By JOEL DAVIDSON CatholicAnchor.org
“Religion and morality are necessary conditions of the preservation of free government,” Alaska Lt. Gov. Mead Treadwell said, quoting the famous words of President George Washington.
Speaking during a Dec. 20 gathering at the Sea Galley restaurant in Anchorage, Treadwell said government is obliged to defend religious freedom and to allow for religious expression in the public sphere.
The presentation was part of a monthly Theology & Brew speaker series on faith and culture sponsored by the Anchorage Archdiocese.
DEFENDING RELIGIOUS FREEDOM
Speaking to about 35 attendees, Treadwell underscored the historic importance of religion in American culture, while also raising concerns about new threats to religious freedom.
“If you look at some of the challenges we face today in the public sphere, to me they are very, very concerning,” he told the assembly.
A parishioner of Holy Family Cathedral in Anchorage, Treadwell voiced particular concern over the controversial new federal health care mandate requiring all organizations that provide employee health insurance — including Catholic universities and hospitals — to also provide coverage for sterilizations, contraception and drugs known to cause early abortions.
“Why does the national government have to come along and tell the Catholic Church that they have to pay for things that the Catholic Church fundamentally does not believe in?” Treadwell said. “That is astounding.”
But this tendency of government to encroach upon religious freedom is nothing new, he added.
“There has always been a public expediency to ignore freedom of religion or to even fight it,” Treadwell said.
Encroachments on religious freedoms, however, ultimately weaken a nation by limiting the ability of religiously-motivated people and organizations to support and build up the larger culture, Treadwell explained. This is particularly important in the charitable and social work of the church, he said.
“We have to solve so many of our problems with acts of kindness not acts of congress,” he maintained. “We can’t let religion be culturally buried.”
RELIGION IN PUBLIC LIFE
It is important to remember that the nation’s founders were especially committed to protecting religious freedom through the First Amendment, Treadwell said.
“Congress shall make no law respecting the establishment of religion nor prohibiting the free exercise thereof,” Treadwell quoted from the First Amendment.
“The founders did not view religion as a threat to the state but the state as a threat to religion,” Treadwell said. “Their intent was not to ban religion from the public sphere.”
Increasingly, though, religion and faith-based ideas are squeezed out of public life, Treadwell noted. This can be seen in states that prohibit crèches in public places or in policies that forbid mention of God or prayer in state-funded schools, he said.
In Alaska, anti-religious policy is written into the State Constitution, Treadwell noted. He said the state’s prohibition against any public funds benefiting students who attend private schools, including even riding on a public school bus, is a relic of anti-Catholic views that prevailed across some quarters of the country in the 19th and 20th centuries. (See related article on page eight.)
“It’s astounding how we have perverted and reversed the original intent.” Treadwell lamented.
“It is very important that we defend religious liberty in this country,” he added. “The Constitution was not meant to write God out of the public sphere.”
NEED FOR NATURAL LAW
The only sure way to keep a government in check is to recognize that there is “a natural law — an order to the universe established by our creator,” Treadwell explained.
Natural law traditionally refers to universally recognized moral principles distinct from societal laws and which are used as standards by which to judge them. Natural law principles are found both in the U.S. Constitution and most famously in the Declaration of Independence, which states: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.”
“The difference between our Constitution and others is that many others say that government grants you these rights — ours says you are born with them,” Treadwell said. “They are yours by the grace of God and no government on earth can take them away from you. Indeed government is to secure these rights.”
“Without natural law, without the idea that God left us rules that are self evident, any morality works,” Treadwell cautioned.
Abandoning natural law enables governments to perform such acts as destroying unborn or unwanted human life, he said.
Once governments are untethered from universal principles, they fall into illogical and even counterintuitive predicaments, Treadwell maintained.
“Why in the world, when we spend so much time and money in almost everything we do in government to protect life, does the government stand up and say we are going to fund the termination of life? There is no logic in this,” he said. “It is also a huge perversion of the Constitution and the natural law.”
While serving as lieutenant governor the past two years, Treadwell said Sacred Scriptures often reminds him that government is not the ultimate authority in human affairs.
Praising a recent essay written by Pope Benedict XVI for the Financial Times, Treadwell said the pontiff “put the government in its place.”
The pope’s December article notes, “When Christians refuse to bow down before the false gods proposed today, it is not because of an antiquated world-view. Rather, it is because they are free from the constraints of ideology and inspired by such a noble vision of human destiny that they cannot collude with anything that undermines it.”
REBUILDING THE CULTURE
Treadwell expressed optimism that the nation and Alaska can incrementally rebuild a culture that defends both life and religious freedom.
On the legislative front, he praised recent victories for the pro-life movement in Alaska, especially the state law requiring parental notification before abortions are performed on minor girls.
He also praised Governor Sean Parnell’s decision last year to veto additional funding for the state’s Denali Kid Care program for low income mothers and children because it also pays for more than 36 percent of the state’s abortions. This veto has lead to ongoing efforts to rework Denali Kid Care so the program will provide assistance for the needy without also funding abortions, Treadwell said.
While these efforts won’t end abortion outright, they do incrementally move the culture in the right direction, he said.
But building a culture of life requires more than legislation, Treadwell observed. Strong efforts from faith-based and private groups are also needed to bring dignity to the lives of the poor and to serve those who are materially and psychologically vulnerable.
“It’s about morality and religion,” he said. “And we need our churches very much in this regard.”