What Will ‘Religious Liberty’ Mean in a Post-Hobby Lobby Context?

July 31, 2014

LGBT demonstrators outside the Supreme Court

Balancing the goods of religious liberty and equality under the law is a centuries-old process in the U.S., but it has entered a new phase after the Supreme Court’s Hobby Lobby decision. That decision expanded corporate personhood and opened the door for businesses to take actions that would otherwise be considered discrimination if not for the corporations’ new ability to possess religious beliefs.

In this emerging reality, how will the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) be affected, what will religious liberty look like, and how will LGBT people be affected?

A new four-minute video from the Coalition for Liberty and Justice (of which New Ways Ministry is a member) lays out the challenges an unbalanced understanding of religious liberty could pose. It notes the fundamental role religious freedom has been granted in American history–both freedom of religion and freedom from religion–and that long-held understandings are currently being changed.

Specific to LGBT rights, the video highlights the firing of Carla Hale who taught at a Catholic school in Columbus, Ohio before being fired when her long term committed relationship to another woman became public in an obituary for  Carla’s mother. The school was legally protected in the discriminatory firing because of its religious identity. The video notes:

“This is not an isolated issue. Carla’s story is just one of many where men and women are being forced out of institutions run by religious organizations for being gay, for being single and pregnant, for being married, or for using in vitro fertilization.”

New Ways Ministry has tracked related employment issues at Catholic institutions since 2008, which you can access by clicking here. You can view the Coalition’s video in full below or by clicking here.

Catholic publications, which have regularly covered domestic religious liberty controversies, published prolifically about Hobby Lobby and what it means for religious liberty in the US. Cathleen Kaveny wrote a lengthy piece for Commonweal that is worth one’s time to read in its entirety. She explains how the Supreme Court’s decision came to be, and what implications it may have for the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, which has helped balance competing claims since the 1990s. Kaveny writes:

“So, at this early date, it very much remains to be seen whether the Court has issued a narrow or sweeping decision with regard to the scope of religious exemptions from laws such as the Affordable Care Act…It is the future course of cases that makes me worry about the majority opinion—not the outcome in this particular case. For what the Court has done in the Hobby Lobby case is transform the Religious Freedom Restoration Act [RFRA]—a statute enacted by Congress to counteract a bad Supreme Court decision that harmed powerless religious minorities—into a tool for powerful minorities to resist what they believe to be dangerous social and political change. For example, it is not hard to see how the religious exemptions justified in the Hobby Lobby decision could also be applied to businesses that object to dealing with same-sex couples…

“The test [regarding RFRA claims] proffered in the majority opinion in Hobby Lobby amounts to little more than judicial intuitionism. Does the government have a compelling state interest, say, in combatting racism? In the majority opinion, Alito suggests the answer is yes—but we’re not sure on what grounds. What about combatting discrimination on the grounds of gender or sexual orientation? My guess is that he would say no, but there’s no way to know. The logic of the Hobby Lobby decision is, I fear, as arbitrary as it is partisan.”

Washington Post columnist E.J. Dionne observed that the Court’s decision is also rooted in class divisions, privileging corporations over the rights of individuals and workers.

Jesuit Fr. John Whitney wrote for America‘s blog about the troubling notion of granting personal rights to corporations and the negative impact this will have on the common good. As an aside, one wonders how some Catholics support a vision of religious liberty which does not privilege the marginalized in our society while advocating for discrimination against women and LGBT people.

Moving forward, the editors of the National Catholic Reporter predict further legal difficulties, saying “One of the few certainties…is a guarantee of more litigation.” Their editorial wades into healthcare accommodations, but continues by pointing out such accommodations are not possible in other instances, like LGBT rights:

“The U.S. Catholic bishops, the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, and like-minded religious freedom warriors might cheer victory in this instance, but it is a thin liberty bought on the cheap with a blind eye to the long-term implications written into the fine print of this deal…

“The real questions in the future — having granted corporations religious personhood — is how the reasoning of this case will come to bear on issues like spousal benefits for gays, stem cell treatments, rental space for gay receptions and the like. In such cases, the cost cannot be dumped on an insurance company. Whatever accommodations are finally arrived at for the Affordable Care Act will only be the equivalent of a legal Band-Aid that may work for the contraceptive mandate. It won’t for tougher cases further on down the road.”

Finally, Jack Jenkins at ThinkProgress explained why the Hobby Lobby decision not only undermines religious liberty and will cause further litigation, but actually harms most people of faith. He identifiess religious adherents who reject Hobby Lobby‘s flawed understanding of religious liberty and the changes to RFRA it imposed:

“These voices represent the majority of religious Americans who insist that today’s pro-Hobby Lobby decision isn’t about protecting “religious liberty.” Instead, it’s just a victory for one kind of religion, specifically the (usually conservative) faith of those privileged enough to own and operate massive corporations. That might be good news for the wealthy private business owners like the heads of Hobby Lobby, but for millions of religious Americans sitting in the pews — not to mention thousands working in Hobby Lobby stores — their sacred and constitutional right to religious freedom just became compromised.”

You can read Bondings 2.0‘s full coverage of the Hobby Lobby decision, the Employment Non-Discrimination Act’s future, and the Obama executive order banning LGBT discrimination by federal contractors by clicking here or the ‘Employment Issues‘ category to the right.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry

Related Articles

America: After Hobby Lobby

Talking Points Memo: How Hobby Lobby Came to Represent Christianity, While Progressives were Left Behind


2016 Hopeful Marco Rubio Addresses Catholics on Marriage

July 28, 2014

Senator Marco Rubio

United States Senator Marco Rubio of Florida delivered a speech entitled “Strong Values for a Strong America”at The Catholic University of America, Washington, DC,  last week. Rubio, who identifies as Catholic and attends evangelical services regularly as well, is thought to be considering a presidential run in 2016 and this speech is a first step in an emerging campaign. Yet, he used this speech to promote views that are out of touch with U.S. Catholics, and Americans overall,  on LGBT equality.

The event was co-hosted by the university’s Institute for Policy Research and Catholic Studies and also the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention.

The speech, which focused on family life, also commented on marriage equality. In opening the speech’s section concerning LGBT rights, Rubio acknowledged the lengthy history of prejudice and discrimination against gay and lesbian people, stating, in part:

” ‘[O]ur nation is marred by a history of discrimination against gays and lesbians…There was once a time when our federal government not only banned the hiring of gay employees, it required federal contractors to identify and fire them. Some laws prohibited gays from being served in bars and restaurants, and many states carried out law enforcement efforts targeting gay marriages.’

” ‘Fortunately, we’ve come a long way since then…Many committed gay and lesbian couples feel humiliated by the law’s failure to recognize their relationship as a marriage, and supporters of same-sex marriage argue that laws banning same-sex marriage are discrimination. I respect their arguments, and I would concede that they pose a legitimate question for lawmakers and society.’ “

That was as far as Rubio went in affirming pro-LGBT advocates’ claims that legal rights need to be equalized, pivoting quickly towards his firm opposition to marriage equality. The senator criticized judges who are “defining and redefining marriage from the bench” and said Americans working to stop marriage equality “have the right to work to keep the traditional definition of marriage in our laws without seeing them overturned by a judge.”

Rubio also criticized LGBT advocates for promoting intolerance against those who oppose equality under the law, citing incidents like the firing of Mozilla CEO Brendan Eich or the controversies around the Chick-Fil-A fast food chain, saying:

” ‘I promise you even before this speech is over I’ll be attacked as a hater or a bigot or someone who is anti-gay…This intolerance in the name of tolerance is hypocrisy. Support for the definition of marriage as one man and one woman is not anti-gay, it is pro-traditional marriage. And if support for traditional marriage is bigotry, then Barack Obama was a bigot until just before 2012 election.’ “

Rubio’s address, which you can view in full by clicking here, was followed up by a panel discussion featuring other anti-LGBT voices, including Brad Wilcox of the National Marriage Project.

The senator, set to run for president in 2016 and participate in the primary system that set election agendas, raises important issues about family life and ways to strengthen couples and children in America today. He recognizes that issues like poverty and education negatively impact families.

Sadly, he still joins other Catholic politicians in continuing to stump against marriage equality even when public opinion polls now show a majority of Americans supporting the issue, with Catholic numbers around 65%. This support is often the result of wanting stronger families in the U.S. and a more stable culture for marriage. Hopefully, by the time 2016 rolls around, Rubio will learn this most important–and Catholic–lesson.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry

Related article

MSNBC.com: “Marco Rubio defends gays, attacks gay marriage”

 


Catholic Mother Speaks of Hope, Joy in LGBT Ministry

July 24, 2014

Erma Durkin

Parents of LGBT children are some of the most committed Catholics seeking equality in the Church and  society. Sr. Camille D’Arienzo of the National Catholic Reporter recently interviewed one parent, Erma Durkin, who has been a longtime advocate for LGBT justice and friend of New Ways Ministry.

Erma details her life to Sr. Camille, including her childhood growing up in Baltimore in a home where “anyone who dropped by was greeted warmly and offered a treat freshly baked in the big iron coal stove.” The family’s life was deeply connected with their Catholic parish, where Erma attended school and daily Mass. She still describes Mass as the most meaningful aspect of her faith and a source of joy, saying:

“To be part of a eucharistic liturgy where the community is truly inclusive and members are invited to do one of the readings then enjoy a meaningful homily afterward. Where members of the laity bring the gifts to the altar and recite the offering prayer. Where at Communion time, the priest announces that the wine is alcohol-free and the bread is gluten-free, and everyone is welcome to the table.

“And where almost everyone knows one another’s name.

“This is what gives me a special joy.”

You can read the full interview here.

When later in life,  Erma and her husband, Dick, had a gay son, she was introduced to the LGBT community and ministry. Forty years later, Erma speaks fondly of the many people and organizations, including New Ways Ministry, which have been companions on her journey:

“Because one of my sons is gay, my concern for him brought me into the enjoyable company of wonderful men and women who, as parents or friends of lesbian or gay children, were in active ministry to LGBT members of their parish…I made an effort to participate in New Ways Ministry’s many consciousness-raising events.”

Erma also singled out Fortunate Families, a national network of Catholic parents of LGBT people, for their support, guidance, and encouragement.

Most recently, Erma was involved with the successful marriage equality campaign in Maryland and you can read about her work in the ‘Related Articles’ section below. When asked what advice she would offer other parents, she told Sr. Camille:

“Parents know and love their child better than anyone else…My advice would be to get in touch with a reputable group that ministers to parents who have LGBT children. Many faith communities, including Catholic communities, have resources that are immensely helpful to parents and their adult children alike.

“It’s up to parents to make the first move to help themselves be supportive of their children. They need to be positive and never, never go negative on their children. Disowning a child, forcing change by reparative therapy, public shaming in a church never changed a person with a homosexual orientation to one with a heterosexual orientation. Only horror stories result from the mental suffering caused by those who attempt to ‘heal’ LGBT people.”

Erma’s greatest offering in the interview, and in her life, is the profound Catholic faith underlying her advocacy for LGBT people. Of her faith, she says:

“Christianity offers me the basic story of a person, Jesus, whose teachings on fidelity to the love of God and the practical love of neighbor inspired many to live unselfish lives…

“From Catholicism, I want a church that thinks globally but prepares pastors, whether bishops or priests, to be well versed in the language and culture of the people in the church they serve…

“From Catholicism, I want a more mature church, and I’m seeing it emerge here and there. Just as from the earliest days of Christianity, the church saw its conflicts give birth to saints, philosophers, mystics, and theologians who attempted to meet and defeat by their writings the errors that troubled her, so today we have the many publications of scholarly, ethical and faithful women and men to help us mature in our spiritual lives. They move us along from the imaginings and understandings of the faith stories of our childhood to a more mature understanding. I thank God for them.”

As for the state of the Church today, Erma is distressed by injustices in Catholic structures like the firing of LGBT church workers and the ban on discussing topics deemed controversial. These actions make the church “look small-minded, vindictive, and unable to dialogue.”

However, there are positive signs for Catholics. Erma says though she is encouraged by Pope Francis, what gives her most hope are:

“All the loving people I have met in my lifetime who take seriously their call to do justice while trying to create peace and harmony in their little orbits — and beyond!”

Surely, Erma Durkin is counted foremost among those loving people committed to seeking justice in the Church and beyond. For her LGBT advocacy and deep Catholic faith, New Ways Ministry is most grateful!

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry

Related Articles

Bondings 2.0: “Maryland Catholics Spread Marriage Equality Message

Bondings 2.0: Kathleen Kennedy Townsend – and Other Maryland Catholics – Speak Out for Marriage Equality

Bondings 2.0: “Catholic Mom vs. Maryland Catholic Conference


Spanish Nun: Same-Gender Relationships Are a ‘Sacrament’ of God’s Love

July 21, 2014

Spain’s Sister Teresa Forcades is a well-known activist for women’s rights, political autonomy in her home country and region, and economic justice. She has been labeled “Europe’s Most Radical Nun,” and she challenges the Church as often as she challenges unjust structures in society.

This Benedictine nun is also an advocate for LGBT people, offering the following insights in an interview earlier this year. Sr. Forcades goes beyond allowing for LGBT people to express themselves sexually and have relationships to celebrate them as profound and beautiful signs of God’s love in the world:

Sr. Teresa Forcades

“The religious analysis that understands sex as something that is intended for procreation is a utilitarian view of human love and is contrary to Christian spirituality. To surrender to the mystery of an interpersonal relationship is to surrender to growing towards being an image of God, towards incarnating what God represents on earth. Upon entering, you receive a gift, that this union could engender a child, but that’s perfectly compatible with you being able to be responsible and use contraception when you please…

“So I think that homosexual love is perfectly understandable to the church, because it has what is essential: it’s not having children, but an open intimacy to an interpersonal relationship that includes respect for the integrity of the other. Two people who love one another, desire one another, and respect one another are giving testimony: this is the sacrament, a visible sign — like baptism — that’s saying, ‘This creature is accepted in this community as any other.’ Trinitarian theology says that all sacraments are an embodiment of God’s love. God the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit are different but they are not complementary. Love is not necessity; it’s not when I need you because I’m missing something. It can’t be utilitarian love.”

A tip of the hat to Michael Bayly who writes on on Catholic LGBT issues at The Wild Reed for drawing attention to Sr. Forcades’ powerful words. She has long been a proponent of LGBT rights, and a recent profile in The Guardian notes of Sr. Teresa:

“Before she took her vows in 1997, Forcades tested the other nuns by giving a talk on a group of gay Catholics who celebrated their sexuality as a gift from God. She was humbled by the nuns’ humane reaction and, so, joined them.”

In March, Sr. Teresa visited Baltimore and lectured on a variety of justice-related issues. She views change in the Catholic Church as many do, a bottom-up effort, saying:

“When I talk about church, we talk about how the Gospel inspired us. There are many kinds of church, and I identify with the people at the bottom, at the base. Many people have a hope that the Catholic church might change because of the pope, but if you look at history, change comes from bottom up, not from top down.”

You can read more about that visit in the National Catholic Reporter or read a profile of Sr. Teresa in The Guardian by clicking here.

From her lips to the bishops’ ears! But, in the meantime, it is those same-gender couples living out this sacrament of God’s love who are not waiting for change in the Church, but creating it from the bottom up. Gratitude that Sr. Teresa is willing to speak that truth to power, as she so often does!

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry


Bishops Defund Immigrant Rights Group in Guilt-By-Association Case

July 19, 2014

The Voz Workers’ Rights Education Project in Portland, Oregon advocates for and aids migrant workers. Their Martin Luther King, Jr. Workers Center assists hundreds of Latino men each month. Their wage theft campaign is alive and well in Oregon.

One thing they do not do, however, is advocate for marriage equality. Still, the Catholic Campaign for Human Development (CCHD) will withhold funding to Voz  because it collaborates with a leading Latino rights organization, the National Council of La Raza (NCLR), which does support marriage equality.

Voz has received ten previous grants from CCHD, a project of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, to aid its work connecting immigrants with employment. Voz was seeking a $75,000 grant when officials from the CCHD national office requested the Portland nonprofit cut ties with NCLR, which endorsed marriage equality in 2013. The Oregonian reports on what happened next:

” ‘Our board felt like what they were asking us to do was take a position on marriage equality,’ said Ranfis Villatoro, Voz’s development director. Voz has never taken a public stance on the issue, he said, although it does offer services to gay and lesbian couples. Therefore, the board voted last month to reject the grant.

“The grant would have been a significant chunk of the nonprofit’s $310,000 annual budget.

” ‘By making this decision, we run the risk of decreasing staff size and decreasing hours,’ Villatoro said.”

It appears Voz has not been the only community organization questioned by CCHD for its ties with NCLR. Victor Merced who heads Hacienda, a Portland nonprofit which assists low-income Latino families with housing and receives CCHD grants, told The Oregonian he was questioned about ties to NCLR. He reported that “leaders from the local chapter [of CCHD] seemed embarrassed that they had to ask in the first place” and said a litmus test on LGBT rights would be “ridiculous” to implement.

CCHD director Ralph McCloud told ABC News that Voz “self-disqualified” by refusing to cut ties with NCLR, from which Voz also receives funding. He said that after a 2010 review of CCHD grant recipients, nine grantees were defunded for being in coalitions which were pro-LGBT and/or pro-choice and other grantees stopped seeking CCHD funding. He continued:

“It’s certainly difficult and painful, because Voz has done some tremendous work…But it became obvious that they were assisting in something that was contrary to the teachings of our traditions.”

Now, many social justice organizations are promising to stand with Voz and the workers its serves in filling the massive funding gap through fundraising and a petition to CCHD leadership. You can view statements from a number of labor, LGBT, and faith leaders in a video posted by Voz supporters by clicking here. The petition reads, in part:

“VOZ has told CCHD: ‘We are a worker-led organization that empowers immigrants and day laborers to gain control over their working conditions. At the root of that mission, is the pursuit of justice and equality for all immigrants and day laborers. We have always found that to do this, we need all allies, day laborers, and immigrants to stand together in unity.’

“We know that our faiths, prophets, and scriptures never put conditions on supporting the poor and caring for the most vulnerable. Just look at Jesus, who offered God’s love to the sick, the poor, corrupt tax-collectors — EVERYONE. That’s why VOZ decided to take a stand, believing that there are more people who want unity and who support its principles than those who want to see them violated.

“With the new Pope, a new era of openness and acceptance is appearing that the groups pressuring the Catholic Campaign for Human Development to corrupt its funding strategies are entirely counter to.”

An important point in all of this was made by Marco Mejia of Portland Jobs with Justice during the Voz supporters’ press conference. Mejia, who is Catholic, reminded everyone that the money granted through CCHD is supplied by American Catholics and they intend for that money to organize marginalized communities for justice. He states:

“The Catholic Church, the money that they’re giving away through the CCHD is not their money. It’s the money of the community. This is the money I give every Sunday right? They are using the money of somebody else to decide what they want to do, not what the people want them to do.”

This is not the first time the Campaign for Human Development has defunded effective and impassioned organizations working to defend those in poverty because they were simply associated with other organizations supportive of LGBT rights. (See our previous posts on past examples at the end of this post.) Each time the CCHD punishes these groups for guilt by association, many are affected and most especially those for whom Christ has called us to make a preferential option.

You can lend your support to Voz and the immigrant workers it assists by signing the petition here or making a donation to their crowdfunding effort here.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry

Related posts: 

Bondings 2.0:Immigrant Rights’ Groups Cut Budgets Because of Loss of Catholic Funds

Bondings 2.0: “Donors Fill the Gap When Bishops Cut Funds Because of Marriage Equality Support

Bondings 2.0: “On Gay and Lesbian Immigrants, Catholic Bishops Need to Do a Lot Better”

Bondings 2.0:  “Attacks Against Bishops’ Anti-Poverty Efforts Come at the Expense of LGBT Community

Bondings 2.0:  “Catholic Grant Money Returned Because of Warning About LGBT Rights Involvement

Bondings 2.0: “The Laity’s Pocketbook Expresses Solidarity with LGBT and Immigrant Rights

Bondings 2.0: “WithCharityForAll.org”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


Will US Bishops Stop Obsessing About Marriage At Last?

July 7, 2014

The National Catholic Reporter published an editorial last week firmly criticizing the American bishops’ ongoing involvement in the now terminal debate over same-gender marriage rights.

NCR‘s jumping off point is San Francisco Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone’s recent appearance at the March for Marriage, which places the Church in league with anti-gay groups like the National Organization for Marriage who have ties to international LGBT persecutions in places like Uganda and Russia. Of this, NCR writes:

“No amount of claiming the church’s love for the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community will disguise the reality of the company one has to keep in order to further the cause of opposing same-sex unions.”

Cordileone is given credit for affirming the Church’s commitment to upholding each person’s dignity, regardless of sexual orientation, but with a major caveat. NCR writes:

“Underlying the sincere declarations of love for all of the God’s children is the real nub of the issue, the language that stings no matter how one might try to disguise its harshness beneath theological nuance. The church has declared that people of homosexual orientation are objectively disordered. With that understanding, the church effectively tells the LGBT community that it must quarantine its sexual reality, its affections and its members’ love of one another in order to be welcome in its worship spaces and among its ministries.

“Perhaps that inherent contradiction — professing to uphold the dignity of all while simultaneously requiring some to block off an integral part of who they are in order to be a member of the community in good standing — is the reason the church is losing the battle in the courts and at the ballot box.

NCR notes the disparity between what the bishops have said–that same-gender marriage threatens heterosexual marriage, that children need a mother and father, that Catholic priests will be forced to perform weddings they disagree with–and the reality that all the aforementioned has proven to be false. In light of this disparity, NCR asks why the bishops are even fighting this issue.  The editorial concludes:

“It is mystifying, with so many social problems needing attention, to watch so much of the U.S. Catholic leadership obsessed with these sexual matters. The fact is that people of other than traditional sexual orientation no longer engage in self-sequester or quarantine. That age has passed, and it has little to do with willful disregard for church teaching and far more to do with a growing understanding of the complexity and diversity of humankind.”

Leaders like Bishop Robert Morlino of Madison and Archbishop Cordileone will still release bombastic statements against LGBT people. Bishops like Archbishop Alexander Sample of Portland reflect more of Pope Francis’ call to be merciful, though he still opposes equal marriage rights.

Yet, not all Church leaders want to keep fighting it appears. Perhaps they have experienced the ‘reality check’ called for by Catholics a few weeks ago. The above instances of extremism are actually evidence of a new reality: opposing marriage equality is less a united effort by the American Church and more the cause of individual bishops obsessed with stopping LGBT rights. Brian Roewe summarizes the varied episcopal responses to marriage equality’s legalization, noting:

“In most states that have seen bans thrown out, bishops have issued joint statements through their policy arms, but not all have made comment of their own. New Mexico’s bishops issued a statement in December that counted fewer than 60 words; Texas’ 15 bishops issued a three-paragraph statement.”

These statements are hardly the prioritized and bombastic opposition to marriage equality once common for bishops, and they seem more in keeping with statements released by state conferences on a host of other legislative and judicial issues. Could it be that these bishops realize, as Pope Francis has insisted, that truly pressing issues of social justice, like immigration, demand their attention instead?

Sidelining the political and legal fight also means there is room to honestly address pastoral care and the strengthening of family life in a society which now embraces LGBT rights. Roewe ends his column quoting St. Louis University theology professor Julie Rubio, who says:

” ‘I think people are ready for a different conversation…’

“Where the bishops’ discussion of marriage so far has been almost exclusively in terms of fighting same-sex marriage, Rubio sees others arenas to turn the discussion: issues of single-parent families, divorce, broken families, and the needs of children.

“Turning the gaze away from federal courts and toward parishes and individual couples’ struggles offers another starting point for strengthening marriage.

” ‘Talk to married couples and talk to single parents, talk to younger people who are dating and thinking about marriage, and ask them what they need’.”

The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops is still dominated by men who seem determined to stop LGBT rights. There are others, however, who seem to understand Pope Francis’ admonition to stop ‘obsessing’ over same-gender marriage and build up the common good instead. Let’s hope this latter group’s voices are amplified more and more in the discourse over LGBT issues in the U.S. Church.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry


Religious Leaders Want Right to Discriminate in Obama’s LGBT Executive Order

July 6, 2014

President Obama meets with Pope Francis, who has asked Catholic leaders to refrain from judging LGBT people and instead build up the common good for all

Prominent Catholics have teamed with other religious leaders in calling on President Barack Obama to include extensive religious exemptions in his promised executive order which will state that federal contractors cannot discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity. These religious leaders are attempting to enshrine anti-LGBT discrimination into law, and to further mask it as religious belief.  Such an action raises troubling questions on just where the hierarchy of the Catholic Church in America is focused.

Fourteen religious leaders with close ties to the president submitted a letter to the White House on Tuesday, including Catholic Charities CEO Fr. Larry Snyder and Dr. Stephen Schneck, director of the Institute for Policy Research & Catholic Studies at The Catholic University of America. Michelle Boorstein of The Washington Post reports:

“The letter reminds Obama of his own earlier faith-based opposition to same-sex marriage, as well as the government’s massive partnerships with faith-based social service groups that work on issues including housing, disaster relief and hunger…

“The signers said they supported the executive order — ‘we have great appreciation for your commitment to human dignity and justice, and we share those values with you”’— but said an exemption is essential.”

UPDATE:  Another, similar letter asking for a religious exemption, sent to Obama with 138 signatures from religious leaders, has also been made public.

The White House has refused to comment on the letters thus far, though Schneck said he is hopeful that an exemption could be worked out.

Additionally, several bishops who chair committees at the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops released their own statement against the executive order. Joshua McElwee of the National Catholic Reporter writes:

” ‘Because we do not know how the executive order will define these critically important terms [sexual orientation and gender identity], or if it will provide sufficient (or any) religious freedom protection, we cannot provide substantive comment on the order,’ state the bishops.

” ‘On the other hand, when the U.S. Senate recently passed legislation on the same topic, we raised detailed objections to that legislation,’ they continue, asking those interested to review their previous comments on the Senate legislation…

“Friday’s statement was signed by four U.S. bishops’ committee chairmen: San Francisco Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone, chairman of the bishops’ subcommittee for the promotion and defense of marriage; Miami Archbishop Thomas Wenski, chairman of their domestic policy committee; Baltimore Archbishop William Lori, chairman of their ad hoc committee for religious liberty; and St. Paul-Minneapolis Archbishop John Nienstedt, chair of their committee on doctrine.”

At least two bishops who signed the letter, Archbishops Cordileone and Nienstedt, have been heavily criticized lately for their aggressive opposition to marriage equality. Cordileone appeared alongside anti-LGBT groups in June at the March for Marriage, even while 30,000 Catholics asked him to forgo the event. Nienstedt is currently being investigated for multiple allegations that he made sexual advances on priests and seminarians.

LGBT advocates have long opposed religious exemptions, and several like the National Center for Lesbian Rights and Get Equal have withdrawn support for the Employment Non-Discrimination Act in its current form over such exemptions. Chuck Colbert writes in PrideSource about this ongoing debate around exemptions, noting the near absence of such exemptions in previous civil rights legislation. He reports:

“Advocates for LGBT equality maintain the proposed religious exemption, unprecedented in civil rights legislation, would in effect gut the non-discrimination protections…

“On the matter of social conservatives’ efforts to empower discrimination against LGBTs, Jay Michaelson, Ph.D. offered his assessment.

” ‘Religious conservatives have really succeeded at ‘moving the goalposts’ here. Just two years ago, this kind of broad exemption was a huge compromise for the Obama administration, in the context of the Affordable Care Act. Now, ENDA’s backers are offering it up as the default position. That is a huge, silent victory. And we all know what the ultimate goal is: Religious exemptions for anyone who wants one, including corporations and individuals. That would represent a tragic erosion of the rule of law’…

” ‘Employment non-discrimination is vitally important, but at what cost?…Hopefully, progressive members of Congress will insist on an appropriate, narrow exemption for churches and religious functionaries, while rejecting this over-broad one that would leave hospital orderlies, school cafeteria workers and shopping mall security guards without protection.’ “

After last week’s U.S. Supreme Court ruling in the Hobby Lobby case, the idea that corporations could discriminate against employees based on their sexual orientation or gender identity does not seem so far fetched. You can read Bondings 2.0 initial reporting on the Court’s decision and potential impacts by clicking here.

Michael Sean Winters, in his third post on the proposed executive order, asks a pivotal question: “Why do we need to have this fight?…Why do the leaders of the Church want to have this fight, on this issue?” Reading up on the USCCB’s backgrounder on ENDA, Winters explores why the bishops seek religious exemptions in the first place. Apparently, they are concerned that employers would provide healthcare and “other fringe benefits” to same-gender partners. Of this, Winters writes:

“Health coverage is not properly termed a ‘fringe benefit’ by leaders of a Church that has repeatedly taught that access to health care is a basic human right. Our nation has a particularly quirky way of delivering health care coverage, through employers. It makes no sense, to be sure, but it is what it is. But, it is not clear to me how the providing of such benefits can be seen as ‘facilitating or cooperating with same-sex sexual relationships.’ The employee engaged in a same sex relationship is not looking for approval or permission from his employer. He or she is looking for health care benefits from the employer. If there is a heterosexual, married couple, they may, on their free time, be engaged in any manner of activities that the Church would not endorse, but we do not investigate that.”

Looking to the past, when Cardinal William Levada, formerly of San Francisco, negotiated with that city when extensive non-discrimination policies were passed, Winters believes the bishops need not have fought at all:

“I do not see how hiring someone who is a good teacher or a good counselor or a good cook, and who keeps their private life private, requires us to sniff around their bedrooms…

“Twelve or even ten years ago, if the leadership of the USCCB had followed the +Levada model…I suspect we would be in a better place, the culture wars would be diminished, and the Church would not have the aggressively litigious face it wears today…The culture warriors in the conference decided that instead of trying to balance the dignity and legitimate interests of gay people in gaining access to benefits, we were going to dig in, to fight, draw a line in the sand.”

Winters points to younger Catholics’ views as the best evidence that the bishops’ unceasing opposition to LGBT rights is becoming fringe itself:

“I encourage them to go to any place that young people hang out and ask them their thoughts on same sex relationships. Those young people do not feel threatened by gay people. Those young people will not discourse on the threats to religious liberty. Those young people will ask simple, and better, questions such as: ‘Why not help people gain access to health care?’ That is a question the USCCB has failed to ask, let alone answer, in this situation. If the conference did ask that question, they would be less likely to take to the barricades.”

It remains an open question how Catholic institutions, and specifically those like Catholic Charities and Catholic Relief Services which contract with the federal government, will respond to the upcoming executive order. For inspiration, they could turn to Catholic Vice President Joe Biden who many credit with moving the Obama administration towards greater LGBT equality. Hopefully, cooler hearts and clearer minds will prevail and realize the common good is far better advanced by protecting LGBT rights and continuing the good work of the Church in relationship with the government.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry

Related Articles

National Catholic Reporter, “Faith leaders call for religious exemption from LGBT executive order


What Impact Will Hobby Lobby Ruling Have on LGBT Rights?

July 2, 2014

Demonstrators gather outside Supreme Court building for Hobby Lobby ruling

Monday’s Supreme Court ruling in the Burwell v. Hobby Lobby case is causing LGBT advocates to question what practical impacts it may have in LGBT people’s lives as corporate personhood advances and for-profit businesses now ‘have’ religious beliefs in our nation’s courts.

First, an explanation of the case may be helpful, and Mark Silk of Religion News Service provided an excellent background of some of the key issues and factors:

“When the decision comes out in June, Hobby Lobby and Conestoga Wood will be given not an exemption to the contraception mandate but an accommodation comparable to what has been afforded to religious non-profits, under terms that define the nature and character of for-profit companies that can make free-exercise claims. Free exercise rights will thus be extended, but not at the expense of the government’s compelling interest in gender equity, which will be preserved via the requirement that the cost of contraceptive coverage be assumed by the insurers who administer the insurance plans of the qualifying companies…

“In order to understand the decision, you have to know that it is based on the 1993 Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA), which tells the court that in order to overrule a claim of religious free exercise (against federal law), 1) the state must have a compelling interest to do so; and 2) in doing so it employs the least restrictive means. In Hobby Lobby, the court assumed (without coming to an actual determination) that the state interest in providing the full range of contraceptive services was compelling, but (as I predicted) found that the Obamacare mandate was not the least restrictive means of fulfilling that interest.”

dotCommonweal blogger Grant Gallicho pointed out that the decision applies only to corporations that are “closely held” (meaning fewer than five individuals own more than half the stock value of a company) and applies only to the Department of Health and Human Service’s contraception mandate. The Court explicitly states this ruling is not intended to allow people to use religious beliefs to deny other medical procedures or to  allow racial discrimination. How the ruling may be used in cases of exual orientation and gender identity remain an open question. For a full round-up of what the ruling does and does not allow, see US Catholic‘s report here.

Still, the decision’s constraints are not allaying fears of LGBT advocates who see that the logic in the Hobby Lobby case may expand into other employment issues. A report in The Advocate stated:

“Activists had warned that if Hobby Lobby and Conestoga Wood Specialties — the businesses that challenged Obamacare — could use their “sincerely held religious beliefs” to deny contraception to employees, then they might use the same power to deny health care to transgender people or might withhold coverage for HIV and AIDS treatment to LGBT employees…

“Some had warned that depending on the reach of the ruling, business owners might try to use the decision to object to mental health services or substance abuse treatment — health issues that disproportionately affect LGBT Americans.”

“Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, in her dissent, noted that she is ‘mindful of the havoc the Court’s judgment can introduce’ and went on to explore that. ‘Although the Court attempts to cabin its language to closely held corporations,’ she wrote, ‘its logic extends to corporations of any size, public or private. Little doubt that RFRA claims will proliferate.’

“Ginsburg further wrote, ‘Until today, religious exemptions had never been extended to any entity operating in ‘the commercial, profit-making world.’ Profit-making companies do not exist to further religious goals, and their employees are drawn from a multitude of faiths, she pointed out.”

Unsurprisingly, the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) celebrated the ruling saying “justice has prevailed.” The National Catholic Reporter observed that other bishops reaffirmed their commitment to the USCCB’s  ‘religious liberty’ campaign. You can read the USCCB’s full statement here. Despite the bishops’ support of the decions, so far, it seems, Americans disagree with the Supreme Court’s ruling.

Equally Blessed, a coalition of Catholic organizations committed to LGBT justice that includes Call To Action, DignityUSA, Fortunate Families, and New Ways Ministry, said in a statement:

“The Supreme Court’s ruling could have disturbing and harmful consequences for our country. By allowing privately held corporations to be exempt from compliance with laws with which they disagree on religious grounds, the Court may have unintentionally opened the door to enormous social confusion and instability. They may have also ushered in an era of increased discrimination, making it harder for many to access a wide range of services and benefits.

“While it may seem that this is a narrow ruling focused on how women access contraceptive medications, the reality is this judgment could have incredible ramifications throughout the U.S. This ruling might open the door for corporations not to provide benefits to employees in same-sex marriages, or not to cover appropriate health care services for transgender employees.

“Equally Blessed members said it is distressing to hear religious belief put forward as a rationale for continued discrimination, when most people understand the religion should be about respect, love, and inclusion.”

However, not all LGBT advocates are worried and some believe the debate will depend on whether President Obama signs a promised executive order protecting LGBT federal workers triggering new lawsuits. Religion News Service reports:

“If Obama signs the executive order or Congress passes ENDA (a bill stalled for 16 years), the same battle could ensue with religious owners of private businesses, said Kevin Theriot,  vice president of religious freedom litigation for Alliance Defending Freedom, which represented the owners of Conestoga…

“Ian Thompson, of the American Civil Liberties Union, who specializes in legislation affecting the LGBT community, said that ‘while the court expanded corporate power, it made really clear that the decision was narrow. It will not operate as a shield from other kinds of discrimination laws.’

“Like Thompson, Human Rights Campaign legal director Sarah Warbelow pointed to the majority opinion, written by Justice Samuel Alito, which made a point of saying the justices were talking only about health care and not opening the door for broad interpretations.”

In more hopeful news, Buzzfeed reports that the Supreme Court upheld California’s ban on ‘reparative therapy’ without comment. California will now be able to enforce a ban on services which try to ‘convert’ gay youth to a heterosexual orientation.

As for whether the Hobby Lobby case will cause increased LGBT discrimination by employers citing religious belief, it remains to be seen.  LGBT people of faith must remain vigilant that their beliefs are not used to justify exclusion.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry

Related Articles

America, “Hobby Lobby Reactions


ALL ARE WELCOME: Pope Francis’ Impact Visible During Pride Celebrations

July 1, 2014

OECTA teachers march in WorldPride 2014 held in Toronto

The ALL ARE WELCOME series is an occasional feature on this blog which highlights Catholic parishes and faith communities that support and affirm LGBT people. 

LGBT and ally Catholics appeared at Pride festivities around the world this month, visible signs of Pope Francis’ desire for a more merciful and welcoming Church. Canadians welcomed Catholics from around the world for WorldPride 2014 celebrations, while Catholics in the U.S. participated in local celebrations.

Toronto was the site for WorldPride this year. All Inclusive Ministries (AIM), based at Our Lady of Lourdes Church in that city, brought “its message of faith and love to this celebration” by welcoming Catholics from around the world to their monthly Mass and gathering. AIM began with support of the Archdiocese of Toronto in 2012 after the Jesuit parish ended its affiliation with Dignity Toronto Dignité, which now meets elsewhere. Another church, St. Joseph’s Church in Ottawa, sent a delegation to join AIM’s liturgy and march in the WorldPride parade, having witnessed in their local parade for many years.

Members of St. Clement Church in Chicago march during Pride

The Ontario English Catholic Teachers Association (OECTA) also marched in WorldPride’s parade following several months of criticism from Toronto’s cardinal and others who opposed the teachers union’s decision to march. OECTA President James Ryan told the National Post the teachers’ participation was an “internal union matter” made through a democratic process. The paper reports further:

“In March, the OECTA voted to send a contingent of more than 100 to the parade as a visible and vocal message that Catholic-school teachers in the province want students to feel supported and free from discrimination.

“OECTA is just aligning with other public unions and teachers’ unions Canada-wide, said Mr. Ryan, whether Catholic or not.

” ‘Coast to coast in Canada, pretty much every teachers’ union I know of does support LGBT rights without exception,’ [Ryan] said. ‘The Canadian Teachers Federation has been very forward with its support for LGBT rights.’ “

You can read Bondings 2.0‘s ongoing coverage of OECTA’s decision this spring by clicking here.

Boston College’s Graduate Pride Alliance marching

Catholic parishes in the U.S. marched in Pride parades in their citis, as well. In Chicago, St. Clement Church parishioners marched alongside Dignity/Chicago members for the second year in a row. The Chicago Tribune reported on the marchers:

” ‘We don’t want to be dictated to anymore,’ said Rob Svendsen, 41, a parishioner at St. Clement for nine years. ‘With the new pope, we’ve all been given a new ray of hope.’…

” ‘What St. Clement demonstrates is there are Catholics in the pews out there who think this is a time to be united and give witness to what the church’s true mission is,’ [former Dignity president Chris] Pett said. ‘We are here to advance justice. We should be a church united in justice, love and respect for one another. What’s exciting about it is they come from a very affirming community.’ “

In Boston, contingents from both Boston College and St. Anthony Shrine were present during the city’s June 14th Pride festival. For their part, the Franciscan friars from St. Anthony’s in Boston hoisted a banner with the pope’s famous “Who am I to judge?” quote in rainbow lettering.

Franciscans from St. Anthony’s staff their Pride booth in Boston.

In San Francisco, St. Agnes, Most Holy Redeemer, and other Bay Area parishes joined together to ‘show their Catholic pride‘ at the city’s parade.

Parishioners from St. Francis Xavier in Manhattan in the city’s Pride parade.

In New York City, parishioners from St. Francis Xavier Church marched, as did a collaborative contingent from various metro NYC area gay-friendly parieshes,  marching behind the banner of “LGBT Catholics and Friends.”

In London, England, members of the Archdiocese of Westminster’s pastoral outreach to LGBT people (called “Soho Masses” because of the neighborhood in which they originated) took part in that city’s pride march, complete with a giant street puppet of Jesus draped in a rainbow flag.  More photos can be found here.

London's LGBT Catholics march in Pride.

London’s LGBT Catholics march in Pride. (Photo by Martin Pendergast)

Repeatedly, Pride participants cited Pope Francis as a reason for their witness this month and also tied their actions to the Church’s standing commitment to social justice that has resulted in American Catholics’ overwhelming support for LGBT equality. Earlier this month, Bondings 2.0 suggested that marching for Pride was a key way to show solidarity for church workers under increased scrutiny for their support and involvement with marriage equality or because of their gender identity.

Additionally, many of the parishes mentioned above are on New Ways Ministry’s listing of gay-friendly Catholic parishes and communities. To find a parish near you, or to suggest a new parish for the list, please click here.

Did your parish or Catholic school participate in a Pride celebration? Let us know in the ‘Comments’ section below, so we can continue spreading the good news of an inclusive Church in the era of Pope Francis.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry


Catholic LGBT Advocates React to ‘Disappointing’ Synod Working Paper

June 29, 2014

Sr. Joan Chittister

In May, Benedictine Sr. Joan Chittister wrote that the upcoming Synod of Bishops on marriage and family life would be a chance for Church leaders to “do things right.” However, the Vatican’s working paper (in Latin, instrumentum laboris) released this week is leaving many observers and Catholic LGBT advocates with the impression all is not quite right.

The working paper, which Bondings 2.0 covered earlier this week, compiled questionnaire responses from around the world with the aim of furthering discussions at the meeting this fall.

Equally Blessed LogoEqually Blessed, a coalition of four Catholic organizations seeking LGBT equality, released a statement expressing its members’ disappointment with the working paper. The coalition members are Call To Action, DignityUSA, Fortunate Families, and New Ways Ministry. Thestatement said, in part:

“We are disheartened that the challenges of families trying to reconcile their unambiguous love for their lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) family members and Church teachings that are too often harsh and divisive are not addressed…

“The Bishops once again claim that the problem is not that their teachings clash with the Biblical teaching of love, but that Catholics are unaware of the teachings. Catholics are not unaware, rather they have long struggled with these teachings, and ultimately reject them as inconsistent with the Gospel. US Bishops have spent millions of dollars defending their right to discriminate against our families, a fact that increases the alienation of many families from the Church.

“We are living the faith we love and speaking up for the Church we believe in.  Celebrating the diversity in our Church is integral to our understanding of a faith that stands up for those on the margins and recognizes the face of God in everyone.”

Marianne Duddy-Burke

Marianne Duddy-Burke

In a separate statement for DignityUSA, executive director Marianne Duddy-Burke said:

“Many Catholics hoped that the upcoming Extraordinary Synod on the Family would be an opportunity for real dialogue with Church leaders on issues that are very important in our day to day life. Instead, what we see is a rigid adherence to existing teaching, and what we hear are complaints that the people of the Church are misinformed or uneducated. This is a gross simplification and incredibly insulting…

“It fails to show any acknowledgement of the profound love and commitment shared by many same-sex couples, minimizes the realities of LGBT people raising children, and fails to offer any hope to families who love their LGBT members unconditionally, but struggle with Church teachings that are too often demeaning. Furthermore, the bishops continue to show a severe lack of understanding of transgender identities. If they begin to truly listening to our transgender kin, they will learn much.”

Jim FitzGerald

Call To Action’s opinion was expressed by executive director Jim Fitzgerald:

“When Catholics heard last year that the leaders of their Church were seeking feedback on the topic of ministry to the family, they responded enthusiastically, sharing their experiences, insights and desires. Catholics believed it was a new moment in which leadership would listen and honor their voices, experiences and wisdom…

“While today’s report is a disappointment, today’s Catholics are not. They do get it: they understand perfectly well the call to love rooted in the Gospel. Catholic parishes, schools and communities across the country will continue to live with love, welcoming our brothers and sisters who’ve struggled through divorce, remarried with love, stood proudly as LGBT persons or used contraception when creating their family.”

While disappointment is a common reaction for many, Francis DeBernardo reminded Bondings 2.0 readers on Thursday that this working paper is not the last word on marriage and family.

Perhaps the wittiest response to this document came from veteran church observer Jesuit Father Thomas Reese, who quipped:

“The document acknowledges that ‘the primary task of the church is to proclaim the beauty of the vocation to love,’ but there is little beautiful or inspiring in this document. If married life is as boring and joyless as this document, I am glad I am celibate.”

There is still time for bishops to listen to Sr. Chittister’s words from earlier this year, when she expressed caution and  hope about the synod:

“The first time the church found itself in major public discredit, the reformers of the 16th century were crying out for serious review of both the theology and practices of the church. They railed against clericalism, the wealth of the church, the use of arcane language that distanced the laity from its inner operations and made them second-class citizens, the sale of relics, the conferral of indulgences in exchange for alms, and a theology that left laypeople to be docile and unthinking consumers of a faith long bereft of either witness or spiritual energy.

“The answer of the church at the Council of Trent (1545-1563) to these concerns was 150 anathemas at the very thought of change.

“Or, in other words, Trent’s answer to the pressure for renewal of the church was more of the same. Only this time, they went even further and added an index of forbidden books to dampen any more of that kind of thinking in the future; the total rejection of the vernacular to make general discussion of just about anything ecclesiastical impossible for laypeople; greater episcopal control; and more and better rules for everything else.

“But the need for change and real renewal never went away.”

Chittister points out that, similarly the bishops are gathering to address the question of reform and renewal and there is a chance to “get it right” in how the institutional Church will respond to a changing world:

“Thinking may be the sign of a healthy group, but it is not the sign of a complacent, tractable or acquiescent group. Once people begin to think together, community sets in, energy sets in, possibility sets in, and new life sets in. For them all.

“Trent’s 150 anathemas were a mistake that lost half of Europe to the church, that divided the Christian community for 400 years, that plunged Catholicism into the Dark Ages of thought, and that left the Christian witness adrift in “the scandal of division.”

“From where I stand, it looks as if we have been given another opportunity to do it right this time. The only question is whether or not the bishops who were entrusted with gathering the answers of the laity to these questions will start at all. Let alone go all the way.”

If there is one hopeful sign in all of this, it is Pope Francis. He has both the ability to influence the Synod towards a more compassionate and inclusive conclusion and the belief that dialogue can help the Church resolve all problems, as he reiterated in a homily last May:

” ‘By sharing, discussing and praying, all problems in the Church can be resolved, with the certainty that gossip, envy and jealousy never lead to concord, harmony and peace. There too it was the Holy Spirit who crowned this understanding and this enables us to understand that, when we let ourselves be guided by the Holy Spirit, it leads us to harmony, unity and respect for different gifts and talents’.”

Let us pray that this Synod’s working paper will be treated much like the documents released at the beginning of the Second Vatican Council, which were thrown out and rewritten entirely to insure the joy of the Gospel and a positive view of the world were included.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry


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