws rather than a strictly limited toleration dictated by political prudence, then the subjects of civil authority would logically have to be given “freedom” not to be prevented from committing any offense whose punishment is deemed impractical because the subjects no longer agree that the prohibited conduct is wrong. (Cf. The Remnant, October 15, 2009, p. 14) 

The root of the misunderstanding seems to be a lack of due appreciation for the variable application of immutable principles according to the requirements of a given social context (see Part I of this series).  What this means is that the “due limits” to religious freedom will necessarily vary (i.e., they are not univocally applied) insofar as a given country is either united by a common faith or composed of members from various religious traditions.  In a country composed of Catholics the “due limits” to religious freedom will naturally correspond to the norms given by ecclesiastical law (e.g., the spread of heresy will be prohibited).  This does not violate the religious freedom of citizens since Catholics freely bind themselves by their baptismal promises.  Nor does it violate the [due] religious freedom of non-Catholics residing in such a religiously united Catholic country.  In this case the exercise of the natural right to religious freedom is juridically limited from its full public and civic expression in view of preserving the unity of a common faith (see Part III of this series).  As noted above, religously united societies have a natural right to employ legitimate means in order to protect and preserve such a religious unity.  On the other hand, in the context of a “mixed” society the due limits to religious freedom will correspond to the requirements given by the [objective] natural moral law.  The reason is that all men (Christians and non-Christians) are subject to the natural moral law insofar as it has been inscribed [promulgated] by God onto the hearts of all men.  Additionally, no natural society can sustain itself apart from obedience to the natural law that God has inscribed onto all hearts.1  Therefore, for the sake of the common good, societies have the duty and corresponding right to uphold the natural moral law even in religious matters.  The objective character of the natural moral law rules out any notion of moral relativism or subjectivism.  One who violates the fundamental precepts of the natural moral law and strays from right reason – even for supposedly religious reasons – can legitimately be restrained by civil authorities for the sake of the common good and the good of individual citizens.


Back to Part IV            Forward to Part VI


1 This does not in any way diminish the importance and necessity of positive divine law or supernatural truth.  What this does imply, however, is that the Church has competence in matters pertaining to the supernatural truths of revelation and it belongs to the Church to bring these truths to bear upon society by enlightening consciences.  For its part, the State has an obligation to cooperate with and support the Church in the accomplishment of her divine mission (see Part IV of this series).


Post a Comment

<< Home