Respect others' rights, but also their values

FATHER ROBERT SIRICO

If an award were to be given for the Most Contentious Religious Story of 2010, the two main contenders would undoubtedly be two Islam-related stories: the threatened burning of the Quran in Florida and the plan to build an Islamic cultural center near the site of ground zero in New York.

Alexis de Tocqueville
1805-1859

These stories remind us of a valuable lesson at the core of America's founding. I am not speaking here of tolerance, but of what makes tolerance possible: the right to private property, and of something even deeper – the freedom such property allows.

The pastor in Florida is by all accounts a marginal figure whose fame has been aided by the media, fueled by the technologies that amplify any opinion or action. Soon, the pastor will recede from the spotlight.

The plan to construct the Islamic center is supported by numerous personalities, costs a great deal of money and will be a rather permanent fixture once erected.

At the legal and political heart of each of these occurrences is a bedrock principle: the right to private property, which is to say: the right of a pastor to destroy a book he owns and the right of a group of Muslims to build in lower Manhattan on property they own.

We do well to remember that the right to property is never merely the right to the possession of some material object in itself. Beyond possession, it involves its production, creation and disposition as well. And while the right to private property is not absolute, it is nonetheless sacred and to be respected both in culture and in law for reasons relating to the very nature of human beings. The right to property is just a smart idea because it ensures numerous other liberties that make for a free society.

I find the idea of burning a text considered sacred by others to be both stupid and odious. Other than offending people, I am not sure what the purpose would be.

I can better understand the purpose of building an Islamic center, though I think it is a very bad idea and one that is generating as much consternation in its own context as had even the threat of burning Qurans has in another.

Do these people have the right to do these things, all things being even?

Yes.

Ought they to be doing this?

I'm afraid not.

The greatest moments in our history have been when we have exceeded the requirements of the law to create a society that is more than "just" but is also good.

And this brings us to the core of the issue: not one of right, but a matter of prudence and culture. Surely, the right to private property, eroded in so many ways by politics and legislation, is indispensible and necessary if we are to have a free society.

Yet, it is not sufficient if we are to achieve a good one. For that we require forbearance with one another, that is not mistaken for agreement. The greatest moments in our history have been when we have exceeded the requirements of the law to create a society that is more than "just" but is also good.

That sage commentator on religion in America, Alexis de Tocqueville put it about right when he asked how "society should escape destruction if the moral tie is not strengthened in proportion as the political tie is relaxed?"

 

 



ACKNOWLEDGEMENT

Rev. Robert A. Sirico. "Respect others' rights, but also their values." Detroit News: Faith and Policy (September 21, 2010).

Reprinted with permission of the author Rev. Robert A. Sirico.

THE AUTHOR

Father Sirico is president of the Acton Institute for the Study of Religion and Liberty in Grand Rapids, Mich. As president of the Acton Institute, Fr. Sirico lectures at colleges, universities, and business organizations throughout the U.S. and abroad. His writings on religious, political, economic, and social matters are published in a variety of journals, including: the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, Forbes, the London Financial Times, the Washington Times, the Detroit News, and National Review. Father Sirico is often called upon by members of the broadcast media for statements regarding economics, civil rights, and issues of religious concern, and has provided commentary for CNN, ABC, the BBC, NPR, and CBS' 60 Minutes, among others. He is the author or co-author of The Call of the Entrepreneur Study Guide, Catholicism Developing Social Teaching, The Free Person and the Free Economy: A Personalist View of Market Economics, Capitalism, Morality & Markets, Skepticism, Faith, and Freedom, A Moral Basis for Liberty, Catholicism’s Developing Social Teaching, and Environmentalism and its Spiritual Implications.

Copyright © 2010 Acton Institute




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