Vatican Council II and Alabama Chief Justice Roy Moore on Religious Liberty

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by Bradley Eli, M.Div., Ma.Th.  •  •  May 9, 2017   

Moore: God's natural moral laws trump all civil laws

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Last Thursday, President Donald Trump signed his executive order to protect religious liberty in keeping with his campaign promise, which swept him into office.

Religious liberty, as heralded by Vatican Council II, has been trampled on by the previous Obama administration and by the courts, with the exception of a rare judge from Alabama, Chief Justice Roy Moore of the state supreme court. In a concurring opinion written in 2014, Chief Justice Moore professed that man-made laws are themselves void when they contradict God's laws expressed in the natural law.

"The law of nature and of nature's God therefore binds all nations, states and all government officials — from Great Britain to Germany to Alabama, regardless of positive laws or orders to the contrary," he wrote.

Chief Justice Moore's statement is in agreement with the teachings on religious liberty presented by Vatican Council II in Dignitatis Humanae (DH). In short, secular government can't tell someone which religion to adopt, but civil laws, nonetheless, must always be moral or they lose their binding force.

Religious freedom as taught in DH can be understood as what's called a negative civil right, a freedom from being coerced in religious matters by mere human authority — think of governments set up by communists, Muslims or secular humanists. For Americans, this civil right is expressed in the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, forbidding the government from meddling in peoples' religious affairs.

Vatican Council II spoke to contemporary secular governments that prevent people from seeking God. It wasn't speaking, as had previous popes, to a bygone Christendom that encouraged man to seek the true God with laws informed by the Catholic faith. And it certainly wasn't giving Catholics the freedom to rebel against divine authority within the Catholic Church itself.

Religious liberty doesn't give man the right to believe irresponsibly whatever he wants. The Council Fathers affirmed that God created man with the moral duty to sincerely seek Him and the grave obligation to truly love Him. Nor does it free man from practicing the Ten Commandments that can be known by reason. Nevertheless, faith is a supernatural gift of grace, which can't be imposed.

Today, religious freedom is violated as employers are forced to pay for their workers' contraceptives, bakers are forced to make wedding cakes for same-sex couples, and doctors are forced to assist patients commit suicide, all against their religiously informed consciences.

On the other hand, there are religious posers like the "Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster" and the Satanic Temple that use legal sophistry under the guise of religious freedom to remove morality from society. For them, freedom of religion means freedom from religion, which in turn means freedom from morality. Amoral laws, however, are a farce, as legality always enforces someone's morality.

Watch the panel discuss the threats to moral freedom in The Download—Religious Liberty.


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