Friday, February 10, 2012

Where Does Political Liberalism Stand On Religious Liberty?

I am frequently told that my political views are not liberal. I reject that judgement based on my own education in philosophy, politics and my life experiences. Even as a grade scholar in a conservative farming community I was taken by the grand idea proposed and undertaken by the American people and represented in the founding documents, in the Constitution and in the Bill of Rights. I clearly understood that the phrase "liberal democracy" referred to the ideal set summarized in the Declaration of Independence as:

"We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.--That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, '. . . "   (US Declaration ...)

I know from years of history classes that over time this ideal became, step by step, more real and less just a dream.
     (1) Voting rights were expanded from just land owners to all men.
           (Our democracy became more liberal)
     (2) The election of senators was vested in citizen's votes rather than a political appointment.
            (Our democracy became more liberal)
     (3) Persons held in slavery were set free and made citizens and eventually voters.
             (Our democracy became more liberal)
     (4) Woman were empowered to vote and hold office.
               (Our democracy became more liberal)
And this list only deals with voting rights and a similar list can be made for other unalienable rights.
This dimension of liberal progress is based upon moving towards the ideal expressed by:
       - "All men (persons) are created equal"
       - "Government . . . . derives it just powers from the consent of the governed."

Are we there yet? NO and our present political environment threatens to move us in a less liberal direction.

I know from life experience that if you try and live these American  ideals and/or the ideals of Christianity that the world will classify you as a liberal. In a sense my Christian idealism and my American idealism got me assigned the label of liberal. Since the American ideal set forth in the founding document is Liberal Democracy I have accepted that political label willingly.

The current issues regarding Religious Freedom on one side and The Right to Health Care on the other side threaten a definite move away from liberal democracy. Here is Robert Barron, theologian and documentarian, writing about this very issue of the meaning of "liberal" in connection with the first of these issues.

"There is a modality of secular liberalism that is not aggressive toward religion, but rather recognizes that religion makes an indispensable contribution to civil society. This more tolerant liberalism allows, not only for freedom of worship, but also for real freedom of religion, which is to say, the expression of religious values in the public square and the free play of religious ideas in the public conversation.

Most of our founding fathers advocated just this type of liberalism. But there is another modality of secularism—sadly on display in the current administration—that is actively aggressive toward religion, precisely because it sees religion as its primary rival in the public arena. Appreciating certain moral convictions as disvalues—think here especially of Catholic teachings concerning sexuality—it seeks to eliminate religion or at the very least to privatize and hence marginalize it. In doing so, it indeed reveals itself as totalitarian, for it allows no room in the public space for anything but itself.

The reason that the Bill of Rights—the first ten amendments to the Constitution—is so important is that it holds off the tendency, inherent in any government, toward totalitarianism, even if that means the totalitarianism of the majority.

The very first amendment, of course, guarantees the free exercise of religion in our country. Our founders obviously feared that even a democratic system, predicated upon a repudiation of tyranny, could become so tyrannical itself that it would seek to intrude upon the sacred realm of the religious conscience. As Jefferson, Toqueville, Lincoln and many others have seen, our democracy is especially healthy when it disallows a concentration of power—political, economic, or cultural—in any one place."

Read his entire essay here

While he is willing to create a new category to facilitate calling the present national administration liberal I am not willing to make that distortion in the language. The now documented efforts of certain Democratic Party leaders to marginalize liberals (Catholics and other religious voices, labor unions and human rights activists) in the party starting in the late 70's was a move to the right away from liberalism and should not be labeled 'liberal' because such a usage is a corruption of our language making our present political shouting match sound like mass confusion to many of our ears and certainly the ears of the ears of people all around the world that yearn for liberal democracy in their countries.

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