Dignitatis Humanae: WTF, Catholic Right?

Dear Catholic Right:

I pointed out the inconsistency of your stand for “religious freedom” in an earlier post.  But I really figured it was just an oversight on your part—I thought if we all told you about the plank in your eye you would acknowledge it with a chuckle and (hopefully) even remove it before getting back to work removing the dust you see in the eyes of the Obama administration.

When you chose Sir Thomas More as your symbol for religious freedom, I thought you probably had just forgotten his history as a persecutor of protestants.  Maybe you were dazzled by his gauzy portrayal in A Man for All Seasons.

And I thought Fred Clark at Slacktivist was exaggerating when he characterized your position as “rights for me, but not thee.”

But then I read Matt Bowman’s “Squeezing Religious Freedom from both Sides” about the Second Vatican Council’s statement on religious freedom, the “Dignitatis Humanae.”  And if Bowman is right, then Clark was too: you’ve got a very self-centered idea of religious freedom.

Bowman explains:

The document begins in paragraph 1 by affirming that “it leaves untouched traditional Catholic doctrine on the moral duty of men and societies toward the true religion and toward the one Church of Christ.” “Untouched” is not equivocal. DH then goes on to talk about “a right to religious freedom” for “all men,” which is subject to “due limits.” But discussion of this entirely distinct topic is separate from, “over and above” (“insuper”), the doctrine of the untouched religious freedom of the Church. Nowhere does DH declare that the religious freedom of the Church is subject to “due limits.”

 Does Bowman have this correct, Catholic Right?  The religious freedom of every faith is subject to due limits—except for yours?

Bowman continues:

The reason that DH never imposes “due limits” on the freedom of the magisterium or the faithful laity is quite simply because a Christian whose conscience is formed in line with the teaching of Jesus Christ cannot ever be legitimately coerced by the government to violate God’s direction.

Oh, well.  That explains it.  Your conscience can’t be legitimately coerced, but everybody else’s can.  Because you’re right, and we’re all wrong.


The call for “due limits” makes sense: we all get that in a pluralistic society a faith’s beliefs and practices can sometimes conflict with legally-enacted laws and governmental decisions.  Thus we tax pacifist Quakers and Buddhists and (often) use that money to fund wars.  We don’t allow Rastafarians to grow pot, and the state can fire members of the Native American Church for testing positive for peyote use.  And we don’t allow Satanists to sacrifice babies, even if they insist that doing so is an essential practice of their faith.

(For the record, I don’t agree with many of our government’s military interventions, and I don’t agree with many of our drug laws.  I do agree with laws against sacrificing babies. But that’s not the point here: the point is that I recognize—as we all should—that religious freedom has some limits.)

To use a more topical example, we don’t allow Scientologists to refuse to provide health insurance plans that include psychiatric drugs.

But apparently, you think you’re above all that, Catholic Right.  You’re fine and dandy with violating the consciences of Quakers and Buddhists and Scientologists and Christian Scientists.  And you’re okay with dictating whether and how Rastafarians and Peyotists and Episcopalians may administer their sacraments.  But if a legitimately elected president proposes, and a congressional body passes, a law that includes a provision that can be interpreted as violating your conscience… then those politicians are unbearable tyrants leading us all down the slope of totalitarianism.

 I also love the tail end of Bowman’s post:

Notably, the Catholic Church also teaches that non-Catholic Christians are part of the Church by baptism, albeit being separated for other reasons. Thus any government compulsion on them to engage in a practice that would violate Church teaching would also not be a “due limit” of government. And by extension, it would be unjust to force even non-Christians to do something in violation of God’s commands.

Aww, thanks, Catholic Right.  So you’re saying that we non-Catholics should have unlimited religious freedom, too—as long as our religious beliefs are exactly the same as yours.  But you reserve the right to curtail any of our non-Catholic views. 

Again, sheesh.

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