The James Wilson Foundation on Natural Rights and the American Founding

“Backing Happily into Heresies?”–Prof. Hadley Arkes in The Catholic Thing

Writing in The Catholic Thing, Prof. Hadley Arkes warns that as we seek our ends, we should not install premises that strike at the moral ground of our own position.

Some excerpts: 

“[T]he Hobby Lobby case could have been won without setting into place these premises: that religious convictions are marked by ‘beliefs,’ rather than ‘truths;’ that we accept as a ‘religion’ virtually anything that people tell us they regard as their religion;  that on the strength of these ‘beliefs’ held ‘sincerely,’ we give exemptions from the laws that are imposed on everyone else; and finally, as the Court said in Hobby Lobby, ‘it is not for [the government] to say that [our] religious beliefs are mistaken or insubstantial.’ ”

“With these premises in place, we merely await the imagination and audacity of the people who would gladly appropriate for their side the license that the Court has offered. It takes no high powers of prediction to anticipate this claim: ‘We sincerely believe that the organism growing in the womb is not really ‘human,’ or anything that we ourselves can regard as ‘fully human,’ with a standing that commands the protection of the laws.’  The Supreme Court has long given standing to beliefs passionately held as beliefs holding the same place as religion in the lives of people. And yet, it is not at all clear now why these beliefs, professed sincerely, would not qualify as ‘religious.’ ”

“But the inversions of the Obama Administration are now so familiar that we hardly notice them, with a moral posture, in any case, upside down. What completes the picture though is the reaction of the editors of the Journal. They remark in passing that ‘religious freedom in America doesn’t depend on the content of belief, thank Allah.’ In other words, the teaching of the Court is now spreading outward in the land, to otherwise sober readers and writers. They too are now starting to think that we cannot judge the content of beliefs, or test them by the standards of reason we bring to anything else.”

“In the name of ‘religious freedom,’ we are now being instructed by many of our friends that, for the purposes of the law, we cannot distinguish between a religion that protects innocent life and one that licenses killing as an obligation. We are walking in a haze, celebrating along the way, and backing happily into heresies, political and religious.”

Read the whole piece here

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Law and liberty cannot rationally become the objects of our love, unless they first become the objects of our knowledge.
— James Wilson, Lectures on Law, 1790