Soon after the new Constitution of the United States was ratified in 1789, transforming a loose collection of independent and mutually suspicious newly independent States into a stronger Federal Union of mutually suspicious States , it was pointed out there was ( and is) no reference to God in this basic charter of American existence and no statement or “Bill” of Rights ( the 18th century had a fondness for capitalization that I enjoy.)
Alexander Hamilton of New York, by way of St.Croix, one of the “Federalists” whose papers are considered a classic statement of the underlying philosophy of the Framers, was said to breezily remark that there was no reference to God in the Constitution because they simply “forgot”. For all of the seeming irreverence of the that quip it is worth recounting that when he lay dying of a pistol ball fired into him by the then sitting Vice-President of the United States (!) Hamilton was desperate to receive the last rites of the Episcopal Church to which he belonged and was in fear he would die without a last Holy Communion as that Church understood it.
As for a “Bill of Rights” it was James Madison especially who saw the need to embody the civil and political rights of American citizens in the document. The first 10 Amendments passed soon after contain those enumerated rights. It was a defiant statement of inherent and individual Rights that government could not “abridge” or restrict. In the First Amendment was the statement that the new Federal Congress could do nothing to restrict, abridge, religion or to establish one. ( It is also worth noting that this applied to the Federal goverment only and that the State of Connecticut maintained an “established” Congregational Church into the 1820’s. Also, the government HAS restricted the practices of some denominations as contrary to the law and common good; i.e. polygamy and narcotic use as a ritual.)
For us Catholics it is important that even when we were a rather frowned-upon bunch of laregly Irish, German, and later Italian and Slavic immigrants no one proposed any restrictions upon the Catholic Church that either were enacted, or survived. This fact was not only due to the good sense or favor of the non-Catholic majority but also to some occasional, if at times, blunt self-defense. During the height of anti-Irish, anti-Catholic “Nativism” and “Know Nothing-ism” in the 1860’s it was rumored that mobs would attack and burn down Catholic churches, convents, schools, orphanages and even the old St. Patrick’s Cathedral in New York City. The then Archbishop of New York, John Hughes (whose signature ” + John” gave rise to the sardonic nickname “Dagger John”) is said to have declared that “if one Catholic church burns in this city, New York will become another Moscow!”. He was referring to the destruction of their own Second Capital by the Russians to defy Napoleon in 1812; a not all that remote event. The point was taken.
I do not pretend to understand all the in’s and out’s of the current controversy. But I do know that the US government has NO business defining for us what a “religious institution” is and telling us what we have to provide to our employees by way of so-called “health care”. Many Dioceses and Catholic health agencies are currently suing the Administration over this. You would hardly know it from the main-stream media with their usual “water carrying” for the Left and the Administration in particular.
We ought not to be fooled by any spurious claims of “women’s health issues” distracting us from the fundamental right to religious liberty and practice enshrined in the Constitution.
This also may well take a bit of a dose of old “Dagger John’s” vinegar as well as PR sugar to win this battle.
But then again, that’s just me…
Pentecost Eve, May 26th.