In 2013, this blogger reported on the political earthquake of Bishop Thomas Tobin, the prefect of the Providence, Rhode Island, Roman Catholic diocese, who switched parties and became a Republican in deep blue Rhode Island. Very succinctly, he explained his party-switch to the Associated Press:
The a-ha moment for me was the 2012 Democratic National Convention. It was just awful.
The Democratic National Committee attempted to remove references to God, as well as recognition of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel
I just said I can’t be associated structurally with that group, in terms of abortion and NARAL [Pro-Choice America] and Planned Parenthood and [the] same-sex marriage agenda and cultural destruction I saw going on.
As a matter of religion and conscience, Tobin withdrew his life-long support from one political party to join another. In many countries and throughout history, religious officials have been closely (and in many cases forcibly) tied to the state and have adhered to the dictates of the government. For any priest or prelate to declare political affiliation — let alone change them — was unheard of.
Today, this right and other fundamental freedoms outlined in the First Amendment (speech, press, petition, religion, as well as assembly) are under attack. Yet Tobin’s example shows that in spite of government threats to interest groups, and the threats of certain groups toward individual expression, the First Amendment is alive and well, and well worth fighting for.
In a uniquely American fashion, Tobin criticized Pope Francis and the Holy See. CNS reports:
Thomas J. Tobin, the Catholic bishop for the Diocese of Providence, R.I., commented on the recent Synod of Bishops on the Family held at the Vatican as “being rather Protestant” in having bishops vote on “doctrinal applications,” and added that in terms of Pope Francis’s fondness for a “creating a mess,” you can say, “mission accomplished.”
Indeed, truth and doctrine are not a matter of debate and discussion, but fact and revelation, independent of popular opinion. Cultural norms are falling apart in large part because moral behavior and ethical conduct are becoming a matter of opinion instead of verity. What also stands out about these remarks is that, centuries ago, bishops would never challenge the Pope on doctrinal or procedural matters. This “impolitick” nature is a unique habit among American Catholics.
Bishop Tobin remarked on his blog page beyond the current culture wars:
It’s an enormous challenge to maintain pristine doctrinal purity while at the same time respond to the experiential, personal, and difficult needs of married couples and families. Behind every arcane discussion of gradualism and natural law there are parents and children awaiting God’s grace.
It is a challenge, but no one should quit fighting for it, and one’s right to speak one’s mind on these pressing concerns.
Tobin shared strong words about the Supreme Court’s redefinition of marriage, too:
A thousand courts may rule otherwise, but the very notion of “same-sex marriage” is morally wrong and a blatant rejection of God’s plan for the human family. As Pope Francis taught while serving as Archbishop in Argentina: “Same-sex marriage is not simply a political struggle, but it is an attempt to destroy God’s plan.”
Regardless of one’s views on same-sex marriage, no one should disdain Bishop Tobin’s capacity to speak clearly and respectfully his views. Unfortunately, “respectful, charitable, and constructive” do not describe the gay left. LGBTQ activist George Takei defamed a dissenting Associate Justice as “a clown in blackface.” U.S. Senator Tammy Baldwin of Wisconsin (along with Rhode Island’s U.S. Senators) have voted to curtail the First Amendment by setting limits to campaign financing. When it comes to freedom of religion, Baldwin specifically redefined the First Amendment as functioning only in churches. City officials have endured attacks for their beliefs, too.
Thomas Jefferson, the drafter of the Declaration of Independence, and the third President of the United States, did not believe that liberties stopped at one’s front door. He outlined as much and more in his Virginia Statutes on Religious Freedom.
Later, Tobin praised the resilience of government clerks in Texas who refused to give out marriage licenses to gay couples:
A county clerk in Hood County Texas isn’t going to issue marriage licenses to same sex couples because, she said, she has rights, too. “I will not be issuing same-sex marriage licenses due to my religious convictions,” Katie Lang wrote. Lang said that the Constitution guarantees her freedom of religion too. (CNN)
Congratulations to Ms. Lang for her courageous stand! We need many more conscientious objectors — people of courage who will abide by their conscience, protect their religious rights.
Whatever one’s views on homosexuality, abortion, gun rights, or immigration, the freedom to have and to hold, to believe and live according to one’s conscience, should not be infringed.
Americans must not forget the struggles which this country’s Founders (from Roger Williams to the Framers of the Constitution) endured to ensure “the blessings of liberty.” Rhode Islanders definitely should respect Bishop Tobin’s full exercise and defense of the First Amendment. Not just conscientious objectors, but defenders of the freedom of conscience, religion, and the press are needed now more than ever in the United States.