CASC Lumen Magazine_Winter 2021

CSMA Master’s Essay

American Religious Liberty and Catholic Perspectives

The Catholic Church has contributed a great deal to the understanding of religious liberty throughout history. The Church recognizes the Incarnation of Jesus as the fulfillment of the Hebraic idea that humans are made in the image and likeness of God and are endowed with immeasurable dignity. This became the foundation for the Church’s argument that humans should not be coerced to act against their religious beliefs. The Church was also the first institution to recognize a fundamental difference in the jurisdiction of the religious and secular powers. I applied these principles of religious liberty to the American understanding of religious liberty by examining the thought of two influential 20th-century Catholic theologians, John

outgrowth of the Catholic understanding of the dignity of the human person. Because humans are created in the image and likeness of God, they should not be coerced into accepting faith and the First Amendment protects against such coercion. In addition, he argues that it properly recognizes the separate jurisdictions of religious and secular powers. He notes that the primary criterion for a good law is that it preserves the public peace. In our republic – that since its foundation has had a multiplicity of religious denominations – the First Amendment has done a remarkable job at maintaining peace. Fenton sees things differently. He claims that the First Amendment fosters a mindset that humans


Throughout my time in the St. Thomas Law and Catholic Studies joint degree program, I became fascinated with issues at the intersection of faith and the law. I became especially aware of a cultural trend of growing disdain for Americans who hold to traditional religious values and the growing threat to undermine their religious liberty rights. Little Sisters of the Poor fighting for the ability to refuse to provide contraception to employees is just one of many examples of this trend. This led me to take up the issue of the First Amendment for my master’s essay. I wanted to analyze the American understanding of religious liberty through the lens of Catholic thought. I wanted to know whether American religious liberty is a good thing from a Catholic perspective.

Courtney Murray and Clifford Fenton . They come from the same faith background yet come to wildly different

conclusions on whether American

religious liberty is a good thing. Murray makes the case

that the First Amendment is a proper

John Courtney Murray, left, and the first officers of the Catholic Theological Society of America, above, are pictured. Clifford Fenton is top right.

Page 24

Powered by