The CT Viewpoints opinion “Religious freedom is more than religion” shows just how entrenched is the sincerely held belief that one man’s notion of “freedom” dictates the liberty of others.
The author, Brian Festa, starts by claiming that the Vatican’s doctrinal office is “dead wrong” on a matter of doctrine as it relates to the COVID-19 vaccine. He stresses that “faithful Catholics” will recognize that the Vatican is unaware of the teachings of the Vatican and that the “opinion” of the Vatican is irrelevant.
The issue with this position is not its legal validity under the protections of the First Amendment. Attorney Festa is correct that the United States government cannot dictate who is or is not a Catholic nor may it say that beliefs not in conformity with a major world religion are not protected. He is right. It is no defense for the government to say, “Brian Festa is not a Catholic because he opposes the official statement of doctrine from the Vatican” because the government simply does not have that power.
The real problem is the mindset behind the opinion piece and it’s one that was best demonstrated by the events of January 6th. On that day, an overwhelmingly white mob attacked the U.S. Capitol on the belief that their preferred candidate could not have lost the presidential election. Despite no legitimate evidence of widespread election fraud, the group disregarded the votes and voices of a majority of Americans and decided they did not care; that their unfounded beliefs trumped the voting rights of everyone else as well as the Constitutional procedures for the peaceful transition of power. For that group, the Constitution and laws of the nation meant nothing when the Constitution and laws of the nation were at stake.
That belief system is exactly what is on display here.
The author disagrees with the Vatican on a matter of doctrine so he is right and the office authorized by the Catholic Church to make pronouncements of doctrine is wrong. The author says that it was “reprehensible” for the government to issue unconstitutional lockdown orders because his freedom to jeopardize the health of others is more important than your right not to catch a deadly virus. Safety, science, and sound law mean nothing before the righteous indignation of man in need of a haircut.
It is the last paragraph of the piece that really puts on full display the reprehensible belief system. He writes that the august Framers “gifted us” the First Amendment. As Attorney Festa would undoubtedly put it, “faithful conservatives” would recognize that the Bill of Rights was a codification of inalienable rights that belong to all of us and no one can “gift” us what we already have. He condemns the “godless tyrants” presumably because, while he has no issue with the Tyrants of Faith, he has has full contempt for atheist tyrants (whose atheism also happens to be protected by the Constitution.) He says “we” will not stand idly by while the Constitution is torn to shreds which begs the question – what exactly is he advocating for? And who is he advocating against?
And that is where the real problem is. The opinion cries out that his Catholicism is being persecuted by the church, that the government is saying that his religion isn’t real despite not pointing to a single instance where that has happened, and then claims there’s a group that will not stand for these unspecified slights. Like the vocal minority he represents, Attorney Festa claims to be targeted by someone for some reason and cries out to do something. We’re tired of listening.
Spencer Hill is an attorney in Simsbury.