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St Thomas More, Rule of Law, and the Allah controversy

Posted: 28 Oct 2013 09:52 AM PDT 

Law is inevitably informed by morality, but it is not the same thing as morality. When we forget this, when we insist that what is wrong must be unlawful, or that it must be lawful to punish every wrong, we undermine the rule of law.
Catholic of the Parish of St Thomas More, Subang Jaya
Sir Thomas More, known to Catholics as Saint Thomas More, was a lawyer, philosopher, author, statesman, and noted Renaissance humanist. He was a councillor at the court of King Henry VIII and Lord Chancellor of his court for 4 years (1592 - 1532).
Thomas More vigorously opposed the "Reformation" especially the teachings of Martin Luther and William Tyndale whose books he burned and whose followers he persecuted. He also wrote "Utopia", in 1516, about the political system of an ideal and imaginary island nation. 
Thomas More later bitterly opposed the King's separation from the Catholic church and refused to accept him as Supreme Head of the Church of England because it disparaged papal authority and Henry's marriage to Catherine of Aragon.
Thomas More lost his head (literally) because of this opposition to the King.
Pope Pius XI declared him as St Thomas More in 1935. Pope John Paul II in 2000 declared More the "Patron of Statesmen and Politicians".
What has this St Thomas More got to do with the Allah controversy? I believe that we as Catholics in this country should abide by the "rule of law".
Law is inevitably informed by morality, but it is not the same thing as morality. When we forget this, when we insist that what is wrong must be unlawful, or that it must be lawful to punish every wrong, we undermine the rule of law.
Is there a "law" that says Catholics or otherwise refer to God as "Allah"? if we don't than are we running foul of the laws of our religious beliefs? Why is the Catholic church taking this "fight" to the courts knowing that the courts simply can't base their judgement on "pure evidence" in this case? 
If we really look at the issue, it is not really for the courts to decide but really for the duly appointed Home Minister, who is duty bound and charged to ensure the preservation of law and order in this country as best as he knows how, and in this case he "felt" rightly or wrongly that the continual use of the word by The Herald may lead to "confusion" and eventual mayhem (that was his decision and the "law" provides for him to make such a decision).
It was an "immoral" decision that infringes on a basic right to use the word to refer to God, but the Home Minister had the lawfully given right to impose this ban and the law gives him that right and we as a nation based on the rule of law are bound by this.
Thomas More was a man deeply committed to the "rule of law", he would even give the devil himself the benefit of doubt, if he had not broken the "rule of law". Yes, it is "morally" wrong to ban the use of the word in The Herald, but was the law of the land broken? In this instance?
Morality tells us what is wrong. Law tells us what is wrong according to the laws of this country. And everyone's safety depends on our remembering this distinction and not insisting, going beyond the law, that every wrong - moral or otherwise - must be punished. To do so is to liberate power from the restraints of law.
For Thomas More, nations can arrive at anarchy by two very different paths. A decent public order can be as easily destroyed by either of two opposed, but equally incorrect, dispositions: A cynical indifference to the moral law fosters chaos, but so too does the moralistic manipulation of law.
President Obama claims that the Assad regime must be punished, by military force if necessary, for allegedly using chemical weapons in Syria's civil war. Such an action was surely an atrocity, but was it a crime?
As several commentators have observed, and as even the president has admitted in his public remarks, Syria is not a signatory of the chemical weapons ban. Since international law is a product of treaties, the prohibition was not legally binding on Syria. To adapt Thomas More's language, Assad may have played the "Devil" but he did not "break the law" by using chemical weapons.
So how do we Catholics deal with this immoral issue? We are morally in the right to continue to use the word, in our publications and speech, but we "break the law of the land" or so to speak if we do so. 

I still strongly believe that "dialogue" and taking time to see another person's point of view can resolve this issue amicably. Maybe we should take a different approach; the courts are surely not the way. Maybe we should withdraw and let God take care of this, maybe we should just let go. Time heals, thinking matures, and governments can be changed. 


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