Religious Freedom When Government Determines Conscience

cross, bible, scripture, prayer, meditation

cross, bible, scripture, prayer, meditation

The Freedom of Moral Law

Many years ago in a local branch of the Chicago Public Library, I came across Cautionary Tales for Children by Hillaire Belloc in which evil doers are punished in this life. The introduction asks and then answers,

And is it true? It is not true
And if it were it wouldn’t do,
For people such as me and you
Who pretty nearly all day long
Are doing something rather wrong.

This is a whimsical expression of the freedom, which God has so generously granted to man in order for each individual to work out his immortal salvation. God does not coerce us to act morally in accord with our nature as human beings and as children of God.

We are not coerced, much less punished, in this life. “For he makes his sun rise on the bad and the good, and causes rain to fall on the just and the unjust.” (Mt 5: 45). Elsewhere, Jesus points out that the misfortune of those, who were killed when a tower at Siloam fell on them, and those Galileans, killed by Pilate, where not being punished in this life for their sins (Lk 13:2-5). God provides us with an environment conducive to our free choice of good or evil without restraint. It is because we are free of restraint in this life that our acts are creditable to us.

To be a child of God, one must discipline himself, orienting himself to the One, True Good, while not being distracted, behaving childishly, beguiled by the world, the flesh and the devil. Such self-discipline frees us from a slavery of fear (Rom 8:15).

The Contrast to Civil Law

In contrast to the spirit of freedom, which is both the necessary condition and the enduring result of a moral life, civil law can only impose a spirit of fear of incurring a penalty for violation. Yet, the central function of civil law is to provide a social environment in which the individual can freely pursue a moral life according to his own conscience.

It is a paradox that civil law is to provide an environment for a moral life without imposing moral behavior by civil law. In fact, if one acts morally solely out of fear of a civil penalty, he is not acting morally.

Much of civil law is concerned with facilitating social activity. Laws concerning contracts and business and traffic laws are such. Some civil laws do ban immoral acts such as murder, but ought not to do so because they are immoral acts, but because such acts severely disturb social harmony. With regard to morality, civil government may not pass a law to impose moral behavior as such, but also may not pass any law specifically to license immoral behavior.

The American Experience

The history of the American colonies was one of established churches and sectarian legislation which forcefully imposed uniformity of sectarian conscience within the colony. This resulted in sectarian divergence from one colony to the next. See The Right to be Wrong, by Kevin Hasson.

Sectarian fervor was so strong that the attempt at religious toleration in the founding of the colony of Maryland was short lived, being replaced by sectarian law.

The Articles of Confederation acknowledged the strength of sectarian fervor by providing in article three, for mutual aid, if any state was externally attacked militarily, specifically on sectarian grounds. The Constitution, as amended, sought to avoid inter-state sectarian differences by neutrality. The first amendment exempted the Federal Government from being involved in sectarian concerns, leaving such to the individual states.

Gradually, explicit sectarianism in law, e.g. religious requirements for office, died out at the State level. However, the spirit of sectarianism continued to be expressed in law. An excellent example, of the continuing habit in America of legislating moral and sectarian behavior, is the Eighteenth Amendment restricting the production, transport and sale of alcoholic beverages.

The enforcement of sectarian morality has faded in America. It was not that the inclination to use civil law to enforce religious moral behavior has faded away. It was due to a change in religion. The United States has changed its religion from sectarianism to Scientism. The enforcement of the morality of Scientism through legislation is subtle because it disavows what it is, the establishment of religious belief.

Government as the Enforcer of Morality

The Government knows what is morally good. Due to its concern for the common good, it must impose moral behavior on the citizens, who are incapable of determining what is good for themselves in their personal lives.

The civil recognition of same sex marriage, for example, is not an instance of enabling individuals to act as free moral agents in their private activity, which is the way of Christ. It is an instance of imposing on others the requirement of honoring objectively immoral behavior, in accord with the false conscience of scientism. The government knows that SSM is scientifically valid and simply requires everyone to respect such scientific truth. Similarly, the right to die must be protected by the government because it is scientifically reasonable.

Such highly publicized government imposition of personal morality is not as dangerous as that which goes almost unnoticed. It is obvious to the government, and specifically to Gov. Andrew Cuomo of New York, that an individual’s personal judgment of gender identity is scientifically more fundamental than the natural biology and biochemistry of biological gender.

The Governor has prohibited State facilities from practicing what is called conversion therapy. He has also prohibited both public and private insurers from covering its cost in private medical practice. This seriously restricts moral decisions of the individual regarding his own health care as well as restricting human parenting in the name of science.

Conversion therapy aims to aid the individual to align his mental and emotional view with his biological reality. In the view of Gov. Cuomo, this should by unlawful. In contrast, it is judged to be acceptable medical practice to alter biological reality to conform to one’s feelings of gender identity.

Citizens are discouraged to seek professional aid to change their feelings if they judge those feelings to be disordered and contrary to their biological identity. They, as individuals, or as parents caring for the health of their children, ought not to follow their own judgment of science and conscience. Gov. Cuomo knows what is scientifically and morally best for them and for their children.


I believe the government will continue the American tradition of established religion by imposing its judgment of moral conscience on all. It will do so just as onerously as in colonial days, now that the government’s conscience is informed by its new religion of Scientism.

When it comes to morality, the contrast is stark between the judgmental and coercive way of government and the liberating way of Christ. “Conversion therapy is a hateful and fundamentally flawed practice that is counter to everything this state stands for” vs “Neither do I condemn thee. Go now and sin no more” (Jn 8:11).

Share on facebook
Share on google
Share on twitter
Share on linkedin
Share on pinterest

6 thoughts on “Religious Freedom When Government Determines Conscience”

  1. Bob — It is impossible to take your argument seriously when you don’t even realize that so-called “conversion therapy” is about trying to change someone’s sexual orientation and has NOTHING to do with someone being trans-gendered! It is this kind of ignorance that causes even modestly informed people to roundly reject your arguments. If you are going to condemn something, at least try to understand it and know what you are talking about, first!

    1. In his assessment of conversion or reparative therapy, Adam Aquinas characterized it as an ‘attempt to have another’s identity to be reversed’; an ‘attempt to re-make a person into something they are not’ and ‘trying to force the change of that which cannot be changed’. He used these expressions to characterize emotions, feelings and attitudes, while their connotation is morphological and biochemical. This would not warrant my claiming that he did not understand the distinction between transient attitudes and substantive morphology. His argument aims to subvert the distinction. My argument aims to emphasize it.
      Your claim of my lack of understanding is unwarranted. It is based on what you think I should have said.

  2. You were doing fine in your blog post until you hit upon the topic of the state and conversion therapy which is more commonly known as reparative therapy….an heinous attempt by any professional to have another’s identity be reversed.
    It is wrong; it is heinous; it is immoral; it has no basis in science; it is hateful. Yes, Jesus forgives and tells us to sin no more. Reparative therapy is not about being chaste or being a good Catholic. It is a “pseudo-counseling” attempt to re-make a person into something they are not. That is hateful. There are no peer-reviewed, scientific studies which show that reparative therapy is in any way effective. Despite the theory that g=being gay is genetic or environmental…d=gender identity change is a hoax and it is a hateful practice which demeans any person’s humanity.’
    There was one study in May of 2001 by Robert Spitzer which indicated that such change was possible. 10 years later Spitzer admitted his study was flawed, biased, inaccurate and led to a faulty conclusion. He repudiated his own work and apologized to the scientific community. Reparative therapy techniques are barbaric and primitive and ineffective.
    Reparative therapy has nothing to do with chastity nor Catholicism….yes forgive the sin (if you believe it’s a sin) but you cannot change gender orientation…if you believe you can give me peer-reviewed research. Four states barred this deceitful practice. So sin no more is ok, but not trying to force the change of that which cannot be changed. Look at the research….

    1. It is apparent that your philosophy is that of scientism and mine is not. That leaves insufficient common ground upon which to base a discussion.
      I hope it is clear that I do not belittle the advance of science nor do I claim that science can force change that cannot be made. Many years ago there arose a question regarding the femininity of some Russian contestants in the Olympics. However, the state of the scientific art was sufficiently advanced at that time that a simple test was devised. All they had to do was look into the contestants’ jeans. Nowadays, they rely solely on the measurement of testosterone levels.

    2. Your comments indicate common ground: Same sex attraction raises the question of personal identity. We disagree on the basis for personal identity.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: