Magazine article The Human Life Review

The Foundations of American Freedom

Magazine article The Human Life Review

The Foundations of American Freedom

Article excerpt

Anthony DeCicco, 73, the former mayor of Raritan, N.J., is known to his friends by the nickname "Shakey." While he was mayor, DeCicco couldn't help but notice the conduct of some of Raritan's young: They'd taken to congregating near Shakey's restaurant on First Avenue and using language that offended the sensibilities of the town's passing citizens, in particular its elderly. Under his leadership, Raritan responded by enacting into law an ordinance-under the municipal Peace and Good Order Code-simply outlawing the use of obscenity in public.

This caused a predictable stir. The cry came that our liberties were at risk, that a despot was at hand. But those who knew Shakey couldn't see it that way. They saw Shakey not as attempting to restrict the liberty of speech, but rather to define its proper scope, toward the end of protecting innocent folks from embarrassment at the hands of those who did not properly regard their dignity. To the people of Raritan, what's right is right.

Through this small event, Anthony DiCicco had raised a much larger issue. He had acted upon the proposition that freedom of speech, freedom in general, has an external condition: an inherent requirement of decency in its exercise. In fact, he seemed to be saying that a freedom without that requirement is not a freedom at all. It is an abuse.

At about the same time, the question of freedom was being considered in another part of the world by another man, John Paul II. As we'll see, in their different ways these two men shared much the same thoughts, thoughts worthy of a deeper look both for their contents and for what they imply about the American experiment.

While Shakey began with a concern for Raritan's elderly, John Paul II began with a concern for saving souls. In his 1993 encyclical, Veritatis Splendor, he called attention to a passage in the Gospel of Matthew: "Then someone came to Him and said, 'Teacher, what good must I do to have eternal life?' and He said to him, 'Why do you ask me about what is good? There is only one who is good. If you want to enter into life, keep the commandments.' He said to him, 'Which ones?' And Jesus said, 'You shall not murder; you shall not commit adultery; you shall not steal; you shall not bear false witness; honor your father and mother; also you shall love your neighbor as yourself.'"1

John Paul II comments on the passage as follows:

From the context of the conversation, and especially from a comparison of Matthew's text with the parallel in Mark and Luke, it is clear that Jesus does not intend to list each and every one of the commandments required in order to "enter into life", but rather wishes to draw the young man's attention to the "centrality" of the Decalogue ... Nevertheless we cannot fail to notice which commandments of the Law the Lord recalls to the young man. They are some of the commandments belonging to the socalled "second tablet" of the Decalogue, the summary (cf. Rom 13:8-10) and foundation of which is the commandment of love of neighbor: "You shall love your neighbor as yourself (Mt. 19:19; cf. Mk 12:31). In this commandment we find a precise expression of the singular dignity of the human person, "the only creature that God has wanted for its own sake." The different commandments of the Decalogue are really only so many reflections of the one commandment about the good of the person, at the level of the many different goods which characterize his identity as a spiritual and bodily being in relationship with God, with his neighbor and with the material world... The commandments of which Jesus reminds the young man are meant to safeguard the good of the person, the image of God, by protecting his goods .. .2

As the path to eternal life is freely chosen (or rejected), a proper understanding of freedom is essential. John Paul II writes: "The commandments thus represent the basic conditions for love of neighbor; at the same time they are the proof of that love. …

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