Rights, Liberties, and Social Justice

How America Lost Its Moral Authority
The Ethics and Politics of Science and Religion, Abortion, Intelligent Design, Women's Rights, and the Separation Between Church and State

John W. Sweeley

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ISBN: 978-1-57733-206-0, 452 pp., 6x9, paperback, $29.95

The religions right, both conservative Roman Catholics and Evangelicals characterized by their disdain and disregard of the Constitutional separation between church and state, has melded with the political right until there is no distinction between them. Thus they have become a de facto political party unto themselves and the religious right is no longer simply the religious right. It has become the Radical Religious Right with one agenda: to make their faith beliefs the law of the land imposed on all Americans whether we share those beliefs or not.

We need to be uncomfortable with people who say, I have found the Lord, and then go on to be uncharitable and intolerant with those who have not had the same experience. We need to be uncomfortable with people who as a consequence of their intolerance, especially when it is predicated on their religious beliefs, seek to deny the fullness of God's love and equal rights to homosexuals because their faith beliefs teach that homosexuals are either an "abomination" or "objectively disordered."

The Dogma of the Immaculate Conception, proclaimed by the Roman Catholic Church in 1854, declared that Mary the mother of Jesus was born without "the stain of Original Sin on her soul." As Mary was born without Origin Sin, the Roman Catholic Church declared that ensoulment occurred at "the moment of conception." Consequently ensoulment, not the biology of human conception which is a process that takes 36-48 hours to complete, was defined as the beginning of human life and personhood. Thus, "the moment of conception" is a theological construction predicated on the Dogma of the Immaculate Conception and has nothing to do with procreation. The concept of "the moment of conception" is rejected by developmental biologists as a nonsense term which means that its use to define human life and deny legal abortion is also nonsense.

"Intelligent Design" cannot be seen in operation or tested by experiment. It is a statement of Evangelical faith, not a scientific theory. There has been no research into "Intelligent Design" to determine its validity and none is possible because "Intelligent Design" is not measurable by the scientific method. Its only reason for existence is to discredit evolution.

I almost shudder at the thought of alluding to the most fatal example of the abuses of grief which the history of mankind has preserved -- the Cross. Consider what calamities that engine of grief has produced. John Adams, letter to Thomas Jefferson

And I have no doubt that every new example will succeed, as every past one has done, in shewing that religion & Govt will both exist in greater purity, the less they are mixed together.
Thomas Jefferson, letter to Peter Carr, August 10, 1787

Of all the systems of religion that ever were invented, there is no more derogatory to the Almighty, more unedifying to man, more repugnant to reason, more contradictory to itself than this thing called Christianity. Thomas Paine, The Age of Reason


"I want to thank Father John Sweeley, Th.D., for his truthful book about the true intentions of the Radical Religious Right and its attempt to remake the United States of America into a theocracy in its own image. Father Sweeley's book supports freedom of individual conscience and freedom of worship. However, the goal of the Radical Religious Right to remake America into a theocracy undermines the right of all citizens to live in an America as created by the Founding Fathers with a wall of separation between Church and state. Denial of separation of Church and state betrays the very foundation of how this country was formed: under God, but with Liberty and Justice FOR ALL." Most Rev. Richard Alston Gundrey, Presiding Archbishop of the world-wide Catholic Apostolic Church of Antioch

"In his latest book, Fr. John W. Sweeley examines some of the most important moral and political issues of our time. He uses his considerable intellect and scholarship in history, theology and ethics to illuminate the origins of the American Experiment and describe the path that has inexorably lead to a State diametrically opposed to the ideals and warnings of the Founding Fathers. For anyone who loves freedom and democracy, for anyone concerned with the future of our children and the world, Rights, Liberties, and Social Justice must be an integral part of their 'survival kit.'" The Reverend Daniel P. Dangaran, D.Min., Dean, Sophia Divinity School

"Fr. Sweeley's book is a must read for those of us dismayed at the entrenched politics of the Religious Right and their assault on the constitutional separation of church and state. As Fr. Sweeley writes, 'Today America is in crisis not unlike that of the former Soviet Union. It is not in crisis from the threat of an external nation but rather the threat posed by the Radical Religious right that has hijacked both what it means to be Christian in America and America itself.'

"Relevant and provable historical facts are the foundation of Fr. Sweeley's scholarship, and he demonstrates an amazing grasp of scientific and religious history. He uses these timelines to show how language, and Christianity, have been co-opted by the Radical Religious right to disguise untruth. For example, in order to study the debate of Evolution vs. Intelligent Design, he tackles the history of the church through the emergence of Copernicus and science to the discoveries of Darwin.

"As this book so amply illustrates, rather than becoming enmeshed in 'below the waist' morals as the Religious Right ask us to do, God asks us to offer love to one another. As Fr. Sweeley says, 'Can we accept less of ourselves?'" Janet Sunderland, Aux. Bishop of the Catholic Church of Antioch, Kansas City, Missouri

"A heartfelt book, explaining the roots of the present administration's imperialistic actions, undermining democracy, accelerating the decline of the middle class and the American economy. The rich are getting richer, and the poor poorer. The government is exposed as fiscally irresponsible and morally bankrupt. Impeachment is mandated." K. Michael Murphy, DDS, MS

"Morality is the basis of law, but has America lost its way in morality? Rights, Liberties, and Social Justice: How America Lost Its Moral Authority is an analysis of morality and the law from John W. Sweeley. He criticizes the religious right for clouding the morality of law, stating that the separation between church and state is as thin as it has ever been. He discusses intelligent design, biblical beliefs against science and their effects on civil liberties, especially when it comes to gay rights and women's rights. Rights, Liberties, and Social Justice is a fascinating and enlightening read, highly recommended." Midwest Book Review

Book Review

I found every chapter in John W. Sweeley's Rights, Liberties, and Social Justice: How American Lost Its Moral Authority enormously useful when it comes to social justice theory. Since theory is my personal playground in social justice scholarship, this book is excellent for me and for my colleagues as well.

Throughout this book Dr. Sweeley's major strength is his ability to separate theology and present political power from texts of divine revelation. He completes a picture of resistance to the religious right that has been mysteriously incomplete until now.

Consider the first chapter of the book. It is fantastic! It is the best discussion of how biblical religion has considered abortion as acceptable that I have ever seen; maybe that has been written in over a decade. This chapter needs to get into the hands of feminists and labor movement activists as soon as possible. Right now, secular movements are in heated debate with religious movements to ban abortion again. Their arguments do not meet each other in the mainstream media. Imagine the activist networks that could be created with the political power to affirm reproductive rights and the basic principles of distributive justice reproduction is connected to if these secular movements had access to Dr. Sweeley's no-nonsense, articulate argument and the examples he gives.

Here is the strength of his argument about homosexuality. The "don't-ask-don't-tell" paragraph does something wonderful. The line between tolerance and acceptance is thin but very, very, discrete. People who tolerate homosexuality do so in order to deny the legitimacy of the lives of their family and friends who are gay. Acceptance means building a community based on love. What Dr. Sweeley does is to blur the line between tolerance and acceptance. This is important and a gem to find. Shifting from a society of tolerance to a society of acceptance is an almost impossible task, and the first step is definitely demonstrating that the line can be blurred.

I would like a copy of Dr. Sweeley's Rights, Liberties, and Social Justice: How America Lost Its Moral Authority to go next to Lewis Lapham and Earl Shorris on my bookshelf.

Terry Trowbridge, MA in Social Justice and Equity Studies, Brock University, Canada

Table of Contents


Chapter 1. The Radical Religious Right: Who Are They? What Do They Want? Why Are They Wrong?
Rise of the Religious Right
The Political and Religious Right
Rise of the Radical Religious Right
World View of the Radical Religious Right
Pope John Paul II’s Error
The Conscience in Error
Poisoned Fruits of the Radical Religious Right
Abortion in Judaism
Reciprocity of Consciences

Chapter 2. Bozo and the Theologian: A Dialogue on the Separation of Church and State
Dialogue Between Bozo and the Theologian

Chapter 3. Walking the Pilgrim’s Path--Peace and Justice on Our Journey: Critique of the Social and Political Agenda of the Radical Religious Right
Understanding Peace and Justice
Assessment and Analysis of Categories

Chapter 4. Intelligent Design as the Wolf of Evangelical Faith Beliefs in Sheep’s Clothing: The Apostolic Age to Evolution
The Development of Christianity
The Enlightenment
The Science of Evolution

Chapter 5. Intelligent Design as the Wolf of Evangelical Faith Beliefs in Sheep’s Clothing: Why Intelligent Design Is Not Science
The Problem with Creationism
Intelligent Design
Evolutionary Creation
The Problem with Intelligent Design
Why Intelligent Design Is Not Science

Chapter 6. The Radical Religious Right’s Homophobia: Biblical Inerrancy and Natural Law Gone Amuck
Matthew 25:31-45
The Radical Religious Right’s Homophobia
Jesus on Homosexuality
Historical Judaism on Homosexuality
Exegesis of Leviticus 18:3, 22; 20:13, 23 and Deuteronomy 23:18
Reform Judaism on Homosexuality
The Fruit of Chesed Is Justice
Informed Conscience and the Radical Religious Right

Chapter 7. The Catholic Argument in support of Abortion: Obedience vs. Informed Conscience
Historical and Catholic Understandings of Life, Ensoulment, and Licitness of Abortion
Response to Magisterial Teaching
When Human Life Begins

Chapter 8. The Catholic Argument in Support of Abortion: Obedience vs. Conscience
Scientific Theory, Informed Conscience, and Canon Law

Current Scientific Views of When Human Life Begins
Informed Conscience
Roman Catholic Theology on Abortion

Chapter 9. Moral Values Below the Waist vs. the Immorality of Poverty
America at War with Itself
God’s Love, the Poor, and the Church
Agents of Poverty
Republican Economic Policy

Chapter 10. Moral Values Below the Waist vs. the Immorality of the Assault on Women’s Health Care
The State of America’s Health Care
The Republican Lopsided Health Care Plan
The Convoluted Cost of Cancer Drugs
The Impact of Radical Religious Right Faith Beliefs on Sex Education
The Radical Religious Right vs. HPV Cervical Cancer Vaccine
Faith-Based Initiative Programs’ Impact on Women’s Reproductive Health

Chapter 11. Fascism of the Radical Religious Right: America Not So Beautiful
The Purveyors of Tyranny
The Emperor Without Any Clothes



What does it mean to speak in the name of the Lord in defense of the poor, marginalized, and disenfranchised? In light of the hijacking of both what it means to be Christian in America and America itself by the Radical Religious-Right who are radical but not particularly religious and certainly not right, it means speaking out in defense of the Constitution as the Founding Fathers meant it to be. It means speaking out and opposing the social and political agenda of the Radical Religious-Right whenever, wherever, and however possible. It means that individual rights and liberties are God given and are to be exercised pursuant to one's informed conscience, in privacy, without having the faith beliefs of conservative Roman Catholics, Evangelicals, and others who support their truncated vision of both faith and government imposed upon us.

The bottom line is there is no freedom of conscience in any religious denomination that is dogmatic and fundamentalist; that is, one that believes only it knows what truth is because God informed only them of its nature. In those denominations, truth ceases to be based on objective criteria and is made to conform to dogmatic statements, divinely revealed faith beliefs, and biblical inerrancy.

In those denominations, the exercise of one's conscience is compromised and becomes nuanced pursuant to the "truth of God" as proclaimed by the purveyors of orthodoxy. Decisions reached and acts undertaken as a consequence of one's informed conscience that are oppositional to "the truth of orthodoxy" are given labels such as secular humanism, relativism, un-biblical, against natural law, and against the divine order of humanity as ordained by God. We see this evidenced by the Radical Religious-Right, both conservative Roman Catholics and Evangelicals, in their fixation on what the Chilean feminist writer Rosario Guzman Bravo calls, "moral values below the waist."

It is the obsession the Radical Religious-Right has with "moral values below the waist" such as birth control, emergency contraception, abortion, assisted reproduction, fetal stem cell research, and homosexuality to the virtual exclusion of the greater moral evils of poverty, hunger, lack of health care, rape of the environment, our broken educational system, the plight of migrants, oppression of women and other minorities, the invasion of Iraq that constitutes the greater moral evil than any self-defined and self-proclaimed "moral evil below the waist."

In their all-out assault against what they perceive as the breaking of "moral values below the waist," the Radical Religious-Right has instituted a cataclysmic battle in their words "for the soul of America." Their method is to strip from the Constitution and eradicate our constitutionally guaranteed rights and liberties exercised pursuant to our informed conscience that are protected by the constitutional principle of privacy.

Blue Dolphin Publishing, 2009

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