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Thursday, September 27, 2012

Church Shows Moral Leadership, Right or Wrong

People of faith are not required to be silent on issues of moral import -- or be silent in political advocacy -- as a condition to enjoy the free exercise of religion.  But those who oppose or disagree with such statements from religious leaders often couch their political opposition in the cloak of the dubious principle that political opinions by those religious leaders somehow violate the principle of separation of church and state.

Earlier this week, Newark's Roman Catholic Archbishop John Myers issued a letter to all church congregants urging them to consider issues of "vote in defense of marriage and life."  The Newark Star-Ledger editorial this morning criticizes the Archbishop for an improper intrusion of the Church into politics with what it charges is an implicit endorsement of Mitt Romney.

The Catholic Church and Archbishop Myers are showing moral leadership, whether you or I or anyone else agrees with the Church's position.  It is the role of the Church -- and of other religions -- to advocate on moral issues in line with its teachings.  Religions are not politicians running for office and should not decide moral positions based on polling.  If people want to advocate certain positions, they should talk to their elected representatives.  Any religion that does so will abdicate its moral authority and, soon, lose its followers.  

The typical objection to religious leaders' opining on moral issues is that such speech is a violation of the principle of separation of church and state. But the Constitution only precludes the establishment by the state of an official religion (in what's called the "Establishment Clause").  That had meaning in the day of the Constitution's writing, because most colonists fled their native countries and came to America, not for economic opportunity, but to flee religious persecution of religious minorities who disagreed with the official religions of their kingdoms.  The First Amendment core constitutional rights of freedom of religion and freedom of speech are not mutually exclusive.   

Incidentally, isn't it funny that we don't read about major newspapers calling on Islamic leaders to repudiate shari'a?  It seems these arguments about religions being backwards and "not responsive" to the community are reserved only for Christians, and the Roman Catholic Church in particular.

Eric Dixon is an investigative and corporate lawyer in New York and New Jersey.

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