SB 1062 and the Great Vizzini

Yesterday morning, Claire Bordelon posted a series of links pertaining to the passage, the possible (now actual) veto, and reaction therein about SB 1062: which has, the Twitters tell me, been alternatively likened to Jim Crow Laws on one hand, and a staunch defense of First Amendment Rights on the other.

Now that Janet Brewer has vetoed the bill, we can let the commentary commence.  For an even take, I’d recommend the always measure Chris Cillizza of the WaPost’s The Fix blog.

I admit that I haven’t read enough about the measure to offer an opinion on the particular legal arguments  one way or another: I am, however, able to admit that my personal political and religious predilections leave me largely sympathetic to what I believe are very cogent legal arguments on both sides of the issue.  (That ought anger everyone, so there.)

And while I don’t think I necessarily agree with EJ Dionne’s take on the entire affair in today’s print version of the Washington Post, I do think he raises a matter that requires attention: 

But the promiscuous resort to conscience exemptions is a more immediate danger to religious groups. Religious accommodations in our laws reflect our devotion to liberty and pluralism. They involve an ongoing effort to balance robust protections for faith groups on the one hand with the need for laws of general application on the other. Destroying the equilibrium would undercut the search for accommodation.

The reason this matters to me, is, as I said to another friar last night, is because the contemporary question that interests me most is “What does it mean to be ‘American’ and ‘Catholic,’ at the same time?”

Or, in other words: at some point, are Catholics  going to need to decide which of the above terms is the noun and which is the adjective: are we Catholic Americans or American Catholics?

Perhaps this is an over-simplifcation of the matter, but I think it’s a necessary question to ponder.  I don’t think that a topic such SB 1062 forces us to choose between national  and religious identity: I would maintain that both opponents and proponents of this bill could, in good faith, articulate  Catholic principles to make their case.

The truly troubling reality about this bill, then, is not necessarily its content, but rather the fact that each time a matter like this is raised,  the “cool and dry”* debate of which John Courtney Murray dreamed gives way to platitudes and those with the loudest voices fall into (again in Murray’s words) a Jacobinsim that says “Be my brother or I’ll kill you!“* Consequently, the American Consensus receives another intellectual paper cut.   We all know what a thousand of them will do.

For if I cannot choose the cup in front of me, and cannot choose the cup in front of you…

*See the Introduction of We Hold These Truths.

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