Religious Freedom


Jason Kuznicki

Jason Kuznicki is a research fellow at the Cato Institute and contributor of Cato Unbound. He's on twitter as JasonKuznicki. His interests include political theory and history.

Related Post Roulette

79 Responses

  1. Avatar Kolohe says:

    Meh, I don’t get why anyone would want to follow any religion, but it’s not like she was stoned or shot in the back of the head for it.Report

  2. Avatar BSK says:

    I was raised Catholic. And it is crap like this that has pushed me from the church. I don’t need someone who is a leader in a faith that believes homosexuality is a mortal sin “identify[ing] the state of [my] soul.” I can probably do a better job of that myself, thankyouverymch, Father. I increasingly think that institutions, religious or otherwise, that engage in discriminatory practice such as this should be denied any public funds. That would probably include all religious institutions in the end.Report

    • Avatar Kyle Cupp in reply to BSK says:

      Homosexuality isn’t a mortal sin according to Catholicism. Even homosexual actions may not be considered such given that certain conditions of the will and the intellect have to be in place. You have willingly and knowingly do wrong. This raises a relevant question: what if you understand the Catholic case against homosexual acts, but sincerely conclude it’s incorrect and, in good conscience, practice them–does this qualify as “mortal sin”? I would say no.Report

      • Avatar BSK in reply to Kyle Cupp says:

        I don’t know that Catholicism allows for such disagreement. I don’t say this to be snarky; but the faith, as I know it, is pretty clear on the requirement to accept all tenets of the faith. It is sort of like the government in that way… I can’t use my disagreement with a law as a defense of my breaking of it.

        At the end of the day, I agree with JK that religions should be as free as possible to operate according to their convictions. But if you exercise that freedom in a hypocritical way, adhering dogmatically to specific tenets (i.e., denying Communion to homosexuals but very few other people equally undeserving of it), you can’t bristle at the criticism. Also, do not mistake your freedom of religion with a right to government subsidization of it. If you want the government out of your faith, don’t demand that they underwrite it.Report

        • Avatar Kyle Cupp in reply to BSK says:

          Yes, the Church expects total acceptance of its definitive teachings, and is none too welcoming of dissent, but the “mortal” character of a sin has to do with culpability and whether one’s actions have detached one from the path of genuine love.  I’m with you on a consistent application of principles.  And I’m also for a ginormous separation of church and state.  Report

      • Avatar Jason Kuznicki in reply to Kyle Cupp says:

        I don’t think it works this way, Kyle.  Disagreement with the Church doesn’t free you from mortal sin.  Ignorance, yes, but not sincere disagreement. 

        If you sincerely disagree, you should (I believe) practice according to the Church’s teachings while continuing to try to understand them.  Obstinately disagreeing with the Church is itself a mortal sin — <a href=””>heresy</a>.

        [Incidentally, the new combox isn’t doing it for me.  The lines are too close together, and I can’t figure out how to get the URL button to work properly.]

  3. Avatar Chris says:

    In the past week, I’ve committed a mortal sin, though I can’t remember whether it was murder or impure thoughts. You know, six of one…Report

  4. Avatar Kyle Cupp says:

    If I were a practicing Catholic, I would deny myself communion.

    This makes sense given that the act of receiving communion is supposed to be a sign of unity with and conformity to the Church. It’s trickier when a Eucharistic minister denies another communion, because this act generally assumes that the minister has special knowledge of the heart of the person presenting himself or herself for communion.Report

    • Avatar Jason Kuznicki in reply to Kyle Cupp says:

      It doesn’t presuppose special knowledge.  When it’s a question of a priest refusing communion, the biggest concern is for not giving a public scandal.

      It would be scandalous for a priest to give communion to a notorious and unrepentant sinner — the neighborhood prostitute or drunk, for example. 

      Contrawise, it would be scandalous for a priest to deny communion to someone for a mortal sin known only to a few.  If a priest happened to know that someone was committing adultery, but the matter wasn’t public knowledge, this would not be an appropriate situation to deny communion.  At least that was the case for a very long time.

      My sense though is that denial of communion isn’t conducted along these lines anymore, and that these days it’s only done for culture-war issues.

      • True, scandal is usually the issue for the denial of communion, but it still presupposes knowledge that the person is in a state of mortal sin, and that’s not always easy knowledge to come by.Report

      • And priests are not the only one’s administering communion.  In large parishes, it’s done by lay ministers.  Report

      • Avatar BSK in reply to Jason Kuznicki says:

        If we’re going to culture war, let’s culture war!How about a giant gong that you ring if a sinner approaches for communion?  Or a giant “Family Feud” style X/BUZZ if you are not fit to receive it?The priest here violated protocol.  I’m tempted to but won’t venture to assume his intentions, but the actions speak for themselves: this priest denied communion to an individual, against protocol, because she was deemed ineligible, while the majority of folks receiving communion are ineligible.Report

  5. Avatar mark boggs says:

    “engaging in impure thoughts”

    This prohibition would single-handedly put the wafer people out of business.Report

  6. Avatar Mike Dwyer says:

    I can’t figure out if the point of the post is to point out that the priest did the right thing or to point out all the inconsistencies in the way people follow Church doctrine (therefore sort of dismissing the whole incident as the product of a kooky religion).Report

    • Avatar BSK in reply to Mike Dwyer says:

      Can’t it be both?  The priest did the right thing under the practice of his kooky religion?Report

      • Avatar Mike Dwyer in reply to BSK says:

        The latter is kind of lowbrow but sure.Report

        • Avatar Jason Kuznicki in reply to Mike Dwyer says:

          I’ve long thought that all deep beliefs — religion, atheism, many agnosticisms — are kooky.  Even my own.  So that’s not a strike against Catholicism in any sense.

        • Avatar BSK in reply to Mike Dwyer says:

          JK’s reply would be my own.  When I use the word “kooky” here, I am referring more to the internal inconsistency and less to the specific beliefs.  Report

          • Avatar Jason Kuznicki in reply to BSK says:

            I am preparing a post about my own deep beliefs.  It’s nearly done, in fact.  I read it, and I think, “Damn, this guy is a kook.”  I really do.  And yet I still believe.

            • Looking forward to it, Jason.  I think the same about myself.Report

            • Avatar BSK in reply to Jason Kuznicki says:

              Recognizing the potential or actually kookiness of your own ideas is a huge step forward that many people don’t take.

              One of my (many) idiosyncrasies has to do with how I fold my laundry.  Not only am I incredibly particular and meticulous about it, but I fold it in a way that is probably worse when it comes to proper storage and maintenance of garments.  But, goddamnit, that is how I like to fold it and I don’t ask anyone else to fold it for me and it gives me a certain calm to know that it is fold just so.  As luck (or my insanity) would have it, I often have conversations about folding laundry with people.  Before saying my piece, I always preface it by acknowledging the general craziness of my position.  This leaves all of us party to the conversation an opportunity to exit it by just saying, “Well, that is just how BSK is with laundry.  He’s a bit crazy,” without risking offense to me.  I am ultimately taking what I know to be somewhat of an indefensible position but, in acknowledging so, I feel I demonstrate a certain meta-defensibility in the end.  Problems arise when people take kooky/crazy/indefensible positions but can’t/don’t/won’t recognize them as such and will thus fight tooth and nail not only to advocate for the position, but often to encourage or demand others adhere to or practice it as well.

              Just don’t fuck with my laundry.Report

              • Avatar Jeff in reply to BSK says:

                T-shirts are easy.  You put them graphic-side down (if there’s a graphic on the front and back, the larger graphic is face-down) on a flat surface.  Fold the sleeves over, then fold the sgirt horizontally in thirds.  Now fold vertically in thirds, with the graphic in the center fold (not to be confused with the angel in the centerfold).  Place shirts graphic side up in drawer.

                No more guessing what shirt is which.Report

      • Avatar Burt Likko in reply to BSK says:

        That’s exactly the way I interpreted the post.Report

      • Avatar Jason Kuznicki in reply to BSK says:

        The point of the post is that Catholics should be, and are, free to conduct their religion in whatever way they wish, including in this quite upsetting way.

        Although I have some sympathies for the woman who was publicly shamed by the denial, I think in the long run the freedom to act this way is beneficial to everyone.

        • Avatar Mike Dwyer in reply to Jason Kuznicki says:

          When you say, “I think in the long run the freedom to act this way is beneficial to everyone…” and then say, “It is somewhat of a mystery to me why someone would want to follow a religion like this,” it kind of sounds like concern trolling Jason. If I’m reading between the lines correctly the subtext seems to be that when religions act kooky it harms their image with the public and that is good for everyone.Report

          • Avatar BSK in reply to Mike Dwyer says:

            I think the exact opposite.  If we say that the Catholics can’t act in this way, what stops us or someone else from telling you or me how we can act?  Better to have more freedom and accept some people using their freedom in a way I disagree with than to empower the government to restrict freedoms.Report

          • Avatar Jason Kuznicki in reply to Mike Dwyer says:

            A free, meaningful search for truth will necessarily require some upset and some revisions along the way.  Where these may fall is not mine to know.  It’s also not yours.

          • Avatar Rufus F. in reply to Mike Dwyer says:

            I really don’t think you’re reading between the lines correctly Mike. I think what Jason is saying- in regards to the denial of communion- is something like, “Look, this isn’t for me, but it’s consistent with how the religion is supposed to be practiced and it’s not the place of non-Catholics to tell Catholics how their religion should be practiced”. I took at as a defense of religious freedom regardless of Jason’s  personal feelings about the practice.Report

          • Avatar Chris in reply to Mike Dwyer says:

            I don’t think that’s what Jason is saying, nor do I think it would be concern trolling if he were. However, I actually think that’s true that one of the good things about religious freedom is that it lets religions and the religious show their true colors, which are often, as in this case, not very attractive.Report

  7. Avatar Kyle Cupp says:

    <em>It is somewhat of a mystery to me why someone would want to follow a religion like this.</em>If you mean simply a religion that sets behavioral expectations for appropriate participation in its rituals, there’s no mystery.  Pretty much institution sets rules that it requires its members to follow.  The Catholic Church happens to be pretty strict and sets really, really high standards, but that’s a difference of degree, not kind.  If you mean a religion like Catholicism that has a set of specific moral norms governing sexual acts, norms that are derived from its understanding of the meaning and purpose of sexuality, then the question, I propose, is whether this religion’s teachings on matters of sexual meaning and morality are essential to what it is.  If the Catholic Church came around to accepting the intentional detachment of sex from the end of procreation as morally dandy, would it qualitatively become something other than what it has been?  Report

    • Avatar Jason Kuznicki in reply to Kyle Cupp says:

      It’s a mystery why the concern for scandal seems, on paper, to trump all others, while in practice, it does not — and yet people don’t see a contradiction, and follow the faith eagerly on these points.

      My dissertation was called Scandal and Disclosure in the Old Regime, and it dealt specifically with the refusal of sacraments in the eighteenth century.  It was a very tricky area back then, and it remains one today.

      Consider as just one permutation:  It is possible that no one person causes a scandal at communion, but collectively the ritual still is a scandal.  This happens every single Christmas and Easter, as the twice-a-year Catholics line up for communion.  We know they haven’t all been coming to Mass every week, and we know they haven’t all confessed and resolved to do better in the future.  No one is ever denied, and no one thinks a thing about it.  But this should be a scandal.  Shouldn’t it?

      • Avatar Patrick Cahalan in reply to Jason Kuznicki says:

        We know they haven’t all been coming to Mass every week, and we know they haven’t all confessed and resolved to do better in the future.  No one is ever denied, and no one thinks a thing about it.  But this should be a scandal.  Shouldn’t it?

        Yes.  If you’re going to refuse Communion for not being in a state of Grace, you should refuse communion for not being in a state of Grace.  You should *not* be reserving the “withholding of Communion” as for the purpose of public shaming, that’s just wretched behavior.

        I’ll note that there are parishes where you can’t pull that off.  They trend highly with pre-Vatican II services; the priest will metaphysically kick your ass if you line up for Communion and you weren’t at Confession yesterday.

        This is no longer the norm, which does reveal a pretty big inconsistency.  Either return to it being the norm, or lay some theology out that grants sufficient absolution from public admission of sin that you can take Communion.  The Lutherans (basically) do that.Report

        • Avatar BSK in reply to Patrick Cahalan says:

          It would be much easier to respect the Church’s position here if it was consistent and principled.  If they did this to everyone, I’d probably think, “Harsh.  But at least they’re doing their thing.”  Reading the story here, all I think is, “D***head.”Report

      • Very good question, Jason.  In theory, I’d say this is a scandal, but I’m not so sure it is in practice.  As Catholics use the word, scandal means “an attitude or behavior which leads another to do evil.”  The Catechism of the Catholic Church continues: “The person who gives scandal becomes his neighbor’s tempter. He damages virtue and integrity; he may even draw his brother into spiritual death. Scandal is a grave offense if by deed or omission another is deliberately led into a grave offense.”  The question is, do the people attending Mass and receiving communion once or twice a year, without repentance, cause others to do evil?  I’m not sure this is really the case given the practice of the faith today.  If the regular attendees are thinking to themselves, “Hey, I should go to Mass less frequently” after seeing the rare attendees receiving communion, then I suppose you have a scandal.  I’m not sure this is actually happening, though.Report

        • Avatar Tod Kelly in reply to Kyle Cupp says:

          The obvious rejoinder to this, it seems, would be does a gay couple receiving communion cause others to do evil?Report

          • Avatar Kyle Cupp in reply to Tod Kelly says:

            Isn’t the very existence of gay couples a cause of evil in others?  Just kidding.  But you do sometimes get that sense from some ant-gay arguments, right?  In answer to your question, the standard response would be something to the effect that giving communion to someone who is known widely and publicly to have a state of life in opposition to church norms–e.g., a same-sex relationship–implies a tacit message that those norms are not all that important.Report

        • Avatar Chris in reply to Kyle Cupp says:

          Let me ask you this: is it a mortal sin to knowingly give someone communion (either as a priest or a layman) who is not in a state of grace? If so, it seems that Christmas-Easter Catholics might just be drawing someone into spiritual death.Report

          • Avatar Kyle Cupp in reply to Chris says:

            Not as far as I know.  Giving communion itself is not grave matter, and it’s usually done with the presumption that the person receiving it is in a state of grace.  It’s usually the responsibility of the person receiving it to only step forward if he or she is in a state of grace (so far as he or she knows), and not usually the responsibility of the minister to make a judgment call.  And, technically, only God really knows if someone is or is not in a state of grace.Report

        • Avatar Plinko in reply to Kyle Cupp says:

          Isn’t it just as likely that the perspective here is by having those folks in now and taking Communion the most likely way to get them to decide to come back next week?

          Of course, that logic could apply to all these situations.Report

      • Avatar Robert Cheeks in reply to Jason Kuznicki says:

        My current project is tentatively titled: “The Pursuit of God in the Tension of Existence.” It’s a real page turner. BTW, I’m sure that it’s always and every time a difficult proposition to integrate revelation and mystery into the world-immanent.Report

        • Avatar Jason Kuznicki in reply to Robert Cheeks says:

          I’m thinking of titling my manifesto “Fun with Azathoth.”Report

          • Avatar J.L. Wall in reply to Jason Kuznicki says:

            Note to self: all future papers should be in the format of the “Fun with X” series.  If you can’t make the title fit, the project is not worth the effort.Report

            • Avatar BSK in reply to J.L. Wall says:

              Fun with Feces, coming right up!Report

              • Avatar Patrick Cahalan in reply to BSK says:

                During one time period when Jack was potty-trained and Hannah was still in diapers but everyone in the house was having lower GI issues, the cat took a “you haven’t cleaned my litter box recently enough” dump on the shower mat.

                I joked that I should write a book about having young kids in the house called, “Fun with Feces”.  Never wrote it, though.

                I think you may have a market there, is what I’m saying.Report

              • Avatar BSK in reply to Patrick Cahalan says:

                I, fortunately or unfortunately, do not have enough firsthand knowledge to write such a book.  I stole the term itself from an episode of “The League”.  I will say, that based on the quotes coming out of the classroom next door to me, “No, don’t play with your poop… No, don’t eat your poop… Yes, pull your pants down first… How did you get poop in your hair?… You’re 3 feet tall, how did you get poop smears 5 feet up the wall?” my colleague has more than enough.Report

              • Avatar Patrick Cahalan in reply to BSK says:


              • Avatar Plinko in reply to BSK says:

                I changed baby girl’s diaper the other day and she wagged her finger at me and barked at me ‘No touch poop, daddy! No touch poop!’
                Suffice to say the previous few weeks have required that phrase to be repeated frequently enough to precipitate that episode.

                So, if you need more for the anthology, let me know, I’m there for you.Report

              • Avatar Patrick Cahalan in reply to Plinko says:

                You need to go to Vegas.Report

              • Avatar Simon K in reply to Patrick Cahalan says:

                Things I have learned since becoming a father, number 105 – Little boys start trying to grab their penis at every opportunity long before they learn not to stick their hands in poop.Report

      • Avatar Pinky in reply to Jason Kuznicki says:

        As a practical matter, my brother receives Communion every Easter and Christmas at my dad’s parish, because he’s visiting the family at the time.  A priest would be mistaken to assume that he was a “twice-a-year” Catholic.  Does that mean that every new face or occasional visitor is a practicing Catholic?  Of course not.  It’s prudent for the priest to assume that the unknown person is properly disposed to receive Communion, though.

        I wonder, how did the priest in this news story know the daughter’s situation?  Given that he was right about her lifestyle, and that she went to the WaPo with her complaint, it’s reasonable to assume that she was confrontational about it.  She may (maybe) put the priest in a situation where he had no choice but to deny her Communion.  One of the stages of grief is anger, and a daughter who didn’t feel accepted by her traditional Catholic mother could easily be looking to pick a fight with a priest at the funeral.Report

        • Avatar Tom Van Dyke in reply to Pinky says:

          That scenario occurred to me as well, Pinky: we’ll never know because the press certainly isn’t going to bother to find out.  Perhaps it went down the way the story implies, poor grieving daughter victimized by rogue priest of unenlightened church.  But it did say she was first in line for Communion, and there could have been more there than met the reporter’s eye.Report

  8. Avatar DensityDuck says:

    This post reminds me of the people who claim that a Blu-Ray disc does not actually conform to the DVD standard and therefore is technically illegal to advertise as a “DVD”.Report

  9. Avatar Damon says:

    I always get a chuckle out of folks that ostensibly are religious, particularly Catholics.  I remember arguing with my SIL, who disagreed with the Pope’s position on some aspect, and thought he shouldn’t be pope.  My response was that if I was the Pope and knew of her opinions, opinions diametrically opposite of many of the churches stances, I’d excommunicate her.  She’s not a believer in the faith, she doesn’t belong.  But no, she wanted to change the church from within.  She ended up leaving several years later.  Don’t know why she wasted her time.

    I don’t have problems with religion-it’s just not my thing, but if you’re going to be part of a congregation, I think you ought to believe in the faith—all of it– or man up and leave.  What’s the point otherwise?  I always get a kick out the “twice a year Catholics”   They are nothing but “keeping up appearances” and are hypocrites.

    As to the points here, I think the priest should have made his comments in private, but I can’t get too worked up over it as I lean heavily towards the attitude that “she should have known what she was getting into”.Report

    • Avatar Patrick Cahalan in reply to Damon says:

      I don’t have problems with religion-it’s just not my thing, but if you’re going to be part of a congregation, I think you ought to believe in the faith—all of it– or man up and leave.  What’s the point otherwise? 

      This assumes a pretty rigid dogma.  Not all faiths have a rigid dogma; in fact, the Catholic church has layers upon layers of rigidity to its layers upon layers of dogma.Report

      • Avatar Simon K in reply to Patrick Cahalan says:

        I sometimes get the impression the seniority within Catholicism is really graded on how flexible one can be about fairly points of doctrine without overtly actually ceasing to be a Catholic. The average parishioner never graduates beyond using birth control. Some of the popes, on the other hand, have commmitted more sins in the name of God in single days than I have in an entire lifetime of determined atheism.Report

  10. Avatar BlaiseP says:

    Heh.   Brion McClanahan is just a pseudonym for Ed Anger.   I never miss Ed Anger’s stuff.Report

  11. Avatar PaddyK says:

    There’s some confusion — as always — about impure thoughts.  We can not control every thought that pops into our heads and, at least as far as every priest I have ever spoken to about this seems to believe, it’s the entertainment of, or fantasizing about, impure or sinful matter that is the mortal sin, not the impulsive thought itself.  I was always instructed in CCD and apologetics classes that if an impure thought was to pop into my head to say a quick prayer and try to think of something else, so as not to dwell on the sinful matter and therefore avoid committing adultery “in my heart”, for example.  We were given sexuality by our creator; how we respond to our sexuality is up to us.

    Scandal is the primary concern of the priest because it obscures the real issues at stake when considering mortal sin and the reception of communion.  Rather than being able to have a discussion with the woman about why he can not give her communion, he created an incendiary situation, now splashed across the pages of the Washington Post, about a well-known and rather old-news teaching of the Catholic Church that really isn’t so shocking.  He handed her a stick with which to beat the Church and now, regardless of the conscience-versus-teachings debate and ethical/moral discussions that should be considered, we now have “mean priest discriminates against grieving lesbian”.  Take a look at the print and online editions of the WaPo to see what I mean: the headline for the WaPo’s online edition is “D.C. archdiocese: Denying Communion to lesbian at funeral was against ‘policy’ ” while the print edition delivered to my house this morning reads “Seeking communion, finding rejection.”


    • Avatar Tom Van Dyke in reply to PaddyK says:

      Kudos to PaddyK for trying to get to the bottom of this and JasonK for citing the catechism. The priest “went rogue,” that is, his action in denying communion was not normative, making a scene.

      “When questions arise about whether or not an individual should present themselves for communion, it is not the policy of the Archdiocese of Washington to publicly reprimand the person,” the statement said. “Any issues regarding the suitability of an individual to receive communion should be addressed by the priest with that person in a private, pastoral setting.”

      This reply from the archdiocese jibes perfectly with Jason’s cite of the catechism:

      Should the person create a scene after having been warned, it shall not be the priest, but rather the person, who shall be responsible for creating the public scandal that draws attention to his/her status before God.

      There must be a warning.  However, per any discussion after that, the Church [or any church] certainly claims the authority to decide its own norms. If Barbara Johnson had been warned in the past—and she has been warned now—were she to continue to offer herself for Communion, the ethical breach—and we don’t need religion for this part, only ethical reasoning—would be hers.

      Should the person create a scene after having been warned, it shall not be the priest, but rather the person, who shall be responsible for creating the public scandal that draws attention to his/her status before God.

      What her “sin” is really has nothing to do with anything:  the church would deny Communion for any number of reasons why a person would be considered not “in the state of grace.” [Divorce and remarriage, for instance.]

      BTW, “fencing the Lord’s table” was a big deal in a past day of Protestantism, where the minister would actually clear the communicant in advance, and give him a token to prove it.




      • Avatar Simon K in reply to Tom Van Dyke says:

        Presbyterian churches in Scotland still issue invitations to communion. No invitation, not communion. Generally the more conservative the denomination (what do you call two Presbyterians? A schism) the harder it is to get invited to communion.

        The Catholic church, on the other hand, regularly offers communion to all kinds of sinners. Many Irish churches would have no communicants at all if the refused to serve remarried divorcees. The priest in this case has clearly chosen to make an issue of homosexuality that he would not have made of other sins, and I doubt he was motivated by the wellbeing of the communicant’s soul.


      • Avatar Jeff in reply to Tom Van Dyke says:

        This “priest” went further.  He refused to conduct the burial service for a life-long Catholic because her DAUGHTER had engaged in sin.   To me, that makes it simple: he was out of line, all the way along.

        We’ll see if he’s punished.  I’m not holding my breath.Report

  12. Avatar A Teacher says:

    This sounds like a great case where Freedom of Religion would still be just fine even if going to Catholic Mass was mandated.

    If you don’t believe that the host is the body of Christ, then being denied it for doing something, really anything, isn’t much of a deal.  I mean, is there so much of a demand for unleavened wafers such that everyone who’s not Catholic just ~has~ to have one?  Has the Communion host become the new Chihuahua dog?

    And, really, while I have argued that religion is not necessarily something you chose, I will say that you do chose where to practice it, and if you disagree with how a priest applies the “rules”, then you ~are~ free to go elsewhere….


  13. Avatar joey jo jo says:

    A catholic priest, a pedophile and a rapist walk into a bar.

    He orders a beer.Report