Today the Catholic Church remembers two martyrs, St. Thomas More and St. John Fisher. St. Thomas More proves a number of jokes wrong: there is at least one lawyer in Heaven. He was also my confirmation patron, not because I aspired to follow his career, but because I aspired to follow his courage in living the faith despite the fact that the Lords of England, the bishops, the abbots, and members of More’s own family recognized Henry VIII as head of the Church of England. His famous statement, “I was the king’s good servant, but God’s first” sums up his life and his death.
There is a very striking line in the play on the life of Sir Thomas More, “A Man for All Seasons”. In this scene, a young man is telling Sir Thomas More that he would not let the devil hide behind a law, he would pursue the devil, even if it meant cutting down the law. Sir Thomas says something like, “And when the last law was down and the devil turned round, where would you hide the laws all being flat? …this country is planted thick with laws…and if you cut them down…do you really think you could stand upright in the winds that would blow then?”
The United States once had a tall and flourishing legal forest: the separation of powers between Federal, State, and local governments, the Bill of Rights, and all sorts of legal checks and balances created a world in which it took time to go from point A to point B. The path curved, but this curve prevented us from getting attacked by the heavy machinery that could not fit around the curves.
Two things have happened 1) Lawyers, who are supposed to help to keep the forest in good shape, encouraged it to become overgrown because when the paths are harder to follow you need to hire a guide 2) The Federal Government has been using its extensive powers to start cutting down the overgrown forest make a highway for itself.
However, the Federal Highway always had to go around one huge preserve, we might call it a sanctuary: the government couldn’t touch the trees that grew on the mountain of religious faith. Religious laws are God’s property, and they cannot be cut down or transplanted. This mountain was a refuge for people to be with God, for people to find shelter from the blinding sun and the world of potted plants: it could never be paved or organized or developed by the government, it was God’s country.
The Federal Government of the United States has now claimed part this sanctuary, and has cut down a few religious laws to build a free clinic that will hand out birth control. The people of the United States basically have two choices when they look at that clinic:
1) “It’s just a little clinic, and it’s useful, who needs those trees anyway?”
2) “If they can build that clinic on the mountain, nothing will stop them from paving the whole world.”
This is where the lines of Sir Thomas More come back to haunt me: what will stop them from cutting down more religious laws?
When the government wants to support same-sex marriage, will it leave the trees on the mountain standing?
When the government wants to stop discrimination against so-called transgender, bisexual, and homosexual people, will it leave the trees on the mountain standing?
And when it has cut down all the laws and paved the whole country with asphalt and government building projects and military bases, how will we find any shelter? Who will ever stand against the wind storms that are going to blow then?