Monday, January 6, 2014

What Future Has Freedom Of Religion?

Via Nice Deb, we have an article that embeds a particularly piercing key sentence:

Archbishop William E. Lori of Baltimore, the chairman of the religious liberty committee of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, declares, "the freedom of religion cannot be reduced to the freedom of worship." [Emphasis added by FWP]

Has it ever occurred to you that freedom of worship is distinct from freedom of religion? Granted that there are places such as Saudi Arabia where there's neither, at least for persons who don't accept the State-sponsored religion. In several nations with established churches, such as Britain, you can find freedom of worship and some degree of freedom of religion. But true freedom of religion is something that exists nowhere...because the meaning originally given to the phrase has been drained out of it.

Note that I speak here of freedom in the political sense. Smith is politically free to do X if there are no legal or political costs or penalties associated with doing X: that is, if the State cannot punish, license, or regulate him in any way in his practice of X. However, if the State claims the power to do any of those things to Smith on account of his practice of X, it is not free; it is a conditional grant of permission that the State can retract at its whim.

Freedom of religion in the United States took its death blow in U.S. v. Valentine Y. Byler. Byler was an Old Order Amishman, whose religion prescribes communitarian assistance to one’s neighbors in unearned difficulty. They disdain insurance, including the "social insurance" nominally offered by the welfare state. Therefore, when the IRS attempted to collect Social Security payroll taxes from them, they resolved to resist. Byler was their test case.

The court decreed it proper for the IRS to seize some of Byler’s horses in "payment" for uncollected Social Security taxes. After that, the Old Order Amish, religiously enjoined from violence even in defense of life and property, were helpless, despite American "freedom of religion."

The overarching principle expressed by that case is plain: When government dictates clash with religious conscience, government wins and conscience must give way. In a few very obvious cases -- the mala in se of murder; kidnapping; rape; theft; fraud; and the sexual abuse of children -- this rule is unexceptionable. But beyond those subjects, where you might expect it to apply, there is no "freedom of religion." There is no "conscience exemption" for whatever the State might demand of us. There is only "freedom of worship" -- and only in those churches approved by the local zoning board.

As I wrote at Eternity Road two years ago:

This is really a special case of a far larger tragedy. As Eric L. Harry's fictional anarchist theorist Valentin Kartsev said in Harry's blockbuster Protect and Defend:
"Rights are an archist concept. Rights have no meaning except when confronted with superior power. They are what is left to the people after the government has taken all its wants. Your country's Bill of Rights defines your most cherished freedoms how? By limiting the legal power of government to encroach upon them."

Now that a "compelling government interest" can be asserted to override any claim of rights, it becomes quite clear that freedom -- of any variety, not just religious freedom -- no longer exists in these United States. We have no rights as such are properly understood; we only have permissions, or perhaps the temporary forbearance of a Leviathan that hasn't gotten around to shackling us yet.

Given the events of the century behind us, particularly those of the past five years, would anyone care to disagree?

(Paul of Tarsus, who once claimed that it is a Christian's religious duty to submit to the State, could not be reached for comment.)

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