Gospel of Life -- Study Guide
An Imbalance of Powers
As was pointed out above, our Founders established a republic, in
which the people govern themselves and have the privilege and duty of choosing
their representatives who, in turn, write laws. This paragraph indicates that
when citizens participate in this process, they "participate in promoting the
inalienable rights of all."
This "participation" takes many forms. We register to vote, we inform
ourselves about candidates, we vote in elections, we lobby and educate those who
hold elected office, we encourage and admonish them as needed, and we hold them
up in prayer, as Scripture requires (see 1 Timothy 2:1).
It should be noted that the "political structures enabling all citizens to
participate" can function successfully only when the proper balance of powers
between the three branches of government is preserved. The Founders indicated
that each of the three branches has equal authority to interpret the
Constitution. The Courts, in other words, do not necessarily have the final
word, and Congress is empowered to limit their jurisdiction. Nowadays, we live
under many policies that contradict the will of the American people, and have
never been voted on by the people or their lawmakers: policies like the
prohibition of prayer, Bible-reading, and the viewing of the 10 Commandments in
our public schools, abortion on demand, and now the re-definition of marriage.
Where did these policies come from? They were imposed by judges who have
overstepped the bounds of their constitutional authority. A key pre-requisite of
building the Culture of Life in America is to restore the proper balance of
powers, so that laws are made by duly elected legislators, not by unelected
The paragraph is a call to use the gifts we have been given in our
citizenship. The bishops here respond, as they will again later, to the charge
that the participation of Catholics in public life is, essentially, an
"imposition of their religion and morality on the rest of society." Yet the
bishops point out that "our country's founding principles" and our Declaration
of Independence are clear about the inherent value of human life. In other
words, we are not calling for a "Catholic takeover of America." If anything, we
are calling for an American takeover of America, a return to principles
that were put in place by our Founders but recently abandoned by many.
Some argue that since we have religious freedom in this country, people
should be allowed to believe what they want about these matters. It would be
wrong to impose by law one particular religious or theological position, they
assert. Correct. And the Church does not seek to require any religious
belief by law. People have the right to profess, believe, and practice their own
freely chosen set of religious and moral beliefs.
But while we are free to believe whatever we want, there are limits to
how far we can go in acting on those beliefs. In our society, a person is
entitled to believe that stealing your car is OK, but he is not permitted
to carry out that belief by actually stealing your car. A person,
furthermore, is entitled to believe that you do not have a soul, but is
not permitted to carry out that belief by killing you. Your life is still
protected by the law, despite another's beliefs.
The United States Supreme Court and lower courts have made this distinction
in various religious freedom cases. Courts in Alabama and Tennessee, for
example, ruled that Churches that had ceremonies in which poisonous snakes were
handled could no longer do so, because despite the freedom of belief, the fact
was that those snakes endangered the lives and health of the believers. (See
Harden v. State, 216 S.W.2d 708 (Tenn 1948), State ex rel Swann v. Pack,
527 S.W.2d 99 (Tenn 1975) and Hill v. State, 88 So.2d 880 (Ala 1956).)
Note that the handling of the snakes in these cases was an integral part of
the faith and worship of those religious bodies. The US Supreme Court,
furthermore, wrote as follows in Reynolds vs. US, 98 U.S.145 (1878):
"Suppose one believed that human sacrifices were a necessary part of religious
worship. Would it be seriously contended that the civil government under which
he lived could not prevent a sacrifice?"
Abortion is not simply a matter of beliefs, but of bloodshed;
not simply viewpoints, but victims.
The law's criterion for who receives protection should be the verifiable
evidence of science, rather that the subjective criterion of religious belief.
There is such a thing as religious truth. But whether a baby lives or
dies should not depend on whether or not everyone in society has acknowledged
that truth. Human life needs protection now. Freedom of belief should
never be confused with freedom to destroy others.
What is the foundation of "real freedom," and how is it different from
false ideas of freedom?
Why is it not true to say that in trying to stop abortion, we are trying to
"impose our beliefs" upon society?
Click here for a column on the balance of powers and the proper role of the
Click here to listen to an audio file (mp3) of a talk given by Fr. Frank Pavone
addressing the topic of "The Founders, Morality, and Political Responsibility."
[Click here to
download the talk]
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