Freedom of Conscience, Tudor Style

SEAN MURPHY

"No opposition, I say!" he roared. "No opposition! Your conscience is your own affair, but you are my Chancellor!"

St. Thomas More
(1478-1535)

"Thomas, I’ll have no opposition," warned Henry VIII in A Man for All Seasons. The scene in Robert Bolt’s play takes place in Sir Thomas More’s garden.Henry has just learned that More does not support his plans to unmake his marriage.

"No opposition, I say!" he roared. "No opposition! Your conscience is your own affair, but you are my Chancellor!"

"I’ll leave you out of it," growls the king. "But I don’t take it kindly, Thomas, and I’ll have no opposition!. . . Lie low if you will, but I’ll brook no opposition — no words, no signs, no letters, no pamphlets — mind that, Thomas — no writings against me!"1

Freedom of conscience, Tudor style.

Sound familiar? In Canada, we call it "party discipline" and "cabinet solidarity."

A Man for All Seasons follows More as he resigns his office and retires to private life, avoiding comment upon the King’s marriage. But, ultimately, ‘lying low’ isn’t enough. More’s silence, complains Thomas Cromwell, "is bellowing up and down Europe,"2 and, what’s worse, Henry can hear it. "The King’s a man of conscience,"says Cromwell, "and he wants either Sir Thomas More to bless his marriage or Sir Thomas More destroyed."3

It took three more years to accomplish More’s destruction, for new laws were needed to indict such disturbers of the king’s conscience. Unlike Canadian superior court judges, even Henry VIII could not ignore parliament or single-handedly make and unmake the law of the land.

Though still married to Catherine of Aragon, Henry had a private wedding ceremony with Anne Boleyn in January, 1533. The Archbishop of Canterbury later declared the marriage of Henry and Catherine invalid, and the Act of Succession was passed in March, 1534, to ensure that their progeny could legally succeed to the throne.

But the Act of Succession also asserted that Henry had not been truly married to Catherine and declared his marriage to Anne Boleyn valid. It made it treason to question or speak against the marriage of Henry and Anne, and almost treason to criticize the Act itself. Finally, citizens were required to swear an oath to defend the full contents of the Act, including its statements about marriage. "Almost immediately," wrote Richard Marius, a biographer of More, "the English people were subjected to a swarm of commissioners buzzing through the country to administer the oath to everyone they could find."4

In April, 1534, More refused the oath and was imprisoned in the Tower of London. Thomas Cromwell and his minions closed remaining legal loopholes with the passage of three more statutes, among them the Act of Supremacy, which pronounced Henry the "only Supreme Head on earth of the Church in England." The law claimed its first victims in May, 1535. More was beheaded two months later, and others followed.

All of this to serve the personal dreams and aspirations of Henry VIII. He wanted recognition of his children by Anne as his legal successors, but he also demanded public and universal affirmation that his relationship with Anne Boleyn was worthy of the same respect and recognition as his marriage to Catherine. He got his way by having parliament pass statutes that not only defined marriage in his terms, but punished any expression of opposition.


Sir Thomas More was jailed because he was suspected of ‘misprision of treason’ — of having treasonous intentions. Some human rights laws now make it unlawful to ‘indicate an intention to discriminate.’


Jay Budziszewski ascribes this frantic effort to silence all opposition to ‘the revenge of conscience’. The law written on the human heart cannot be obliterated. It can be denied, but the reproach of conscience at the deepest levels never, ever stops.5 That is why even More’s silence was, finally, intolerable; it was less than acceptance, less than approval. "If you cannot convert your critics by argument," writes historian John Thomas Noonan, "at least by law you can make them recognize that your course is the course of the country."6

Canada is following in Henry’s footsteps. Judges tell us that to deny persons of the same sex the right to ‘marry’ would be "a rejection of their personal aspirations and the denial of their dreams."7 They assert that same-sex couples may not be "excluded" from marrying because that would mean their relationships are "not worthy of the same respect and recognition as opposite-sex relationships."8 Citing the ‘rule of law,’ these judges are demanding public and universal affirmation that there is no moral difference between homosexual and heterosexual conduct, that both are "worthy of the same respect and recognition," and they are demanding that all citizens unconditionally accept their definition of marriage.

Canadians who oppose the marriage bill need not fear imprisonment or execution if Martin’s bill passes, and there are no plans to compel us to swear allegiance to the new order. But there is good reason to expect the kind of pervasive legal persecution and oppression visited upon Tudor England. It will look different in 21st century Canada, for when history repeats itself it adopts the costumes and customs the age.

Sir Thomas More was jailed because he was suspected of ‘misprision of treason’ — of having treasonous intentions. Some human rights laws now make it unlawful to ‘indicate an intention to discriminate.’9 BC teacher Chris Kempling ran afoul of this when he spoke publicly against homosexual conduct in response to others — including other teachers — who were speaking in favour of it. He was charged for professional misconduct and is threatened with suspension for ‘indicating an intention to discriminate.’ Call it ‘misprision of discrimination.’

The judge who rejected Kempling’s appeal clearly holds that authentic Christian teaching that proscribes homosexual conduct is a lie; that it is not merely derogatory, but harmful and damaging; that it is wrong, and that those who articulate such teachings deserve to be punished.10 It is reasonable to expect that the same accusations will be hurled by judges against Christian teaching on marriage.

If we will not be allowed to speak publicly, what about conscientious objection?

Ask the Catholic high school principal ordered by a judge to let a homosexually active student bring his ‘date’ to a school dance.11 Ask Scott Brockie, a Christian printer fined and ordered to serve Gay and Lesbian Archives of Canada,12 an organization that not only promotes homosexual conduct but promotes pro-paedophilia literature.13 Ask the marriage commissioners who have already been ordered to resign if they will not perform services for persons of the same sex.14 Ask the Knights of Columbus, sued by lesbians because they refused to rent their hall to them for a ‘wedding’ reception.15

Judges are demanding that every citizen submit to their ideas about sexuality and marriage. Like Robert Bolt’s Henry, they will brook no opposition to the new order. They will not send objectors to jail or to the scaffold, but they will fine them, award monetary judgements against them, see them suspended or fired, force their schools to close, and order that all children be taught their new doctrines. And this government applaud, because Paul Martin has chosen to serve these judges rather than the people who elected him: to play the part of Thomas Cromwell rather than Thomas More.

Endnotes:

  1. Bolt, Robert, A Man for All Seasons. Act One. Scarborough, Ont.: Bellhaven House, 1968, p. 33
  2. Ibid, Act Two, p. 58
  3. Ibid, Act Two, p. 70
  4. Marius, Richard, Thomas More. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1985, p. 459
  5. cf. Budziszewski, J., What We Can’t Not Know: A Guide. Dallas, Texas: Spence Publishing, 2003
  6. Noonan, J.T., A Private Choice. New York: The Free Press, 1979, p. 82. Quoted in Budziszewski, supra, p. 154
  7. Barbeau v. British Columbia (Egale Canada Inc. v. Canada) BCCA (1 May, 2003), para. 130
  8. Halpern v. Attorney General of Canada Ont CA (10 June, 2003), para. 94
  9. Human Rights Code, R.S.B.C. 1996, c. 211, Section 7(1)
  10. Kempling v. The British Columbia College of Teachers, 2004 BCSC 133
  11. Hall (Litigation guardian of) v. Powers [2002] O.J. No. 1803 Ontario Superior Court of Justice. Court File No. 02-CV-227705CM3. Judgment: May 10, 2002. Most relevant to this paper, the judicial suppression of religious freedom in the Hall case is supported by Equal Marriage for Same-Sex Couples: http://www.samesexmarriage.ca/advocacy/marc_hall_injunction_decision.htm (Accessed 2005-03-24)
  12. Ontario Human Rights Commission v. Scott Brockie, Ont. Superior Court of Justice, Divisional Court (2002) O.J. No. 2375, Court File No. 179/00 [17 June, 2002]
  13. For example: Gerald Hannon, "Men Loving Boys Loving Men", The Body Politic, Issue 39, December 1977/January 1978. "This is an archived ‘original web site’ brought to you by the: Canadian Lesbian and Gay Archives, © 1997-2004. Contact information. This page is: http://www.clga.ca/Material/Records/docs/hannon/ox/mbm.htm. (add to Favourites). Last revised: December 14, 1995." Accessed 9 July, 2003, 14 April, 2004, and 23 March, 2005.
  14. "In a letter Tuesday, B.C. Commissioners were given an ultimatum from the B.C. Vital Statistics Agency, which stated that any Commissioner ‘who feels that they cannot solemnize same-sex marriages’ must ‘resign their appointments’ by March 31. The letter gave no details about what would happen if a Commissioner refused to step down." VANCOUVER, January 23, 2004 (LifeSiteNews.com)
  15. B.C. lesbians fight to hold wedding reception in Catholic hall (25 January, 2005) http://www.cbc.ca/story/canada/national/2005/01/24/lesbian-wedding-050124.html Accessed 2005-01-27


ACKNOWLEDGEMENT

Sean Murphy "Freedom of Conscience, Tudor Style." CERC (March 31, 2005).

Reprinted with permission of Sean Murphy.

Catholic Civil Rights League assists in creating conditions within which Catholic teachings can be better understood, cooperates with other organizations in defending civil rights in Canada, and opposes defamation and discrimination against Catholics on the basis of their beliefs. The Catholic Civil Rights League is a Canadian non-profit organization entirely supported by the generosity of its members.

THE AUTHOR

Sean Murphy is the administrator of the Protection of Conscience Project and a director for Western Canada of the Catholic Civil Rights League. Sean Murphy is on the advisory board of the Catholic Educator's Resource Center.

Copyright © 2005 Sean Murphy


Subscribe to CERC's Weekly E-Letter

 

 

Not all articles published on CERC are the objects of official Church teaching, but these are supplied to provide supplementary information.