Freedom as Submission to God’s Law

A post on Civics 101 would be banal if Americans agreed on what it covered. They don’t. Not only gay marriage and all abortions, but the repeal of Don’t Ask Don’t Tell and the Supreme Court’s invalidation of bans on contraception have all been decried by Rick Santorum as infringements on his religious freedom. Last November, Santorum said that as long as abortion is legal, “we will never have rest because that law does not comport with God’s law.” Not everyone seems to mean what pusillanimous pundits assume they mean by religious freedom.

To a secular liberal such as myself, religious freedom means people should be free to exercise their own faith, as long as they do not impose it upon others. But to a Christian Nationalist, religious freedom ultimately means their God is sovereign. The government derives its legitimacy from their God, the only genuine rights are those granted to us by their God, and the country is free to the extent that its laws conform to the laws of their God. In other words, their view of our rights is enmeshed with their view of God’s law.

It is an unlikely accident that so many who have denounced Obama’s “war on religion” were among those who wailed against “creeping Sharia.” As Sarah Posner said, “If you think I’m making a mockery of serious arguments, let’s just say the arguments make a mockery of themselves.” They gave the game away by demanding a veto over where American Muslims can pray.

update (February 17, 2012): Of all the culture warriors, Alan Keyes had one of the clearest battle cries. The following is an excerpt from his 1996 address at the inaugural reception for the Declaration Foundation, which was a non-profit he created for the “restoration” of The Declaration of Independence:

When we use the word “freedom,” we use it with pride. We think of it as a wonderful thing—the phrase that rings in our mind from our wonderful Constitution: the blessings of liberty.

But as I often tell people, where there are blessings there is also the possibility of cursings. And if we are to avoid the curses of liberty, then I think we have to recapture that understanding of our freedom which allows our rights, our freedom, our sense of justice, to produce decency and order, and to produce as well a nation in which we can take pride.

Contained also in the Declaration—it’s not just a creed of liberty; it’s not just a creed of equality. It is also, in its very formulation, an understanding of authority; and understanding of responsibility; an understanding of the discipline which, as a people, we must accept—and accept, by the way, at every level—if we are to be free.

I believe that it is absolutely clear, in everything the Founders did, that they intended the Declaration to be a bridge between the Bible and the Constitution—between the basis of our moral faith and the basis of our political life.

The Declaration constitutes a definition of the source and limits of our freedom.

The source is God. And the limits are quite clearly defined: we cannot use the freedom in such a way as to claim unto ourselves the authority which is the basis of our freedom. It makes it very clear, very simple.

Wherever God’s law ends, secular tyranny begins.

update (February 18, 2012): For Rick Santorum, we have no right to health care, because his God has granted no such right. All civil rights are contingent upon what his God has decreed.

As Santorum said, “This is not a political war at all. This is not a cultural war. This is a spiritual war.”

update (February 20, 2012): Christian Nationalists are right to say that the secular state is not impartial. There cannot be a secular state without denying theocrats the full exercise of their faith (civil rights must be based upon scripture, civil law must conform with God’s law, etc.). So, either they are given a veto over all rights that they find “offensive,” or some of their “positive” religious freedoms must be curbed.