The struggle for religious freedom at present is not a dramatic one, not as if churches were barricaded and clergy forbidden to minister.
Rather, it surfaces in seemingly isolated instances. It comes not in persecution but in the little things: conscience clauses in federal regulations, adoption proceedings in state laws, restrictive laws by cities against pro-life organizations.
Some recent examples: The Department of Health and Human Services intends that contraceptives and sterilization will be among the mandated preventive services for women under the new health reform law. It provides for narrow exemptions for religious organizations that conscientiously object to the requirement.
The Catholic Charities agencies of four Illinois dioceses are in court to stop efforts by the Illinois attorney general and the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services to prevent Catholic agencies from continued participation in state foster care and adoption programs. State officials announced plans to pull contracts with the church agencies, since they will not place foster children or adopted children with same-sex couples.
In San Francisco, legislation was introduced that was aimed at stopping pro-life medical clinics from using "misleading advertising" that implies that they offer abortion or abortion referrals.
The legislation is part of an effort by NARAL Pro-Choice America to require crisis pregnancy centers to state up front that abortions are not provided there.
A U.S. District Court ruled in January that a Baltimore ordinance requiring signs in waiting rooms stating that abortions are not performed violated pregnancy centers’ right to free speech. The city of Baltimore has appealed that ruling.
The "imposing of beliefs" charge used against religion has been reversed now as it is being used against religion, not by religion.
Civil law should reflect the natural law. This is not sectarian, not conceding a coercive role to one religion to enforce its moral norms through civil law.
Same-sex marriage legislation has brought a disquieting trend to separate the moral law and civil law: You can have your religious standard, the state can have its laws, and everybody is happy.
Nicholas P. Cafardi, a professor at Duquesne University School of Law, took this position in a recent column:
"In an ideal world, human positive law would reflect natural law. But, in a democracy, that can happen only to the extent that civil society can perceive or interpret that natural law to the limit of its scientifically demonstrable knowledge."
To the contrary, the catechism states that the natural law, given by God, is present in the heart of every person. It imposes common principles, it is unchangeable, and it is the foundation for moral principles.
"The precepts of the natural law are not perceived by everyone clearly and immediately," the catechism says.
But they can be discerned.
God-given rights are not limited by the human desire for scientifically demonstrable knowledge. The natural law is not exclusively Catholic. The church is not defining marriage or life as rules applicable only to its members.
The church should not be legally required to act contrary to its beliefs by being forced to recognize civil same-sex marriages in any way, according to Cafardi, who said, "Those are our civil rights, which civil society must recognize, much as we recognize civil society’s right to define civil marriage as it wills."
Civil society has no right to define something as it wills if it conflicts with natural moral law.
One has only to look to history to find the mischief resulting from such thinking.
Kent, now retired, was editor of archdiocesan newspapers in Omaha and Seattle.