Fr. Robert Araujo, SJ writes on the use and misuse of John Courtney Murray in today’s religious discourse, especially in the battle over the HHS mandate:
In regard to the controversy of the present moment about religious freedom, the distinction between public and private moralities is not the issue. This is an important topic that Murray was not adverse to addressing, but it has little or no application to the current debate between religious freedom and conflict with public law.
Rather, the concerns about religious freedom involve whether public law must coerce the religious believer and religious community to exercise publicly their moral teachings at their peril. The problem is not that the Church is imposing its beliefs on the temporal world. The problem is that the temporal authorities, which have secured in law morally problematic positions, are mandating that the religious believer and the religious community must be coerced into doing that which is morally unacceptable. Some thinkers and writers have recently argued that Murray asserted that for the law to be effective, there must be consensus about underlying premises if the law addresses moral issues intersecting people’s conduct. I am sure that most folks would agree that laws prohibiting theft are morally acceptable, but the fact that there exists a minority which does not agree indicates that there is not a consensus on this matter. Murray would did not argue that consensus about a moral issue was crucial to the viability of legislating on or for the moral issue. His concern about consensus took a different path.
Araujo is right to point out that Murray’s Augustinian distinction between “articles of peace” and “articles of faith” in no way implies that he would be indifferent to political decisions which impinge on the ability of the Church to live out her message. Though the effectiveness of his way of viewing public morality (and the American experiment more broadly) can be debated, it is foolish to assert that Murray’s kind of pluralism was simply an echo of secular theories, or that he would have been indifferent to the emergence of a coercive element in what he termed “the modern omnicompitent society-state,” especially when unmoored from the moderating memory of religion.