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Living the Gospel of Life -- Study Guide

Paragraph Six


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 judges.

Imposing beliefs?

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.

Discussion Questions

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?

Further Reading

Click here for a column on the balance of powers and the proper role of the courts.

Click here to listen to talk given by Fr. Frank Pavone addressing the topic of "The Founders, Morality, and Political Responsibility." 

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