Wednesday, October 3, 2007

Re: Marci Hamilton, "Did the Six Supreme Court Justices Who Chose to Attend the 54th Annual 'Red Mass' Exercise Bad Judgment?"

In her Findlaw Writ column, here, Cardozo Law Professor Marci Hamilton, also a noted law and theology scholar, argues that the Supreme Court Justices who attended this year's "Red Mass" exercised poor judgment in that their attendence offered the appearance of impropreity. I disagree, for the most part.

Prof. Hamilton's view is well thought out, and she is careful to explain that she is not arguing that the Justices should be banned from religious observance, but to the extent she argues that mere attendence gave the appearance of impropriety, I find it doubtful that the Justices' attendence at the mass in any way reflects that the Catholic Church is exercising undue influence over United States law.

What I take from the Justices' attendence is a demonstration of respect for the First Amendment, gratitude towards those people of all religious persuasions who elevate the Law to a stature of something sacred, acknowledgment of the county's sizeable Catholic population, and encouragement of that population to take an active role in the process of Law. I once attended a lecture by Guido Calebrisi where he spoke -- in wholly secular terms -- of "faith and trust in the rule of law," and I believe that the Justices' attendence sends a message to American Catholics that they can have such faith in the American Judiciary.

What is not acceptable, however, is the Catholic Church using this opportunity as a political pulpit for hot button issues. By attending, particularly for those Justices who are not Catholic, let alone not Christian, the Justices offered a showing of respect to the Catholic population of the United States. To the extent the sermon focused on areas of discord rather than offering a unifying and supportive message, this was disrespectful to both the Judiciary and the American Catholic populous.

I was raised in a traditional Catholic household, and still consider myself a Catholic despite the fact that I disagree with the Church's viewpoint on almost every issue of controversy (and many that aren't even that controversial). Catholics should be angry at their church. The Church is of course entitled to its viewpoint on moral issues, but should express that viewpoint in an appropriate manner and forum. If the "church" wants to express its opinion on an issue of constitutional law, request to submit an amicus brief (with sound, rational arguments that comport with American notions of democracy and civil liberty).

In my opinion, silencing personal freedoms is about as un-catholic as an idea can be. Catholic means "universal," afterall. The First Vatican Counsel, I think (or somewhere thereabouts) defined the Church by saying something to the effect of "the Church is the community of believers bound together by the pursuit truth." The Church's persistent attack on personal freedoms runs counter to its central mission of pursuing the truth.

Faith is meant to be uplifting and socially beneficial, and in this context it appears -- although I have not read the actual sermon -- that the sermon was misquided proselytization. So, kudos to the open minded justices; shame on the Church.

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