Legally Right Versus Morally Right, by Tom Collingwood

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By Tom Collingwood, Catholic Stand, 17 April AD 2019

The annual March for Life and 40 days for Life campaigns always leads me to reflect on the state of affairs of or culture’s moral climate. Unfortunately, it is not a pretty picture. I believe abortion is the “litmus test” for a society’s morality and the point of reference to the ethical direction culture is heading.

The Illegality of the Right to Life

Every year at the March for Life in Washington DC, other marches around the country and at 40 Days for Life vigils the Pro-Life message resounds and need not be expanded upon here. However, it is always instructive to go back to St. Mother Teresa’s prophetic statements upon her visit to the United States in 1994

“The greatest destroyer of peace today is abortion, because it is a war against the child, a direct killing of the innocent child, murder by the mother herself. And if we accept that a mother can kill even her own child, how can we tell other people not to kill one another?  America needs no words from me to see how your decision in Roe v. Wade has deformed a great nation. If a mother can kill her own child – what is left for me to kill you and you to kill me – there is nothing between.”

Our Declaration of Independence speaks of the “right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness” Without recognizing the preeminence of this first right (the right to life) there can be no recognition of any other additional rights. The entire infrastructure of human rights is placed at risk if the right to life is not protected. As a culture, if we allow the killing of children for any reason and by any means – and then actually call it a “right” (whether reproductive rights or women’s right to privacy) – we make that word irrelevant.

While surveys indicate a general trend of public support for abortion declining we still see government laws such as New York’s legalizing it all the way to full term, birth and even after birth. Based on the letter of that law and its interpretation the right to life can now be understood as being illegal.

What is Legal versus what is Right

The promise of a democratic republic such as ours is that we are a nation of laws, not a nation of human whims. Ideally, legality reflects the natural law and God’s law for how we are to live as a moral society. Yet, in today’s culture there are many conflicts between what is right and what is legal. In turn, if one stands up for what is right but is not legal then by definition, he/she is being illegal.  These divisions between what is right and what is legal are made known in a variety of ways in our society that are too numerous to explore, however, there are seven major examples that highlight the tension between morality and legality.

  • Abortion is legal and our faith requires us to confront and not participate in such a moral evil. But, if one protests too close to an abortion clinic a law is broken. Likewise, there is serious discussion by medical groups in both the United States and Canada that a physician should come under review for not performing an abortion.

  • Assisted suicide is legal in some states, provinces of Canada and countries such as the Netherlands. As with abortion our faith demands non-participation. However, there are current suggestions in medical and political circles for disciplining doctors who refuse to participate in assisted suicide.

  • Same-sex marriage is legal and our faith views it as a violation against both nature’s and God’s law. But, if one refuses to go along with requests to provide services for a same sex marriage (such as bakers and florists) legal action is brought against them.

  • Gender transition is legal and transgenderism is being forcibly promoted in schools, government and the work place. Physicians are prescribing radical hormone treatment for teenagers to undergo gender transition based on a child’s “feelings”. But, if one stands up and refuses to accept the irrational and unnatural concept of gender identity, he/she is threatened with everything from academic/work condemnation and censure to litigation. A recent court case showed that feelings trump biology and if parents refuse to go along with the transgender ideology they will be legally punished. A teenager was removed from parental custody because the parents believed hormone therapy inappropriate and against Christian teaching. The judge stated that “the issue of consistency with the child’s gender presentation and feelings of conformity” were what was important.

  • Religious expression is being considered as hate speech. That label has been applied in numerous situations to the Church’s position on same sex-marriage, transgenderism and homosexuality. Accusations of the Church being homophobic and transphobic for our beliefs has become commonplace and in some parts of the world is becoming a legal issue. The Catholic Bishops Conference of Scotland is warning that the government’s current restrictions on free speech could result in the Church’s stance on marriage and sexuality being susceptible to hate crime allegations. Another example is in the United Kingdom whereby an individual has come under legal scrutiny under a hate crimes statute for using biological pronouns to describe a transgender person.

  • Expressions of faith in the public square and educational institutions are constantly being challenged, restricted or even criminalized as being illegal for violating church and state separation. There have been numerous examples of attempts to limit individual faith expressions such as job and school restrictions in wearing crosses. There has also been increased litigation attempts against public faith symbols used as memorials such as the World War I Memorial cross in Maryland.

  • There are attempts to allow government intervention into Church sacraments. An example is the effort by the state of California to abolish legal protection of the confessional seal. A bill is being suggested that the state has the authority to demand a priest provide child abuse information obtained in the confessional. Beyond the impact of the bill itself is the precedent that can be set that the government can decide the legality of a Church sacrament.

These examples allude to a bottom line of what is occurring in our nation and around the world. It is that secular progressives have been able to convince the public and the government that what, in the past, was considered immoral and illegal, is now morally acceptable, legal and compulsory.

Morality, Legality and Religious Freedom

The disconnect between traditional morality and the law has severe consequences for religious freedom. The legal interpretation of what is considered criminal immorality is moving further and further away from the Judeo-Christian ethical morality. Conversely, acting on that traditional morality is being criminalized. Conscience rights protections are being discarded for failure to accept the new legal morality.

The implication is becoming increasingly clear. If we are to adhere to our faith principles, we will be acting on what’s right but will become progressively more and more illegal. This will become the “new martyrdom” of the 21st century. To always do what is right requires being prepared with courage for the consequences. Peter (1 Peter 4: 14-16) speaks to us today as he did to the early Christians who faced a similar circumstance.

If you are insulted because of the name of Christ, you are blessed, for the Spirit of glory and of God rests on you …However, if you suffer as a Christian, do not be ashamed, but praise God that you bear that name.