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HHS and the Last Refuge of Scoundrels

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Mar. 19, 2012

By: Chad Michael Cunningham
Director of NC Institute and Catechetics

A popular MSNBC media icon, Rachael Maddow, recently suggested in an on-air civics lesson (oddly, not news reporting…big surprise) that “rights” are not something that we vote on, saying, “that’s why they’re called rights.”  It is with great pain and apprehension that I agree with Ms. Maddux, whose views I, as a Faithful Catholic, seldom share.  Yet, while I agree with her statement, I can assuredly say that I do not agree with her proposed alternative.  You see, rights are not something we vote on.  I agree.  But rights, too, are not something we just make-up or pull-out of thin air, as I imagine Ms. Maddux might suggest.  Nor are rights granted to us by age-old documents.  Rights are deeper than ink on paper, just like they are deeper than ballots in voting boxes.  Yet, Ms. Maddux would arguably suggest that rights simply come from the Constitution.

When I was in law school I recall one of my professors suggesting that the Constitution is the “last refuge of scoundrels.”  We need not look to paper and ink for our rights—and if we do, then we are trying too hard to fool others.  That is because rights (despite the lawyers’ contentions) simply do not require a doctorate in jurisprudence to understand.  Rights are derivative of the natural law—given to us by God.  We are not required to comb through case law to articulate our rights—instead they are “self-evident,” as in derivative-of-common-sense.  Indeed, I recall having once read somewhere that we were “endowed by our Creator, with certain unalienable rights.”  We need not look to documents to support our claims to having a right to speak—as if the First Amendment gives us the power to orally communicate.  Nor do we need to any documentation in order to freely exercise our religion—rights are not voted on, nor are they spawn from the Declaration or the Constitution or the International Declaration of Human Rights or any other paper.  These tablets enshrine what our hearts already know, what our consciences already dictate.  And if we must resort to paper to discover what we have the right to do, then our freedom and liberty is already in jeopardy—because our conscience is already silenced in the presence of mere flammable, perishable paper.

The HHS Mandate decreed by the President is an affront to our religious liberty.  Period.  We don’t need the Constitution to tell us that.  We know it—it is self-evident.  You see, we are Catholics—not some whimsical denomination that we can turn-on and turn-off on certain days or at certain hours.  Being Catholic is a lifestyle, a way of living.  When we are told by our civic authorities that our natural right to religion must be suppressed for the sake of women’s rights to healthcare we have been effectively handed a death sentence—for our Faith is our life.  And when your life is threatened you don’t dally around sifting through documents to discover a passage that supports your right to life.  It’s self-evident—and you assert it unabashedly, unreservedly, and you brace yourself for the fight ahead.

While others are paper-pushing to make their case, we must be doing what our Lord asked us to do—preaching the Gospel; “Go ye into the whole world and preach the gospel to every creature” (Mark 16:15).  Like Christ, you were born to testify (cf John 18:37)—but your testimony extends beyond courts of law or before Congressional subcommittees—it carries to every corner, every forum of the world.  You are called to charity, to evangelization, to learning your faith that you may live it, that you may teach it.  This is your Christian duty in times of persecution.  Quaint constitutional arguments are not what our Faith demands.  It demands witness.  We are not scoundrels sifting through legal precedent to define who we are.  We aren’t shallow enough to be defined by notepads.  We are the Church, erected by Christ; held together in Christ.  The fact that we are being persecuted is evidence that we do, indeed, remain in Him (cf John 15:20).  Further, if we persevere in our Faith in times of trial, our reward will be great: “Blessed are they who suffer persecution for justice’ sake: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven” (Matt. 5:10).

The HHS Mandate is an affront to our life because it is an affront to our Faith.  While Christians are exhorted to obedience to legitimate authorities, such legitimacy fades when authority seeks to supplant God and His Law.  Human legislation is meant to reflect the natural law—not redefine it; civil authority is meant to compliment God’s Authority—not overthrow it.   As St. Augustine aptly puts it, “An unjust law is no law at all.”   And as Pope Leo XIII writes: “If the laws of the State are manifestly at variance with the divine law, containing enactments hurtful to the Church, or conveying injunctions adverse to the duties imposed by religion…then truly, to resist becomes a positive duty, to obey, a crime” (Sapientiae Christianae).  Our resistance, however, as Christians may take only one form: Charity.  “Since impious men are bent on giving fresh impulse to their hatred against Jesus Christ, Christians should be quickened anew in piety; and charity, which is the inspirer of lofty deeds, should be imbued with new life” (Id).  Resist through love and come what may, we shall prevail—for Christ, by His own testimony, has already “overcome the world” (John 16:33).


Chad Cunningham
This article was written by Chad Michael Cunningham, Director of NC Institute and Catechetics 

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