Thursday, May 26, 2005

Moral Decisions

Last night I attended my first meeting of the St. John Fisher parish Moral Decisions study group. I was impressed by the attendance, the attendants and the leadership of Pat Hart. The general study topic of the group has been “Natural Law and the relationship of Church and State” and they have been using the text Fifty Questions on the Natural Law by Charles Rice. According to the natural law, knowledge of God's existence and of fundamental moral principles constitutes a universal human sense. It is not innate, however, but must be learned through traditional moral systems, such as the Ten Commandments.

Last night we began a six part video series on the First Amendment by Professor Gerard V. Bradley, Constitutional Law Professor at the Notre Dame Law School. Professor Bradley is co-director of the Natural Law Institute at Notre Dame, president of the Fellowship of Catholic Scholars, vice president of the American Public Philosophy Institute, member of the board of advisors of the Cardinal Newman Society, and chair of the Federalist Society’s Religious Liberties Practice Group. Dr. Bradley's web page is found at

The series entitled “First Amendment Issues” includes:

1. The Establishment Clause
2. The Free Exercise Clause
3. Secularism and the Constitution
4. The Trajectory toward the Naked Public Square
5. Catholic Institutions in the Naked Public Square
6. Possibilities for Reform

Pat Hart explained that there are many moral issues associated with this topic. Some of these include (1) the marginalization of religion by the Supreme Court; (2) an unwarranted expansion of the First Amendment through the Supreme Court's interpretation of the First Amendment; (3) overemphasis of the Establishment Clause at the expense of the Free Exercise clause; (4) the misnomer of Separation of Church and State to mean Separation of Religion and Society; (5) misinterpretation of the First Amendment to promote a secular anti-religious attitude in the public square; (5) the underlying assumptions by the Supreme Court about the world and man which are contrary to the concepts of the world and man held by Classical Western Civilization.

Pat distributed a newspaper account of the embryonic stem cell debate as just one example of many moral issues. Pittsburgh Bishop Donald Wuerl said: “We cannot allow our technology to outstrip our ethical reflection” and he called the stem cell debate a “separation of moral reflection from scientific studies” that is a “new wrinkle” in mistaken ideas about the separation of Church and state.

In the video, Professor Bradley recounted the remarkable history of the First Amendment’s “Establishment Clause.” Originally written as a prohibition on the Congress from interfering with the state’s authority in respect to religion, the meaning of the clause has morphed over the years to restrict first the entire Federal government and then the states and finally all government supported agencies from playing any role in the religious life.


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