Yesterday, I posted the Manhattan Declaration, a new and significant statement by Christian leaders. The three principal causes that united these leaders was the need to defend human life, authentic marriage, and religious liberty.
Anyone who thinks such a declaration is unnecessary should have been reading the news. Here is a new example of the threats to religious liberty that routinely come from the powers-that-be.
You’ll find it in a report about the activities of the President’s faith-based initiatives panel. This group was set up to find ways that the government can partner with religious groups in providing social services. In the process of getting recommendations together for the President, the panel discussed the question of whether or not recipients of federal grants could continue to hang visible religious symbols on their walls. They couldn’t come to a decision, but here are the choices they considered:
1. Making such religious icons not allowed for federally funded services.
2. Allowing it only if no other religious neutral rooms are available and covering up such icons is impratical.
3. Not requiring removal of such icons but encouraging religious orgs to be sensitive about the issue.
Yes, you are reading that correctly — the government is actually considering whether to ban the hanging of a crucifix on the wall of a Catholic agency that provides social services, if the agency received money from the federal government. I understand that when you take Caesar’s coin, you have to swallow Caesar’s rules, but this is an intolerable intrusion into the freedom of expression of religious organizations.
What’s next — telling newspapers that receive some tax benefits that they can’t print editorials critical of the government?
This flies directly in the face not only of the history and traditions of our nation, but of the nature of the state and the proper role of Catholic social services. The mission of Catholic agencies is not just to provide pragmatic services, but to meet spiritual needs as well, and do something that no government can do — they offer love to every person.
Pope Benedict, in his encyclical Deus Caritas Est, said this:
The State which would provide everything, absorbing everything into itself, would ultimately become a mere bureaucracy incapable of guaranteeing the very thing which the suffering person—every person—needs: namely, loving personal concern. We do not need a State which regulates and controls everything, but a State which, in accordance with the principle of subsidiarity, generously acknowledges and supports initiatives arising from the different social forces and combines spontaneity with closeness to those in need. The Church is one of those living forces: she is alive with the love enkindled by the Spirit of Christ. This love does not simply offer people material help, but refreshment and care for their souls, something which often is even more necessary than material support. (28)
The state that would arrogate to itself the authority to eliminate religious expression as a condition of providing social services is a tyrant. That is why we need the Manhattan Declaration, and that is why we must unite in defending religious liberty.