Most people are not aware of it, but the founding documents of our nation have been fundamentally re-written in recent years. Here is how the key passage of the Declaration of Independence has now been revised to read:
We hold these truths to be self-evident, that some people are created more equal than others, that some of them are endowed by their government with certain alienable rights that can be given or taken away at any time, at the whim of the government.
And here is part of the First Amendment to the Constitution:
Congress shall make many laws respecting an establishment of religion, and prohibiting the free exercise thereof.
We now live in a nation that is systematically revising its intellectual and legal foundation. We are in grave danger of abandoning its commitment to fundamental human rights, rooted in human nature and natural law. That foundation is being replaced by a system of positivism and secularism. I have written on this blog many times about this trend. For a fuller explanation of what it means, check out Cardinal Dolan’s important address to Fordham Law School.
In concrete terms, we can see these threats to religious liberty and fundamental rights in many places: the HHS Mandate, the abortion mandate in the health care law, the radical re-definition of marriage, and efforts to suppress the speech of pro-lifers.
In the face of these threats to our liberties, ordinary citizens frequently feel powerless. After all, the government is very large and very powerful, and we think we are isolated and alone. We fear for our livelihoods and our families if we run afoul of the law.
So what can we do?
We must resist.
The starting place for resistance is to understand what it means, and what it does not. I strongly urge everyone to read two key works that explain the reasons and tactics for resisting unjust laws enacted by civil governments — Henry David Thoreau’s Civil Disobedience, and Vaclav Havel’s The Power of the Powerless.
These essays stress a number of essential points:
Underlying this duty of resistance is an important understanding of the freedom of conscience. My conscience is not just reflected in my external decisions, but it involves the very core of who I am as a human person. It is the inner sanctuary where I encounter God’s law. It is in my conscience that I hear the voice of God, speaking the truth to me. It is there that I must be true to myself, and to the will of God.
The Catechism of the Catholic Church and the document of the Second Vatican Council, On the Dignity of the Human Person (especially paragraph 3), explain this beautifully. These documents should also be studied with care.
The government may attempt to coerce my external cooperation with injustice by imposing penalties, fines, and so on. But no government, and no law, can force me to accept a lie as the truth.
That is the heart of resistance — the ultimate freedom of the human heart.