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by James Hitchcock
When Liberalism Opposes Liberty
August 24, 2003
Should bishops be prosecuted for "crimes against humanity"? The Irish Council for Civil Liberties thinks so, following issuance of the Vatican's recent statement about homosexual "marriages". The Council has warned that propagating the document could lead to legal penalties.
In other countries this is already a reality. In our good neighbor to the north, Canada, a teacher has been suspended for expressing a personal opinion (not in the classroom) disapproving of homosexuality, and a newspaper has been fined for publishing an advertisement to the same effect. In Sweden, which supposedly has one of the most "enlightened" systems of criminal justice in the world, such offenses, even by clergy in the pulpit, are punishable by prison, and New Zealand has banned the importation of a videotape critical of the homosexual agenda.
The United States has to date shown less tendency to adopt similar measures, our tradition of civil liberties apparently more robust than that of other Western countries. But liberals in the Senate will not vote to confirm any nominee for a Federal judgeship who professes traditional religious beliefs, including disapproving of homosexual "marriage". Congressman Barney Frank, an announced homosexual, has threatened economic sanctions against any country which fails to recognize the full range of homosexual "rights".
Those ghettoes of political correctness called universities have adopted "speech codes" which in fact deny free speech, but these have been struck down by the courts, and the Bush administration has served notice that it will oppose such things. But as the journalist Mark Steyn has pointed out, all these measures have what liberals used to call a "chilling effect" on free expression, even when they do not lead to actual prosecution.
Would-be reformers are constantly busy identifying various forms of injustice which demand changes which they know the public will not support, and they resort to the courts to achieve what they cannot achieve through the legislatures. Now the process has advanced several very large notches, to the point of silencing public discussion of the issues. Thus Congressman Patrick Kennedy of Rhode Island (a member of a family which readers may have heard of) accuses the Vatican of "bigotry" for restating what the whole world has always believed about marriage, and one senses that he approves of the threats made by the Council for Civil Liberties in the land of his ancestors.
The Rainbow Sash, a homosexual group, makes the inevitable charge of "homophobia" against the Vatican, a charge which now means harboring any misgivings about the homosexual agenda. People like Kennedy and the Rainbow Sash try to steamroller citizens into shutting down their critical faculties and simply endorsing whatever homosexual lobbying groups want.
What is most interesting about all this is what is not being said, namely, liberal groups expressing alarm at blatant assaults on freedom of speech, press, and religion. Indeed, we have come to the point where groups using terms like "civil liberties" in their names actually exist for the purpose of aiding the suppression of those liberties.
Even though the various freedoms of expression have long been the staple of liberalism, many liberals have ceased to believe in them. Liberalism has come to be mainly a program of "social engineering", of using the power of the government to force changes in the way people act and think. Despite its etymology, the word "liberal" has ceased to have anything to do with liberty, except for those politically correct groups whose demand for freedom includes the right to oppress others.
James Hitchcock, professor of history at St. Louis University, writes and lectures on contemporary Church matters. His column appears in the diocesan press. Dr. Hitchcock's The Supreme Court and Religion in American Life, Vol. 1 The Odyssey of the Religion Clauses and Vol. II From 'Higher Law' to 'Sectarian Scruples', were released by Princeton University Press September 2, 2004.
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