Friday, April 15, 2005

The wall doesn't work both ways

Much has been made about the “wall” separating church and state.
Yet, it appears that the “wall” applies only to church informing state.
The more worrisome thing is the separation of state and church. If you accept the Jeffersonian principle, you must accept that the state has no business telling a religion what it can and cannot preach. Yet, there are those who profess to be “liberals” who have no qualms about trying to muscle their way into influencing the teachings of a church.
Such a battle is going on now in Canada, where twice in the past year, a Roman Catholic bishop has run afoul of the liberal establishment. The reaction to Bishop Frederick B. Henry of Calgary is very instructive.
Last spring, prior to the Canadian elections, Bishop Henry was critical of Liberal Party leader Paul Martin’s stance on same-sex marriage. This earned him the wrath of Revenue Canada. A bureaucratic functionary called the bishop and, according to reports, threatened the have the charitable tax status of the church examined (read: revoked) if the bishop didn’t, in effect, shut up. Almost a year later, the church still has its charitable status. However, the functionary still has his job, despite promises that he would be at least disciplined, if not terminated. Kevin Steel reported on this in The Western Standard:
Now, the bishop is in further trouble with the elites. In pastoral letters, he has stood up against the proposal before Canada’s Parliament to legalize same-sex marriage. In being true to the tenets of his faith, he reiterated his opposition to the proposal on the Diocese of Calgary Web site and in his recurring column in the Calgary Sun . What that has earned him is a pair of complaints filed by gay activists. Two weeks ago, Bishop Henry held a news conference to discuss the complaints. The Canadian Press reported
"Those that support same-sex marriage want to shut the churches out of this important debate," the bishop said. “Those who favour same-sex marriage have been given a full opportunity to state their views on the issue. But now they are saying anyone who speaks out against same-sex marriage is discriminating against homosexuals."
The bishop says he will not be silenced. “We have filed our response (documentation equivalent to two moderately-sized telephone books,” he wrote in an exchange with this blog.
For all the noise, it is a relatively simple matter. Bishop Henry cannot stand by and endorse same-sex marriage by remaining silent on the issue. It contravenes one of the most fundamental teachings of his church. If a person cannot speak to his faith’s beliefs, then he cannot speak at all. And if that person, acting on the tenets of his or her faith, can be penalized to the extent that the charitable status of the church is lifted for failure to agree, then you have a situation -- right here in North America -- where the churches are only allowed to preach what the state allows them to preach. Freedom of religion is, for all intents and purposes, shot to hell. Bishop Henry noted that in his letter…
"The proposed legislation does not offer protection to faith groups from being penalized with respect to their charitable status if they do not agree with the proposed redefinition of marriage."
This is not unlike what we all witnessed (and still witness) in the Communist world. There are the “official” churches, which toe the Party line. A defeat for Bishop Henry may well mean that in supposedly free and “liberal” Canada, religion is no better off than it is in Communist China.
And don’t think that the anti-faith forces in the U.S. of A. aren’t watching.

Bishop Henry wrote to this blogger that the debate is not about him, but about marriage. I agree... with the caveat that he now stands as the symbol of the forces of freedom of religion... a freedom which includes the right, duty and responsibility to speak out when the larger society is careening away from the principles of that faith. As a bishop, he has an especial responsibility to teach his flock -- and, indirectly, all of us -- about the tenets of the faith. Any movement to limit that expression is a limit on freedom of religion.
The wall separating church and state, a wise one conceived in the early days of the U.S., has to work both ways. Otherwise, there is no wall... and no freedom of religion, for that matter.