First Amendment, Second Amendment

The Economist picks up on this letter from 64 Roman Catholic theologians in favor of gun control.

With so much talk of late of the supposed attack on religious freedom represented by Obamacare’s contraception mandate, this passage caught my eye:

The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops recently renewed their call for measures to address gun violence by echoing their 2000 statement, Responsibility, Rehabilitation and Restoration: A Catholic Perspective on Crime and Criminal Justice. Bishops have called for “measures that control the sale and use of firearms” and “sensible regulations of handguns.” The Vatican’s Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace, in a 1994 document, “The International Arms Trade,” urges political leaders “to impose a strict control on the sale of handguns and small arms” and states that “limiting the purchase of such arms would certainly not infringe on the rights of anyone.”

Well, it’s good to know where people stand.

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6 Responses to First Amendment, Second Amendment

  1. Ugh, isn’t the Vatican’s position essentially the same as this blog’s very own Heather MacDonald? Hasn’t she written here on this blog in favor of “reasonable” gun control?

  2. Here’s MacDonald’s lastest post advocating for “reasonable” gun control here on the Secular Right blog:

    I had no idea that Ms. MacDonald was part of a wide-ranging papist plot to restrict firearms ownership.

  3. Andrew Stuttaford says:

    Mark, you can do better than that! What I was trying to do was contrast the attitude of the Roman Catholic church to the Second Amendment with the stance that it has recently been taking on the First. Not for the first time, there’s more than a touch of “for thee, but not for me” on display. As to Heather’s views on gun control, one of the nice features of Secular Right is the absence of a party line…

  4. I guess I’m not following your train of thought. Why would it be inconsistent for somebody to argue for a maximal reading of the First Amendment, while at the same time arguing for a restrictive reading of the Second Amendment? They are, after all, different amendments with different purposes and language (and despite what many on the Right may argue, the Second Amendment’s language is ambiguous and such ambiguity is more than enough reason, in my mind, to read the amendment in a non-expansive fashion).

    So, the bishops say, “protect our right to religious liberty under the First Amendment,” but then call for a restrictive reading of the Second Amendment. But those two positions aren’t inconsistent (unless one is a libertarian, I guess). So, I must be missing something in your argument.

  5. Andrew Stuttaford says:

    It’s inconsistent because of the way that the Roman Catholic Church is making its case. Contrary to what its advocates are claiming, the church’s campaign is not about “liberty” or even, in a general sense, protecting the integrity of the Constitution, but about deploying a rather stretched interpretation of the First Amendment to secure its own partial exemption from the *universal* healthcare it had, broadly speaking, long advocated for everyone else. When the Constitution does not fit it in with the church’s ideology, as say, in the case of the Second Amendment, it can, it seems, be diluted into nothingness. It is telling that Cardinal Dolan and others have dragged Thomas More into this debate, again as an advocate for “liberty”. He was anything but. He was an advocate for legal privilege for his own particular faith (and, I would add, the reverse for any others). The parallels are incomplete, but they are there.

  6. Interesting perspective — but I don’t think that your argument holds on closer inspection. The bishops’ position regarding the HHS mandate is largely shaped by the existing law regarding religious accommodation and free exercise — particularly post-Smith in regard to laws of general applicability. They could argue a general right for anyone with religious objections to the policy to opt-out, but such an argument likely wouldn’t get them very far. Aside from simply giving up, they have to make the best arguments they can in order to protect their ability to run their institutions in accord with their principles. The bishops have long supported universal healthcare (a public policy mistake in my view), but they specifically have always sought protections for religious groups not to have to violate their consciences (this was a major reason why the Clinton-era effort at universal healthcare failed, the bishops opposed it because of administration efforts to force coverage for abortion and artificial contraception).

    So, I don’t think that the hypocrisy charge sticks here. I don’t see how the bishops can be blamed for making the most prudentially sound legal argument in support of their position given existing law. Now, I might prefer the bishops take a different approach, and perhaps they should, but it doesn’t seem appropriate to me to say they have committed some kind of foul by making the argument they have.

    I disagree with the bishops on a host of stuff — immigration, their support of universal healthcare, their frankly silly bromides on the economy, their reflexively knee-jerk liberalism when it comes to gun control policy, etc. But in a regime of ordered liberty, the bishops have the right to say stupid things without being subject to having the fundamental autonomy of their private institutions subject to government dictate. The protections of the First Amendment don’t just protect the State from the Church, it protects the Church from the State, even (perhaps most especially) when the Church’s doctrine and practice conflicts with what the State desires. Notice that the bishops are not saying that nobody should be able to get contraception. Nor are the bishops saying that insurance plans should not be available for people who want to have their contraception paid for by somebody else. All they are asking for is not to be forced to pay for something that their religious belief says is wrong. In a world where contraception is ubiquitous and cheap, that doesn’t seem like a huge thing to me.

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