My last few posts have been about things which I only partly understand — for example, universes from nothing, the relation of science, philosophy and culture — but now I want to turn in a different direction, and change the pace of discussion. A few days ago Ophelia Benson, over at Butterflies and Wheels, brought our attention to the theocratic, totalitarian, repressive streak running through Catholicism (in her post “Donohue’s success” and a later one, “Donohue to citizens: stfu“). Ophelia links to the Network for Church Monitoring, and Chapter 15 of Stephen Mumford’s book The Life and Death of NSSM 200: How the Destruction of Political Will Doomed a US Population Policy, under the title “The Catholic League and the Suppression of the Press Today.” The chapter goes into a great deal of detail about how the Catholic League, led by William Donohue, brings its power and influence to bear on newspapers, TV networks, and other media, should they have the gall or audacity to criticise the Roman Catholic Church. It’s a disturbing story.
Mumford speaks of the principles that guide the League’s activities:
One is revealed in a vicious 1994 attack against the New London newspaper, The Day, for an editorial critical of the Catholic Church: “What is truly ‘beyond understanding’ is not the Catholic Church’s position, it is the fact that a secular newspaper has the audacity to stick it’s nose in where it doesn’t belong. It is nobody’s business what the Catholic Church does.”
The Catholic Church, then, is supposedly above criticism. What the Catholic Church does is its own business, and no one should criticise it. This goes for dissident Catholics as well as those who have no relationship to the Catholic Church. Whether the Catholic Church engages in activities that threaten the freedom of citizens is irrelevant to the point that is being made. The church itself is above criticism, and it is not the public’s business. Should they not get the point, the League will fight for the right of the church to remain above criticism, by threatening newspapers, TV channels, etc., with mass action.
Another principle, of even greater concern, is the League’s position regarding the Code of Canon Law:
A second basic premise is the League’s commitment to canon 1369 of the Code of Canon Law: “A person is to be punished with a just penalty, who, at a public event or assembly, or in a published writing, or by otherwise using the means of social communication, utters blasphemy, or gravely harms public morals, or rails at or excites hatred of or contempt for religion or the Church.” Canon law is the law of the Catholic Church. All criticism of the pope or the Church is in violation of this law in one way or another. This chapter will make clear that the League follows this canon to the letter and demands that all others conform—or pay the price for their violation.
This explains, for instance, the insistence, by Catholic bishops, archbishops and cardinals, that the law of marriage not be changed to accommodate the relationships of homosexual persons. Although according to canon 1059, “the marriage of Catholics is governed not only by divine law but also by canon law, without prejudice to the competence of civil authority concerning the merely civil effects of the same marriage,” (my italics) it is clear that, by insisting that civil authorities cannot unilaterally declare the validity of marriages between homosexuals, Catholic bishops are holding canon law to be, in effect, superior to, and determinative of, what can be licitly determined by civil law. We should not be under any illusions about the scope of canon law in terms of the church’s own self-understanding. Canon law is, in crucial respects, prescriptive for civil law.
This is particularly evident with respect to laws governing abortion and assisted dying. The very existence of legal abortion or assisted dying is offensive to obedient Catholics. (The qualification is necessary, though, in general, the church holds that dissidents have effectively excommunicated themselves by their beliefs and actions. Only those Catholics faithful to the teachings of the Magisterium are considered to be Catholic in the true sense of that word.) In a short paper entitled “Response to Our Critics,” (The Review of Politics, Vol. 63, No. 1 (Winter 2000) 43-48) the Catholics Gary Glenn (I believe the linked Gary Glenn is the co-author of this paper) and John Stack inveigh against what they call the “civil liberties” regime in the United States, which they hold to be a great danger to Catholics. (Having read this response to their critics I did not feel that reading their original paper would be a valuable use of my time, so I confine myself to the response alone.) The problem lies in the secular nature of “the constitutional order established in 1789″ (46)):
As we stated in our essay, ”the souls of Catholics were never fully safe within the constitutional order established in 1789″ because that regime dealt with the problem of religious liberty by undermining “the conviction that any particular religion is true.” 
Needless to say, this is an astonishing claim, both because Catholics are perfectly free to maintain their own conviction that their religion is true, and because it is clear that governments that aim to govern multi-religious societies, or societies in which some persons eschew religion altogether, cannot, and are not competent to, take a stand on the truth of any religion or group of religions (such as the so-called Abrahamic faiths).
Now, I don’t know enough about American constitutional law to pronounce upon this issue, but, since the separation of church and state was carefully crafted by Thomas Jefferson for the state of Virginia (if my memory serves), it seems a bit of a stretch to say, as do Glenn and Stark, that
Civil liberties secularism does not inevitably follow from the Founders’ Constitution because that Constitution, while informed by that liberalism [the "logic implicit in [the 'autonomous individualism' of] early liberalism”] and thus at least open to secularism, also permitted state governments to foster religion. 
In this context they speak a
new secular regime [which] works to abolish this state function by absorbing the originally nonsecular state governments into the intensified national regime the Court begins to create in the 1940s (what constitutional experts refer to as the “incorporation” of the Bill of Rights). The Court simultaneously, and for the first time, groundlessly declares this more nationalized constitutional order to be simply secular. 
I assume the Supreme Court is meant. In a footnote the authors state that they are using the word ‘regime’ in a non-pejorative sense, but it is hard to believe that they did not choose the word for its negative connotation, since, as in this case, they consider the actions of the government to be, in some sense, contrary to, and therefore a suppression of, the Founders’ intentions. And earlier they had already said:
it is worth remembering that the old regime substantially protected both freedoms [private and public] and also permitted Catholics to influence policy whether or not it comported with secularism. It is now in varying ways impermissible … to influence public policy on the basis of revealed truth that crosses secularism. [45, my italics]
But of course the issue immediately arises as to what is to constitute “revealed truth” and how we are to discern it. We cannot simply take the word of Catholics that they have special access to something thought to be revealed, since in some respect all religions hold that their beliefs and practices comport with knowledge of the divine and its purposes, and disbelievers rightly doubt that such convictions should be given the weight of the law.
This becomes very clear in the way the authors go on to speak of physician-assisted suicide. Not only do they suggest that assisted dying laws inevitably lead to slippery slope consequences; they link it directly with the Nazi Endlösung der Jüdischen Problem (the final solution to the Jewish problem) by mangling Martin Niemoller’s famous saying, making it refer to assisted dying instead of to the Jews:
First they came for those who wished to die before their God appointed time, and I was not permitted to publicly oppose them, so I said nothing. Then they came for those whose heirs wished them to die before God’s time, and my heirs did not wish to die prematurely, so I remained silent. Then they came for those who it was financially burdensome for the public to keep alive, and I was not such a burden, so I said nothing. Then they came for me. 
This is highly offensive! The suggestion that there is a “God appointed time” is ludicrous, otherwise, as John Donne said, how do we know, when we take medicines to cure our diseases, that we have not unknowingly cured ourselves of a disease by which it was God’s intention that we should die? But to link what is a matter of human rights to the despicable murder of millions of Jews and others is a malignant slander both against those who suffered from the Nazi’s murderous depredations, as well as against those who, for good reasons, ask for help to die. In a footnote the authors note that “Anti-Catholicism is still the anti-Semitism of the intellectuals,” which is simply a nonsense, for antisemitism is a form of religious and racial prejudice against Jews, and anti-Catholicism is, or at least can be, a perfectly legitimate criticism of Roman Catholic beliefs, as well as of Roman Catholic endeavours to prevent criticism of their beliefs or church, or to impose those beliefs on others. It may be true that, in the Roman Catholic belief system, it is believed that living in such a regime, as the authors put it, endangers their souls, but it simply does not follow that Catholics should, for this reason, be able to argue on this basis, that practices contrary to their vision of a just society should be outlawed. And yet it is precisely this that the authors are arguing: that they have a right to live in a regime which does not endanger their souls in ways understood by them to put their souls at risk. And insofar as Catholics believe this, they are a standing danger to those who do not share their beliefs.
The theocratic tendency of Catholicism is made very evident in this short response to their critics by a couple of fanatical Catholics. This is something we should not only be fully aware of, but it is moreover something against which we should guard ourselves. A pro-life nation, as the New York Times article on abortion law in El Salvador (and Malta, Chile and other nations) points out, is a nation in which the reproductive freedom of women counts for nothing, and Catholic beliefs, founded on no more than prejudice and supposed revelation, govern the lives of those who do not share them. Secular democracy is a the only known political system in which our rights as human beings can be protected, and any suggestion that secularism should exist in tension with the appeals of religious believers should be dismissed without appeal. As Ophelia says about Bill Donohue:
[Donohue is] saying that what Catholic bishops do is none of our business. Yes it is. They interfere with government. They violate their tax-exempt status by telling parishioners how to vote. They all but wrote parts of the health care bill. What they do is very much our business.
The authors conclude their response with these words:
But the new regime would destroy the possibility of any tension at all by refusing even to consider distinctly Catholic arguments. [48; my italics]
But distinctly Catholic arguments are arguments based on presuppositions which (by assumption) other people do not make. Why should such arguments be given any consideration at all, if they are based on grounds that it is assumed (this is the significance of the word ‘distinctly’ in this context) no one else shares? The only reason can be that Catholics feel that their souls would be in danger, and that is just a risk that Catholics must take if they are going to live in a free society.