Submitted by Lucas S., 2L Guest Blogger
The Most Reverend Charles Morerod, OP, was once at a religious conference in Geneva, Switzerland, when an African priest posed the question, “Should we allow people to change religions?” Bishop Morerod didn’t want to answer the question, and no one else did either, so the question went largely unanswered. “It is not obvious,” said Bishop Morerod, speaking on religious freedom at the law school last week, “even as Christians, to respect religious freedom.”Bishop Morerod specifically addressed Vatican II’s Declaration on Religious Freedom.”
Bishop Morerod specifically addressed Vatican II’s Declaration on Religious Freedom. It has been especially difficult for the European mind to accept the concept of religious freedom. History has shaped the European attitude toward religious freedom. Historically, a European’s religion was decided by their birthplace. If you didn’t accept the official religion of your country, then you were in big trouble. The wars of religion in Europe were evidence of the danger posed by different religions co-existing in the same country. The power of the official state churches rivaled that of the governments. Even today, churches in Europe have a tight hold in their respective states. In France in 1905, cities were required, by law, to pay the expenses of all the church buildings in France built before 1905. Even today, the official churches of some European nations hold a large amount of secular influence.
Both Bishop Morerod and Father Reginald Whitt addressed the question, “Was the Declaration on Religious Freedom an American product?” The Bishop answered, “Yes and No.” It has both an American and a Biblical foundation.
Americans have a much different history than Europeans, and they find the concept of religious freedom easier to accept. Father Whitt noted that American Catholics thrived in the Protestant environment because of the American principle that religion must be free from coercion of any kind. However, Father Whitt noted that the period of the Vatican II council coincided with the beginning of the fall of Protestantism, the end of prayer in schools, the beginning of the sexual revolution, and the advent of a relativistic culture. “Nonconformity was the new conformity,” said Father Whitt, noting how shocked the mainline Protestant and Catholic community was at the Supreme Court’s decisions in Griswold v. Connecticut, which created a constitutional right to sexual privacy, and Roe v. Wade,which created a constitutional right to abortion.
Why did Father Whitt draw a parallel between the Vatican II Council and the American cultural shift? It may have been to undercut the Declaration on Religious Freedom, to show that it couldn’t have come at a worse time, and that it served to weaken the Church at at time when it needed to stay strong. It is worth adding to the discussion that, in Europe, the cultural shift has been accompanied by a strong movement towards an atheism, especially among European youth. Is this a result of religious freedom?
I don’t think Father Whitt meant to say that religious freedom breeds atheism. In fact, both Father Whitt and the Bishop seem to believe in the concept of religious freedom wholeheartedly. The Bishop insisted that religious freedom is Biblical, noting that Jesus Christ never coerced belief in anyone. Father Whitt asserted several times that religious freedom is a fundamental human right.
The main conclusion that I drew from the discussion is that while the principle of religious freedom is fundamental, it has had much greater success in America. The American principle has never been, and never will be, completely accepted in Europe. Also, in spite of the new culture of relativism and atheism, religious freedom remains a fundamental human right and Biblical truth.