Friday, January 9, 2009

Richard John Neuhaus and religious liberty

Mark Steyn reminds us of Richard John Neuhaus (1936-2009) constant defense of religious liberty as an important part of his voluminous writings on the pages of First Things, quoting this entry from Neuhaus' feature On the Square from October 2006, in which he responds to a New York Times editorial on the subject of religious exemptions:

The editors are also exercised that religious institutions are exempt from regulations having to do with religious and gender discrimination in hiring and promotion. But the key point, invoked over the years by opponents of free exercise, is that tax exemption is actually a government subsidy.

The underlying, and nascently totalitarian, assumption is that everything in the society belongs to the state and should be under state control. Government exemptions from tax and control are a privilege granted, not a right respected. From which it follows that an exemption is, in fact, a subsidy. This is a long way from the Founders’ understanding of the independent sovereignty of religion that the government is bound to respect.
Neuhaus, of course, wrote the following in 1984 in the prologue to The Naked Public Square: Religion and Democracy in America:
What is relatively new is the naked public square. The naked public square is the result of political doctrine and practice that would exclude religion and religiously grounded values from the conduct of public business. The doctrine is that America is a secular society. It finds dogmatic expression in the ideology of secularism. I will argue that the doctrine is demonstrably false and the dogma exceedingly dangerous.