As Catholics, we want to be treated fairly and we certainly need the freedom to live our faith outside of our mind, our home and our church buildings. What progressives seem to presume is that we want an advantage over other faiths and ideologies. This is not the case. We believe that non-Catholic Christians, Buddhists, Muslims, Jews, atheists and all other faiths and ideologies, should all have the same freedom we have. We are confident enough to say we should all play on the same level playing field because in the end, as long as reasonable people are willing to think, the truth, beauty, and goodness of Catholicism will win hearts and minds every time.
When John F. Kennedy became a major contender for the office of president of the United States, his Catholic faith became a concern for many non-Catholic Christians. It was somewhat tolerable to have Catholics serving in Congress, on the federal judiciary and other levels of government, but the country had never had a Catholic president. Many non-Catholic Christians questioned whether JFK’s faith would allow him to make important national decisions because many had been told that the pope called the shots for all Catholics.
Similar rumors had undermined Al Smith’s run for the presidency in 1928 and had served as the base for an entire anti-Catholic political party in the 1800s called the Know-Nothing Party. In all the colonies except Maryland, Catholics were persona non grata. Anti-Catholicism seems to be one long-standing American tradition which remains unchallenged by the social justice warriors of today.
JFK was well aware of the anti-Catholic sentiment in America. On September 12, 1960, he had the opportunity to quell those concerns in a major speech to a large and very skeptical group of non-Catholic ministers and leaders in the Greater Houston Ministerial Association. Never before had an American had such an opportunity to explain the truth about the Catholic faith, with not only a large non-Catholic audience, but a worldwide audience waiting to hear what he had to say.
Unfortunately, JFK sidestepped the issue, delivering a speech that failed to defend the Catholic faith. He merely defended himself. If he was to explain how a faithful Catholic could be both the president of the United States and remain a faithful Catholic, he simply dropped the ball. Many believe he was simply incapable of defending the faith. I suspect there is some truth to that. As a result, many a lukewarm, lapsed and ignorant Catholic have followed him into public office in the years since, unchallenged by the skeptics as long as they followed JFK’s formula.
How many “devout” Catholic politicians have claimed that they do not believe in abortion, but they cannot impose that belief on the American people? We have heard Catholic politicians claim that they cannot oppose same-sex “marriage” and some of them now claim that the Church is wrong in its teaching. When we hear these things, we need only look back to September 12, 1960, when candidate Kennedy said, “I believe in a president whose religious views are his own private affair, neither imposed by him upon the nation, or imposed by the nation upon him as a condition to holding that office.”
In saying this to the Greater Houston Ministerial Association, he was saying it to the world. The world heard him say that the Catholic faith is a “private affair.” And how it tickled their ears.
We heard from another Kennedy in the 1992 case, Planned Parenthood of Southeastern Pennsylvania v. Casey. Justice Anthony Kennedy who is also Catholic, but is not related to JFK, guaranteed unlimited access to abortion in the United States. In that infamous decision, Justice Kennedy wrote that “at the heart of liberty is the right to define one’s own concept of existence, of meaning, of the universe and of the mystery of human life.” In Obergefell v. Hodges, another decision penned by Justice Kennedy, he wrote: “The Constitution promises liberty to all within its reach, a liberty that includes certain specific rights that allow persons, within a lawful realm, to define and express their identity.” Where JFK had dropped the ball, Justice Anthony Kennedy picked it up and scored a touchdown for the opposing team. Twice. Justice Kennedy employed metaphysical relativism to ensure that abortion and same-sex “marriage” would remain a prominent law of the land in the United States for many decades to come. These decisions are bad enough without adding a third victory for the Sexual Revolution: Kennedy’s defense of sodomy in Lawrence v. Texas (2003).
Both Kennedys have complied with progressives’ insistence on secularism and a very unconstitutional definition of “separation of Church and State.”
JFK promoted a private faith and Justice Kennedy has decreed that there is no objective moral or metaphysical truth while noting a distinction between a “lawful realm” and religion.
Today, secularists and supporters of groups, such as “Freedom From Religion,” look back at JFK’s speech as well as Justice Kennedy’s opinions and use them as ammunition to drive the Christian faith further away from American life. Exhibit “A” is the “freedom of worship” mantra used by the Obama Administration. Between 2008 and 2016 they substituted “freedom of worship” in place of “freedom of religion.”
One of these things isn’t like the other. Freedom of religion means that a person is free to practice their faith without unreasonable restraint by the government. Because of the First Amendment, we can pray in public, at our place of employment, in our schools, etc… and we can decline to support ideas, choices, and behaviors that assault our consciences.
Freedom of worship is an entirely different matter. In his book The Gulag Archipelago, Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn mentions Tanya Khodkevich, who wrote: “You can pray freely. But just so God alone can hear.” For writing those words, Khodkevich was sentenced to ten years in prison.
If we buy into the “theology” of these two Kennedys, how is the United States any different than Stalin’s Soviet Union? I guess nobody is being jailed here, at least not yet. But numerous Americans are being persecuted for their refusal to comply with laws imposed on us.
In the recently decided case, Masterpiece Cakeshop, LTD v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission, a member of the Colorado Civil Rights Commission suggested that a business owner can believe “what he wants to believe,” but cannot act on his religious beliefs “if he decides to do business in the state [of Colorado].” That is what freedom of worship looks like… “But just so God alone can hear.” For Jack Phillips, it nearly ended up meaning that he was going to lose his livelihood. In a 7-2 decision, written by who else but Justice Anthony Kennedy, the Supreme Court finally disagreed with freedom of worship and upheld freedom of religion. At least Justice Kennedy did not score another touchdown for the opposing team. Unfortunately, he only kicked a field goal for us this time.
I say this because the question is not totally settled. When Jack Phillips declined to bake a cake to celebrate the same-sex “marriage” of Charlie Craig and Dave Mullins, Colorado had not yet redefined marriage. Therefore, Craig & Mullins could not have their ceremony in Colorado. Their ceremony was actually planned to take place in Massachusetts. Justice Kennedy made note of this fact, making it likely that Mr. Phillips or another business owner will have to go through the same process of prosecution all over again.
The other problem with Justice Kennedy’s decision is that he sidestepped Mr. Phillips’s arguments about freedom of speech and focused on the obvious anti-religious bias of the Colorado Civil Rights Commission. If the Civil Right Commissioners had been more polite in their comments and had not exhibited such a blatant hostility toward Christianity in other similar cases, might the Supreme Court have upheld the penalties imposed on Mr. Phillips? Justice Kennedy believes it could have. He wrote: “…it must be concluded that the State’s interest could have been weighed against Phillips’s sincere religious objections in a way consistent with the requisite religious neutrality that must be strictly observed.” He also wrote: “The outcome of cases like this in other circumstances must await further elaboration in the courts, all in the context of recognizing that these disputes must be resolved with tolerance, without undue disrespect to sincere religious beliefs, and without subjecting gay persons to indignities when they seek goods and services in an open market.”
Let’s start electing and appointing Catholics who actually know and live their faith. Let’s start calling on those Catholics currently in office to be courageous in defending truth.