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What Lies Ahead?

July 5, 2001

The churches’ turn is coming.

Last year the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that New Jersey couldn’t force the Boy Scouts to accept homosexual scoutmasters. The Court held that the Scouts were entitled to set their own standards for members and leaders. Still, the American Civil Liberties Union and other like-minded groups persist in trying to force the Scouts to accept homosexuals, in the name of “civil rights.”

A few weeks ago the Court ruled that the Professional Golfers’ Association must allow competitors to use golf carts. The majority held that walking around a golf course is not an essential part of competitive golf. Many great golfers (and the PGA itself) disagreed, but the Court decided that it could claim the authority to define golf.

This ruling was directly at odds with the Court’s position on the Boy Scouts. It raises an interesting question.

Suppose a feminist group sues the Catholic Church for the right of women to be ordained as priests. The case goes to the Supreme Court. If the Court follows its logic in the Boy Scout precedent, it throws the suit out. But if it follows the logic of its PGA ruling, it orders the Catholic Church to ordain women.

For, the Court might argue, a male clergy isn’t “essential” to Catholicism. Nothing in the Apostles’ Creed or the other great creeds requires it. Many modern theologians agree that the male clergy is no more than a historically and culturally conditioned tradition, now outmoded. This can’t justify “discrimination” against women.

The Church may argue that its religious freedom is being infringed; but the Court may reply that this is a “civil rights” issue, not a religious one. Catholics are free to retain their beliefs and to practice their religion, provided they recognize the equal rights of women. After all, even religion is bound by secular law; human sacrifice wouldn’t be tolerated if it were practiced as part of a religious ceremony. It’s the same with civil rights.

[Breaker quote: 'Civil rights' versus religious freedom]By the same token, and using similar logic, the Court could order churches not to discriminate against homosexuals.

Unthinkable? No it isn’t. I just thought it. So many formerly unthinkable things have come to pass already, and we can expect many more. Who, in 1960, would have predicted that the Court would strike down the abortion laws of all 50 states? Who, even when that had come to pass, imagined that the federal government would subsidize the killing of human embryos for medical research? More recently, who supposed that homosexuals would demand the right to be scoutmasters?

Do you hear groups like the ACLU pledging that they will never try to force churches to act against their own moral principles? No, no more than you heard them pledging never to try to force the Scouts to accept homosexuals before they actually did it.

Does any aggressor tell you, at any step, that this is the last time he will seize his neighbor’s territory? Of course not. He always wants you to assume that this time is the last time, while he hatches his plans for the next time. But aggression follows its own unappeasable logic. Every gain mandates further gains. Don’t bother asking him where he will stop; he may not know himself. But when opportunity arises, so will temptation.

Religion is the last stronghold of freedom. When the state forces the church to surrender, its victory will be complete. Of course it will insist that it respects “the separation of church and state” — as defined by the state, of course. We will be nominally and verbally free to worship — within state guidelines. We will still be able to call ourselves Catholics, Baptists, Jews — as long as our clergy meet state standards.

I don’t mean that our enemies are already planning and plotting their future assaults (though I don’t rule it out). But their record, their logic, and their fanaticism require us to assume that these assaults will inevitably come. Why not? There is no restraining principle that will prevent them when the time is ripe.

If the state can define golf and Scouting, why should it leave defining Catholicism and Judaism to priests and rabbis? This isn’t a prophecy. It’s a simple extrapolation from experience, and we’ll have no right to be surprised when it comes to pass.

Joseph Sobran

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