The headlines in The Washington Times Jan. 16 read as follows: “Senate Urged to Question Ashcroft on Whether His Faith Leads to Intolerance.”

This questioning, it turns out, is “urged” by a group known as “The Interfaith Alliance,” an offshoot of the Democratic Party. Even though we live under a Constitution that forbids religious tests for office, here we have one.

Unless one is a secularist, he cannot hold office.

What evidently bothers the group is Ashcoft's “deep Christian faith.” Presumably if he had weak or corrupt Christian faith, he would fare better. Moreover, “intolerance” itself is here elevated into a kind of secular faith. Intolerance for what? These are the same people who insist that there be no “tolerance” for bigotry, or anti-Semitism, or racism, or any number of things. Intolerance has its own selectivities that seek to impose a particular worldview on others, especially Christians, who, finding themselves more and more isolated, are deemed particularly suspect.

Qualifying Factors

Constitutional practice has long recognized a distinction between those who were “citizens” but who could not participate in the actual electoral or legislative process.

Children, for example, are citizens but do not actively participate in public life. However, today the pressure to lower ever more the age at which children are emancipated comes often from peculiar sources such as those who think it unjust for homosexuals, since they have a “right” to their desires, to be prevented from relations with minors if that is what they choose.

We hear of “abusive” parents; notorious cases exist, no doubt about it. Yet this “abuse” may be said to come from parents who teach religion to their children, or paddle them lightly for disciplinary reasons.

The separation of children from their families is looked upon in some circles as favorable to opening up society to newer practices and “values.” The family is an outmoded, even dangerous institution. A judge in Canada seems to think that Christianity is intrinsically discriminatory. Meanwhile, the Pope is considered to be hopeless since he thinks we should still evangelize, still teach what has been handed down to be taught.

If we follow the curious progress of “rights” theory, we catch increasing glimmers of the idea that whoever does not “hold” the corpus of a certain brand of “rights” is no longer fit to participate actively in the workings of state affairs. A pro-life person, for instance, cannot hold positions that are considered “sensitive” to pro-abortion, anti-life doctrines.

Such a citizen is automatically disqualified. One might hold such a pro-life view “privately,” but the “Constitution” or whatever, it is claimed, does not allow such a person in the inner workings of the republic. Though we are not quite there yet, anti-euthanasia proponents will soon be excluded from active participation in bureaucracies or offices that can foster this way of death.

No doubt, people who are thus excluded from active participation will still be required to pay taxes to finance the activities that they think immoral. Fathers who think it best that their sons or daughters not join, say, a Boy or Girl Scout troop with a homosexual director will be considered bigots, violators of rights of others to do what they want. After all, the scout master has a “right” to be what he is and hence to any position in the society. Common sense precautions are not allowed. Besides, since there is nothing legally wrong with homosexuality, any institution, such as the Church, which proposes that such active practices are wrong, will set itself against the public good and undermine its new constitutional status.

Such groups are in principle “discriminatory,” currently almost the only sin left to us. Even though the main arguments against this practice are not, even in Church circles, religious, any organization holding the opposite will lose any funding or advantage in the public order, perhaps even the right to be in the public order. Some churches and elements in the Church, in a skewered view of self-defense, will begin to find nothing wrong with such practices, whatever the evidence.

The public order is becoming a closed circle. Anyone who cannot subscribe to a list of rights including certain “rights” of unions, gays, death, support, and well-being will be defined as ineligible to participate in the public order.

Any religion or philosophy that has a definite, well-argued position on right and wrong, one based in nature and experience, is an enemy to this new state.

The World Over

This is not just an American movement.

It is rife in the United Nations and in many European countries. The modern public world is not defined by anything objective. It is defined by courts and legislatures and executives. Whatever is so defined, is right. Opposition on the ground of natural law, reason, science or faith has no standing. Nothing limits such a state. It is itself, furthermore, “utopian”; that is, it intends to produce what it wants, what “rights” it holds, as it were.

Anyone who does not agree with these positions is “intolerant.” He is an enemy of the new public order and as such has no “right” to participate in it. Any religion or philosophy that has a definite, well-argued position on right and wrong, one based in nature and experience, is an enemy to this new state.

Its members can only participate in it by foreswearing in advance those tenets, religious or otherwise, that are contrary to the state. Not only this, but it is specifically immoral or unjust to work to change things by peaceful or constitutional methods. Hence every religious person must undergo a secular-religious test, as it were, before he can be allowed into the new government or state. It is a closed system, and religion, more and more, is excluded by the rhetoric and practice of absolute rights defined arbitrarily by the state and its organs.

No one needs more attention to these ideas than Christians themselves if they do not wish suddenly to find themselves unqualified citizens standing completely outside of public life. It has happened before.

Jesuit Father James Schall is a professor of government at Georgetown University.