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Monday, November 07, 2011

JC Murray SJ and the victims of human trafficking

Something strange is happening to the expression "religious freedom/liberty". It used to mean, believe it or not, that civil governments did not have an obligation to officially recognize the church and support it. Yep, there was a time when Pius IX actually said "The state must recognize [the Catholic Church] as supreme and submit to its influence. . . . The power of the state must be at its disposal and all who do not conform to its requirements must be compelled or punished. . . . Freedom of conscience and cult is madness." It was against this mindset that John Courtney Murray SJ worked, and for a long time he was very unpopular in the church because of that. Here's a bit from a 2008 article at US Catholic, Catholic dissent -- When wrong turns out to be right .....

Beginning in 1950 Father John Courtney Murray, a Jesuit theologian, argued that the old tradition must yield. In a series of articles in Theological Studies magazine and in public appearances, he contended that the state should not be the tool of the church and has no business carrying out the church's will. Rather, he said, the civil government's single yet profound obligation is to insure the freedom of all its citizens, especially their religious freedom.

"Every man has a right to religious freedom," he wrote, a right that is based on the dignity of the human person and is therefore to be formally recognized . . . and protected by constitutional law. . . . So great is this dignity that not even God can take it away." ......

The reaction was vehement and instantaneous. The two most influential U.S. Catholic theologians of the day, Fathers Joseph Fenton and Francis Connell, called Murray's argument "destructive, scandalous, and heretical" and engaged in lengthy, published refutations, especially in the American Ecclesiastical Review. Wrote Fenton, "The state is obligated to worship God according to the one religion [God] has established. This is so obviously a part of Catholic doctrine that no theologian has any excuse to call it into question." ...

Murray stuck to his guns and eventually he became a major drafter of the the Second Vatican Council's Declaration on Human Freedom.

But how things have changed. I see everywhere the church complaining about a loss of religious freedom and liberty, but by this they don't mean what JC Murray and the Council meant, they mean instead the opposite - a loss of Catholic influence on civil society, the inability to force everyone else to follow Catholic teaching, and the latest instance is their losing of a government contract to serve victims of human trafficking. The church says they lost the contract because of anti-Catholicism, that their religious liberty is being stepped on, but I think that assertion is not only untrue but disingenuous.

Here's a bit from a post by Susan Brooks Thistletwaite, a minister and professor at the Chicago Theological Seminary. It's a very informative post, but long, so though it's worth reading in full, here's just part of the beginning of it ....


What about the women? Sex trafficking victims need comprehensive health services

The main issue in dealing with those who have been subject to human trafficking, “a form of modern-day slavery” that often includes sexual exploitation, is what is in the best interest of the victims. All victims of trafficking clearly need health care services to recover. Women and girls who have been victimized by sex trafficking must be given comprehensive health services, and that includes reproductive services. But this is more than health care; it is the restoration of a woman or girl’s human dignity, the right to determine what will happen to her body and how in terms of reproduction.

Yet, in the recent controversy over the Department of Health and Human Service’s decision in late September to end funding to the U.S. Catholic bishops’ Migration and Refugee Services, a program to help these victims of trafficking, the issue is framed as “Obama versus the Catholic Church,” and cast as an issue of religious liberty.


Women and girls victimized in this sex trafficking system need health care; that is beyond dispute. But what they also need is a restoration of respect for them as people capable of ethical decision-making where their bodies, minds, and spirits are concerned. Reproductive services, including contraception and legal abortion, are part of that restoration for them, to choose or not to choose as part of their journey toward wholeness.

There was “no reason given” by the Department of Health and Human Services for non-renewal of the grant to the Catholic agency, yet it has been interpreted through the written instructions by HSS to groups requesting grants through the Trafficking Victims Protection Act that “strong preference” will be given to organizations that offer referrals for the “full range of legally permissible gynecological and obstetric care” to mean the Catholic group “could have been denied funding under those instructions because of the Church’s opposition to abortion and contraception.”

The American Civil Liberties Union, which filed a lawsuit in 2009 against the contract, saying it was unconstitutional because the bishops would not refer pregnant sex-trafficking victims for abortions, applauded the Obama administration decision to deny the grant. Brigitte Amiri, an ACLU lawyer, told Bloomberg: “We applaud the federal government for recognizing that trafficking victims need reproductive-health series and making awards based on those needs. This has little to do with religion and everything to do with what the trafficking victims need.”

In September 2009, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops said the ACLU lawsuit is “without merit and an affront to religious liberty.”

Those seem to me to be the parameters of the debate. Is this an issue of “religious liberty,” or “what the trafficking victims need”?

Religious liberty is not the freedom to impose one’s religious views on others. We must ask, “when does religious liberty shift from the freedom to practice one’s faith to the imposition of that faith on a diverse public?” .........



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