In his speech, Pope Benedict explicitly acknowledged the “different and distinct aims and roles of the civil authority and the Church.” Does this sound like someone who is interested in forcing his moral code on the unwilling? After centuries of building and supporting theocratic regimes in Europe, the Catholic Church has recognized the wisdom of maintaining a secular state, wherein “all may propose their own vision of common life” and church and state are free to pursue their “different and distinct aims” within society.
However, as constitutionalists marshal their forces to defend freedom of religion, the religious right also needs to take Benedict’s words to heart. The state does not exist to enforce the mysterious theological tenets of any religion or creed. It is neither interested in nor capable of enforcing religious dogma or saving immortal souls. This does not mean the state should be immoral; it means the state should be amoral.
The Obama administration and the religious right need to recognize what our founding fathers recognized: that a truly just government is one that defends liberty. A just government allows the free exchange of goods and ideas, and encourages the private missions of churches, charities and individuals. Above all, a just government permits all free minds to seek truth according to their own reason and live according to their own consciences.
Tom Swanson is the Programs and New Media Intern at the America’s Future Foundation and a senior at the University of Notre Dame. You can contact him at email@example.com.