Liberty of Conscience: Education and the Font of Moral Decay

Over half a year ago, a reprehensible event occurred in an elementary charter school in Rocklin, California. On the last day of school, a kindergarten teacher hosted a “transitioning ceremony” in which a male kindergartner revealed himself to actually “be a girl.” The teacher explained to the class the boy “was now a girl,” and that the class was to refer to the boy by his “new girl name.” The children were traumatized by the event, with many fearing that they were going to turn into the opposite sex. Parents voiced their complaints to academic officials, but Rocklin Academy Gateway’s principal responded by stating the school’s non-discrimination policy “protects all students regardless of gender, gender identity, and gender expression.” Filled with righteous anger, many Catholics condemned the incident, noting that the school had failed to honor a person’s constitutional right to conscientiously object.

While said Catholics are justified in admonishing an immoral presentation, they err in two ways: (1) by promoting an individual’s “right” to liberty of conscience and (2) by supporting a secular education system. Religious liberty is not the solution, but the root cause of the incident in Rocklin. Public school systems are also culprits in the affair, as institutions not yoked in the Catholic faith inevitably promote error and sinful activities.

A devil’s advocate might interject, noting that the Second Vatican Council encourages non-Catholic educational facilities. According to the document Dignitatis Humanae, non-Catholic individuals have an inherent right to be educated in non-Catholic schools [i]. Therefore, it is unjust for a man to propose a state-sponsored, purely Catholic education system. I counter this and claim that it is not only just, but most agreeable to God to institute Catholic schools and suppress non-Catholic ones. An examination of pre-conciliar papal encyclicals reveals that Church and State should not be separated, but entirely interwoven when it comes to education.

Is Liberty of Conscience Even Catholic?

Before elucidating the necessity of Christian education, a pertinent question must be addressed: does a person have a right to unbridled freedom of conscience? According to the Second Vatican Council, the answer is yes (emphasis added):

This Vatican synod declares that the human person has a right to religious freedom. Such freedom consists in this, that all should have such immunity from coercion by individuals, or by groups, or by any human power, that no one should be forced to act against his conscience in religious matters, nor prevented from acting according to his conscience, whether in private or in public, whether alone or in association with others, within due limits. [ii]

As for pre-Vatican II pontiffs, the answer is an emphatic no. Pope Benedict XIV hailed the Council of Piotrkow’s prohibition placed on liberty of conscience as an action done to the great glory of God [iii]. The erudite pope did not placate non-Catholic parties, but instead praised initiatives taken to prevent Protestant heretics from gaining a foothold in Poland [iv].

Pope Gregory XVI also reproached liberty of conscience. Referring to it as an absurd and erroneous proposition, the pontiff decried liberty of conscience as something that spreads destruction in sacred and civil affairs [v]. Pope Gregory theorized that a total transformation of the mind and corruption of the youth would result from widespread freedom of belief [vi]. The holy father’s words ring true, as the “transitioning ceremony” is an inescapable outcome in a country fixed on allowing anything and everything. Only in a truly Catholic nation, with the Church and State harmoniously intermixed, can such a grave scandal be avoided.

Christian Education: The Church’s Divinely Ordained Mission

With liberty of conscience identified as an offense against Catholic tradition, the debate shifts to schools: should Catholics support public or private schools unaffiliated with the Catholic Church? Based on Dignitatis Humanae’s declarations, government officials must allow non-Catholic schools to be established under their jurisdictions:

Finally, the social nature of man and the very nature of religion afford the foundation of the right of men freely to hold meetings and to establish educational, cultural, charitable and social organizations, under the impulse of their own religious sense. The family, since it is a society in its own original right, has the right freely to live its own domestic religious life under the guidance of parents. Government, in consequence, must acknowledge the right of parents to make a genuinely free choice of schools and of other means of education, and the use of this freedom of choice is not to be made a reason for imposing unjust burdens on parents, whether directly or indirectly. [vii]

This permitting of non-Catholic schools is in direct defiance to the Church’s apostolic mission. In Sacred Scripture, Jesus commands the apostles to profess the truth to all nations:

And Jesus coming, spoke to them, saying: All power is given to Me in heaven and in Earth. Going therefore, teach ye all nations: baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. Teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you: and behold I am with you all days, even to the consummation of the world. [viii]

Preaching Catholic dogma and morality is not limited to the apostles’ endeavors in the first century A.D.; it is an everlasting undertaking for the Catholic Church. Our Lord overtly followed His command to teach all nations with the reminder that He would be with the Church until the end of time. This implies that the Church is to never give up her zeal for educating the world on the absolute truth. Consequently, any departure from this responsibility is a severe transgression of the Divine Law. Members of the Church hierarchy should be tirelessly laboring to enlighten those in heresy, schism, and other errors about the dire state of their souls. They should never support educational systems that encourage people to stay outside the holy Catholic Church.

Promoting Non-Catholic Schools Violates the Supernatural Order

Authorizing non-Catholic schools to fester is not only a sin against the Divine Law, but a crime against the Supernatural Order. Pope Pius XI states that education is a social activity, not a merely individual one [ix]. As such, it is subject to the three societies in which man is born: family and civil society, which are the two societies of the natural order, and the Church, the society of the supernatural order [x].

While education is concerned with all three orders, it belongs pre-eminently to the Church by reason of a double title conferred upon her exclusively by God Himself [xi]. The first part of this title is the Church’s express mission to teach, given to her by Jesus. Pope Pius XI quotes the above-mentioned Bible verse and notes that it is up to the Church to direct men, in their actions individually and socially, to pure morals and integrity of life [xii]. The second part of the title is the Church’s supernatural motherhood, in which she nurtures and educates souls in the divine life of grace with the sacraments and her doctrine [xiii]This title is absolutely superior to any title in the natural order [xiv].

It is a mistake to exalt families’ or communities’ flawed religious beliefs above the Church. Holy Mother Church has a divinely prescribed mandate to educate men in the one true faith. Church leaders who forsake this undertaking, instead advocating that heretics have a right to plunge themselves into heresy, are guilty of a most unjust act.

The Final Verdict

When the Church and State are separated from education, spiritual death ensues. Pope Pius IX warned that considerable harm and evil result when schools disjoin themselves from the Church’s authority and doctrine [xv]. From these schools, the pontiff stated, men destined for duties in public government will be corrupted by errors and false doctrines [xvi]. The pope is correct, as the fruits of secular education have shown themselves to be rotten to the core. Generations of children are now growing up being told that perversity is righteousness and that charitably admonishing perversity is hate speech. The occurrence in Rocklin, California is only the beginning, and the woes are going to continue unless Catholics advocate for the return of unity between Church and State.

I want to conclude this article with an excerpt by monsignor John A. Ryan in his book Catholic Principles of Politics: The State and the Church. Ryan states:

If there is only one true religion, and if its possession is the most important good in life, for states as well as individuals, then the public profession, protection, and promotion of this religion, and the legal prohibition of all direct assaults upon it, becomes one of the most obvious and fundamental duties of the state. For it is the business of the state to safeguard and promote human welfare in all departments of life.

If we profess the Catholic Church is the One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church, and that she was founded by the Lord Jesus Christ on the rock Saint Peter in the year 33 A.D., then why would we ever want outsiders to persevere in false religions? Are not Church officials committing a grave sin against charity when they, instead of evangelizing, promote a person’s “right” to live in error?

Catholics need to break free from the Americanism mold and realize that the separation of Church and State inexorably results in the corruption of morals throughout society. Ardent support for religious freedom and liberty of conscience idolizes the very components that lead to such a terrible system. For due to economic factors, there will always be families that can afford only public schooling. These people eventually come together and say: “We cannot agree on matters of faith. Our school system should be completely free of religion so as to not offend anyone.”

Catholic culture and sanctity of mind can be restored only when the Church and State work together to facilitate education and every other aspect of life.


[i] Dignitatis Humanae, Sections 4-5.

[ii] Dignitatis Humanae, Section 2.

[iii] A Quo Primum, Section 1.

[iv] Ibid.

[v] Mirari Vos, Section 14.

[vi] Ibid.

[vii] Dignitatis Humanae, Sections 4-5.

[viii] Matthew 28: 18-20. Douay-Rheims Bible.

[ix] Divini Illius Magistri, Section 11.

[x] Divini Illius Magistri, Section 14.

[xi] Divini Illius Magistri, Sections 14-15.

[xii] Divini Illius Magistri, Section 16.

[xiii] Divini Illius Magistri, Section 17.

[xiv] Divini Illius Magistri, Section 15.

[xv] Maximae Quidem, Section 4.

[xvi] Ibid.

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