Vice President Biden, Hobby Lobby, and a Religious Liberty Round-Up

March 25, 2014

Vice President Joe Biden at the Human Rights Campaign gala

This week Vice President Joe Biden called for a renewed legislative push to pass the Employment Non-Discrimination Action (ENDA), just as the Supreme Court is hearing oral arguments in Sebelius v. Hobby Lobby Stores, Inc.. These events, and others in the country, are the result of an ongoing debate in America about religious liberty. This debate is important for Catholic LGBT advocates because judicial rulings and legislative developments on seemingly unrelated matters do impact the lives of LGBT people. Below are summaries about several religious liberty issues, and you can read more with the provided links.

Employment Non-Discrimination Act

Vice President Biden, a Catholic, robustly criticized Congress’ failure to pass ENDA at the Human Rights Campaign’s gala last Saturday. ENDA would provide nationwide employment protections for people based upon their sexual orientation and gender identity, but failed in the House of Representatives after passing the Senate in 2013.  The Advocate reported on his speech to the HRC crowd:

” ‘It’s close to barbaric,’ Biden said of it still being legal to fire someone for being gay or lesbian. ‘Pass ENDA now,’ he demanded of the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, calling it ‘outrageous we’re even debating this.’ …

” ‘The single most basic of all human rights is the right to decide who you love, it is the single basic building block…Hate can never never be defended because it’s a so-called “cultural norm.” I’ve had it up to here with cultural norms.’ “

The Catholic bishops have been prominently opposed to ENDA and similar legislation, even threatening to scuttle immigration reform because LGBT protections were included in that bill.

Hobby Lobby Lawsuit

While the Hobby Lobby lawsuit concerns private businesses and healthcare coverage, the plaintiffs are arguing from the vantage point of religious liberty. Hobby Lobby’s Christian owners want to be exempt from providing birth control coverage to employees as part of the company’s health insurance, on the grounds that birth control violates their religious belief. The New York Times editorialized:

“These companies are not religious organizations, nor are they affiliated with religious organizations. But the owners say they are victims of an assault on religious liberty because they personally disapprove of certain contraceptives. They are wrong, and the Supreme Court’s task is to issue a decisive ruling saying so. The real threat to religious liberty comes from the owners trying to impose their religious beliefs on thousands of employees.

“The legal question is whether the contraception coverage rule violates the Religious Freedom Restoration Act of 1993, which says government may not ‘substantially burden a person’s free exercise of religion’ unless the burden is necessary to further a ‘compelling government interest’ and does so by ‘the least restrictive means.’ …

“If there is a Supreme Court decision in favor of these businesses, the ripple effect could be enormous. One immediate result would be to encourage other companies to seek exemptions from other health care needs, like blood transfusions, psychiatric care, vaccinations or anesthesia. It could also encourage toxic measures like the one vetoed last month by Gov. Jan Brewer of Arizona that would have given businesses and individuals a broad right to deny services to same-sex couples in the name of religion. The Supreme Court cannot go there.”

The eventual ruling in this case could have far reaching impacts on the lives of LGBT people. Catholic schools and parishes have cited religious liberty arguments to justify firing LGBT people, or even those who simply support equal rights. You can read these cases in the ‘Employment Issues‘ category to the right.

Third Way

While it is clear that ENDA would not infringe upon religious liberty, this has still been a powerful talking point by anti-LGBT activists to stall progress. While every state which has passed marriage equality included strong religious liberty protections in the laws, the Catholic bishops and anti-LGBT activists have continued to pick the religious liberty fight. Hopefully, more Catholics in politics and policymaking will speak out like the vice president and Representative Louis Ruiz of Kansas who called that state’s non-discrimination bill a “no-brainer.”

Michael Peppard, a theology professor at Fordham University, writes in the Washington Post about the false cries of “religious liberty”:

“But U.S. history, which juxtaposes firm anti-discrimination laws and a robust religious liberty tradition, has shown that the price of citizenship is drawing distinctions: finding footholds on supposedly slippery slopes…

“Asking and answering these questions has been essential to Americans’ governance. Some civil rights are limited; some religious consciences are infringed. We may or may not decide, in the end, that baking a cake and photographing a wedding are sufficiently different interactions with the event to suggest anti-discrimination protections for one and conscience protections for the other. But the process of making such decisions is worth the effort.

Doing so need not entail an apocalyptic war of religion vs. state-sponsored secularism. Rather, we would continue to tinker with a delicate balance. In terms of religious pluralism, the American experiment remains unique, with more diversity in Washington or New York — or even just one of its wards or boroughs — than in most countries. Fashioning social order out of such variety is not a process to be taken for granted. The more civil rights expand and deepen, the more carefully responsibilities must be negotiated and articulated. E pluribus unum is ever fragile.

“Drawing distinctions to maintain a precise balance of religious conscience protections and publicly accommodated civil rights is neither a sign of fastidious hairsplitting nor a distraction from prophetically proclaimed truths on either side. Rather, it is necessary to preserve and perfect our experiment in diversity.”

And what about Catholics like the bishops who have championed the religious liberty cause, claiming persecution because LGBT rights are advancing. Michael Sean Winters writes in the National Catholic Reporter about Peppard’s call for nuance and dialogue Winters says the need to understand that this argument is not a battle, but an adjudication of law is all the more pressing as the religious liberty debate on a national level shifts from healthcare to LGBT rights.

“The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops has a real dilemma facing them: They have chosen to make domestic religious liberty a matter of intense focus. We have had two ‘Fortnights for Freedom,’ testimony before Congress, countless essentially political campaigns launched from the pulpits and in church bulletins. Very little effort has been made to even recognize the good faith of those who disagree with us. The whole effort has been, shall we say, very un-Francis…as the debate on religious liberty seems likely to shift to gay rights, I fear that our Church will make itself look like a paragon of intolerance in the coming months…We must resist, on Gospel grounds, the prospect of religious liberty becoming an anti-gay fight…

“We are Catholics…Our Catholic identity, in a pluralistic culture, should not become a battering ram with which we hit others over the head. It should not be a spur to ideological purity. In our Church’s long history, we see, instead, countless saints who evidenced that moral friction that proved a bump for the mockers and haters and killers. I hope in the coming months, our bishops will resist turning our understandable and laudable concern for religious liberty into a kind of anti-gay campaign. We all deserve better.”

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry


As England Passes Equal Marriage, Catholic Church Given Opportunity to Grow

July 18, 2013

A rainbow double-decker bus passes by London’s Parliament.

Marriage equality is finally legal in the United Kingdom after receiving ‘Royal Assent’ from Queen Elizabeth yesterday, making it the 18th nation to enact equal marriage rights. Now, it will be up to the British public and their religious leaders to implement the new law without further conflict — and perhaps the Catholic Church can seize this opportunity to improve relations with the LGBT community there.

After final approval from the two legislative chambers then the queen, same-gender couples will be able to marry starting next summer. The Huffington Post reports that several British politicians spoke to the importance of this legislation for LGBT people in their nation, including Culture Secretary Maria Miller:

“[She] said ‘marriage is the bedrock of our society and now irrespective of sexuality everyone in British society can make that commitment’.

” ‘It is a wonderful achievement and whilst this legislation may be about marriage, its impact is so much wider. Making marriage available to all couples demonstrates our society’s respect for all individuals regardless of their sexuality’…

” ‘It demonstrates the importance we attach to being able to live freely. It says so much about the society that we are and the society that we want to live in.’ “

Also championing the new law are LGBT advocates like Stonewall UK’s director Ben Summerskill, who are sensitive to the religious issues at play. Summerskill gave an extended interview to The Catholic Herald, the newspaper of the Archdiocese of Westminster (London) recently where he spoke positively of religion’s relationship in society and in regards to LGBT equality. He calls himself a “critical friend” of Christian churches, not an opponent and continues:

“ ‘I think that one thing the Roman Catholic Church has not been good at is wrestling with these sorts of issues in a constructive and supportive way. Lesbians and gay people in the Church of England might be dissatisfied with what it’s done, but it’s a church that wrestled with these issues. For a gay Roman Catholic, there is no acknowledgment that there is a community of interest within the Church.’…

“ ‘I think it’s difficult to escape the conclusion that many denominations have been insufficiently energetic in addressing some of the hatred and prejudice…Well, there’s no doubt some of them have encouraged it. But I’m wary of caricaturing a whole denomination. Of course there are good things [in the Catholic Church]. There are good things in all churches that bring people together. We now work directly with 500 schools, with a third of local authorities, on dealing with homophobic bullying. And those include Roman Catholic faith schools, which take the issue incredibly seriously. They are exemplary in the way they deal with these issues.’ “

In the United Kingdom, examples of Catholics positively engaging LGBT issues, as one London school did, are contrasted with hyperbolic statements from the Catholic bishops who previously threatened to stop performing marriages if the nation legalized equal marriage rights. Now that the law is in effect, the example of Ben Summerskill and other ‘critical friends’ of the Catholic Church should be guiding influences so that all families are provided for and welcomed by their parishes as same-gender Catholic couples begin to marry.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry


Fortnight for Freedom Fizzles to a Close

July 4, 2013

fortnight for freedomToday,the Fourth of July, the U.S. Catholic bishops’ 2nd “Fortnight for Freedom” campaign comes to an end, and it looks like this effort was not any more successful than last year’s program.  The campaign, which began on June 21st, was intended to rouse Catholics to become motivated to work to protect religious freedom in the U.S.  The bishops have proposed that the freedom of Catholics to worship and govern their church is under fire, particularly because of the advancement of marriage equality for lesbian and gay couples in the political world.  The fact that Catholics do not envision the issue with the same sense of threat that the bishops do is a major factor in the failure of the campaigns the last two years.

Marcos Breton, a columnist for the Sacramento Bee, points out that the Catholic bishops seem afraid of the changes that are happening in American culture, and that may be why they have latched on to the religious freedom argument.  “The world is changing rapidly,” he wrote, “and it’s natural for some to view the change with trepidation.”

But that doesn’t mean that religious people need to fear for their freedom.  Breton suggests a positive toleration on both sides of the marriage question:

“Same-sex marriage is now legal in 13 states and the District of Columbia, meaning that roughly 30 percent of Americans now reside in states that support marriage equality.

“Within five years, gay marriage could very likely be legal in all 50 states. Public opinion has tilted in favor of marriage equality so quickly, it seems history is on fast forward.

“Watching same-sex couples arrive at the Sacramento County clerk’s office on television Friday reminded me of the night the Berlin Wall came down.

“Years of pent-up emotion suddenly found a release. Old restrictions dissolved into thin air. There were tears. There was exultation and a sense of giddy disbelief. Isolated people suddenly joined a broader community.

“With due respect to fellow Christians who disagree, this was cause for celebration – one that doesn’t have to come at the expense of religious freedom or with intolerance toward religious people.

“You can support the idea that government has no business restricting same-sex marriages while loving your church and trying to live the Gospel.”

And toleration for religious institutions is not only a good thing to do, Breton points out it is also the law:

“In a ruling that the U.S. Supreme Court chose not to invalidate, U.S. District Judge Vaughn Walker wrote: ‘Affording (same-sex) couples the opportunity to obtain the designation of marriage will not impinge upon the religious freedom or any religious organization, official or any other person; no religion will be required to change its policies or practices with regard to same sex couples, and no religious officiant will be required to solemnize a marriage in contravention of his or her religious beliefs.’ “

Steve Chapman, a columnist for The Chicago Tribune, also challenges the idea that religious freedom is under attack because of the spread of marriage equality.  Speaking of religious people who make such a claim, Chapman wrote:

“It’s a bit rich for these groups to complain that the court is infringing on their freedom to infringe on the freedom of gays. Advocates of same-sex marriage are not trying to exclude heterosexuals from matrimony. They are only asking to be free to practice it as well.

“But opponents charge that churches will be forced to host same-sex weddings and their clergy will be required to perform them. Churches that refuse, they say, may be stripped of their tax-exempt status.

“The likelihood that any of these fears will come to pass ranges from minimal to zero. State laws allow divorce, but Catholic priests haven’t been forced to preside at the weddings of divorced Catholics. Employment discrimination laws haven’t been applied to end bans on female clergy. Nor have such internal church policies led to the loss of standard tax exemptions.”

Chapman notes that marriage equality, far from eroding freedom, is actually an extension of it:

“When Justice Anthony Kennedy made the case for overturning the Defense of Marriage Act, though, he relied on a different provision. DOMA, he wrote, ‘is a deprivation of an essential part of the liberty protected by the Fifth Amendment.’ “

Let’s hope that the failure of this second year’s campaign may teach the bishops that Catholics do not see their religious liberty threatened by marriage equality.  Indeed, many Catholics see the support of marriage equality as an important way to practice their faith, not an impediment to it.  Instead of Fortnights for Freedom, the bishops would do better to have Fortnights for Dialogue, so they can learn from Catholics how issues of LGBT equality proceed from their love of God, neighbor, and the church.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry

Related posts:

April 13, 2012: How Threatened Is Religious Liberty?

June 22, 2012:  U.S. Bishops Launch Campaign to Bolster Idea that Religious Liberty Is at Stake

June 25, 2012:  A Gay Catholic’s Plea for Inclusion During the ‘Fortnight for Freedom’

June 27, 2012:  In DC, Gay Catholics Protest ‘Fortnight for Freedom’ Campaign

July 7, 2012:  ‘Fortnight for Freedom’ Campaign Ends With Protest and Op-Ed

 

 

 


Columnist and Activist Both Criticize Cardinal George on LGBT Issues

June 23, 2013
Cardinal Francis George

Cardinal Francis George

Chicago’s Cardinal Francis George has been in the news lately not only for his vocal opposition to Illinois’ marriage equality bill, but because he recently denied communion to a gay Catholic activist at a Mass celebrating the Archdiocesan Gay and Lesbian Outreach in his city.

Robert McClory, a columnist for The National Catholic Reporter, took apart an essay about marriage equality written by George in the Chicago archdiocesan newspaper.  McClory exposes some of George’s fear-mongering rhetoric, not only on marriage equality, but also on the issue of religious liberty, which seems to be one of George’s main purposes in writing the column.

For example, McClory is justifiably incredulous at George’s depiction of how secular society is “marginalizing” Catholics. McClory writes:

“George then launches out into the deep about the separation of religious faith from public life. He blames John F. Kennedy for starting a roll down the slippery slope and worries Catholics will be eventually barred from federal judgeships, medical schools, editorial offices at major newspapers, the entertainment world and university faculties.

” ‘If Catholics are to be closeted and marginalized in a secularized society, Catholic parents should prepare their children to be farmers, carpenters and craftsmen, small business people and workers in service industries,’ occupations that ‘do not immediately impact public opinion.’ What?”

McClory hits the nail on the head in his concluding paragraph which points out George’s true blindspot:

“Unfortunately, what Cardinal George cannot consider is the possibility that Catholics at the grass-roots level are coming to understand new and different ways to welcome to the table those previously excluded. Many, including not a few theologians, propose that the essence of marriage is the love and permanent commitment of two persons to one another — period. As that conviction matures in time, I believe the church will have to make accommodations with its implications, just as Christians in the time of Galileo had to reinterpret so much they and their ancestors had taken for granted as irreversibly, dogmatically true: the movement of the earth, the sun, moon and stars. It was for many a painful, revolutionary process. And the one believing Christians face now will be for some no less painful and revolutionary. But it must be done, lest the Catholic church disintegrate into a closed, inconsequential cult.”

McClory doesn’t comment on what I consider George’s greatest errors in his essay.  Speaking of marriage equality advocates, George states:

“Further, the claim that one is not equal under law is powerful in our society; it makes one a victim. And the claim that one is being demeaned and personally wounded is even more powerful evidence of victimization.  “

Yet, isn’t that what so many Catholic bishops are doing when they claim that their religious liberty is being curtailed because of pro-LGBT laws?  Aren’t they claiming “victim” status?  Isn’t George guilty of exactly the thing he accuses his opponents of doing?

The cardinal presided at the 25th anniversary Mass for Chicago’s Archdiocesan Gay and Lesbian Outreach (AGLO), and he was greeted by about 25 protesters from the Gay Liberation Network and the Rainbow Sash Movement (RSM).  The latter group is composed of Catholics who present themselves for communion while wearing a rainbow sash, indicating that they believe in the full equality of LGBT people and that they disagree with the hierarchy’s prohibition of sexual activity between person’s of the same gender.  When the RSM’s director, Joe Murray, went to the cardinal for communion, he was refused.

Joe Murray

Joe Murray

The Windy City Times reported:

“Murray stood up with his back to Cardinal George during parts of the Mass, and then he went up with the estimated 200 others in attendance to receive communion. George refused him, and Murray walked away with his hands open and empty, showing the congregants that he had been denied.

“But in an emotional show of solidarity, Brenna C. Cronin, who had already received her communion as part of the church choir, went back up and took another communion wafer (called a Host) and brought it to Murray herself.

” ‘One of my brothers, a member of my community, who is a full and equal member of the body of Christ, was denied communion. So I got back in line and I brought him communion, as I would for anyone else,’ Cronin told Windy City Times after the Mass. Cronin, who is a lesbian, has been involved with AGLO for two years and is also a cantor.

” ‘I was denied communion by the Cardinal,’ Murray said after. ‘I turned to Christ, I walked back open handed, and showed the community that I was denied communion, and Christ, in his mercy, sent me a priest [Cronin] to give me communion.’ “

The news story indicates that some in the congregation supported Murray’s action, while others were critical of it.  You can read the entire news account here.  It contains additional comments from both George and Murray.

What do you think?  Was George right in denying communion?  Was Murray right in presenting himself for communion?  Was the anniversary Mass an appropriate time for LGBT activists to protest George’s positions on LGBT issues?   Please make your thoughts known in the “Comments” section of this post.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry

Related article:

May 1, 2013:  “Tension Emerges as AGLO Marks 25 Years”  Windy City Times


UK Religious Leaders Claim Marriage Troubles, But Catholics in the Pews Disagree

June 10, 2013

House of Lords

As equal marriage progresses in the UK, religious officials increasingly warn of the consequences that passage of this bill could bring if further religious freedom protections are not implemented. The Catholic bishops are now warning the Church may exit civil marriage licensing altogether if the bill is passed as is, but many people of faith who affirm equality are pushing right back

The Telegraph reports on unprecedented movement by religious organizations to add amendments, or just end the legislation for marriage equality altogether as the House of Lords considers it:

“Christian, Jewish, Muslim, Hindu and Buddhist leaders have signed a letter to the Prime Minister, pleading with him to abandon the legislation. . . .

“Allowing couples of the same sex to marry will cause ‘injustice and unfairness’, the signatories said, accusing Mr Cameron of rushing the legislation through Parliament to prevent proper scrutiny…

“The bill is expected to face stiff resistance from members of the House of Lords. . .and could even be rejected there. That would raise the prospect of a constitutional struggle between ministers in the Commons and the upper house.”

In April, the Catholic hierarchy began calling for greater religious protections when the House of Commons was voting on equal marriage. The Telegraph reports that in the UK, as in other areas, Catholic priests act as agents of the state in recognizing civil licenses. This caused the bishops to worry that it leaves priests performing marriages open to lawsuits for discrimination and expensive litigation. The end result might be Catholic churches refusing to perform marriages for the government.

However, English people of faith are objecting to these religious arguments against equal marriage. Terence Weldon of Queering the Church questions these “terrible consequences” arguments, noting the lack of any negative outcomes against religion in jurisdictions with existing equal marriage rights:

“The most important consequence of extending marriage is (surprise!) people getting married…

“The core problem with Catholic bishops’ pronouncements on gay marriage, and on human sexuality more generally, is that they are usually based entirely on speculation and supposition, made with little or no recourse to evidence – and none at all to the real–life experience of loving, committed sexual relationships, of which they have none themselves.”

He also addresses the religious liberty claims as false because everywhere that marriage equality exists, and in the pending UK legislation, ample protections are in place for religions to pursue their beliefs unhindered. Weldon unearths the rub in this most recent UK religious leadership’s push:

“What [the law] does not do, and the bishops appear to want, is to allow people of faith to discriminate in their secular lives, against people who do not share their views, or to prevent those denominations that believe with the Gospels in the importance of full equality and inclusion for all, from exercising their own freedom of religion.”

A Conservative MP, Damian Collins, wrote in The Huffington Post that religious liberty arguments cut both ways, and churches wishing to recognize same-gender couples in marriage should be allowed to do so.

Writing against disingenuous Anglican and Catholic opposition, Stephen Hough of The Telegraph envisions a future focused less on protecting the rights of those who would discriminate, and more on one guided by evangelizing as Christians in support of true equality. He attributes this most recent advancement in human rights to Christianity itself and advocates equal marriage as a way of uplifting Christian faith today:

“It is precisely because gradual moral development over the centuries led us to see human relationships as more than mere procreation that gay people want to get married…the theological insights which have explored marriage as a covenant, a sacrament, an imitation of the inner life of the Trinity could greatly enrich the same-sex relationships of so many…pastoral concern may well be one of the best ways to ensure a future of ‘the general social good’ and even the survival of a national Church of England.

“Overturning the biblical approval of slavery raised Christianity to a new height of moral dignity in the 19th century; overturning prejudice against gay people should become the church’s triumph of the 21st.”

The ongoing debate on equal marriage in the UK is bringing up old arguments for and against, but also new considerations about a more LGBT-positive religious community and the relations between Church and State. Bondings 2.0 will continue updating our readers as the bill progresses.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry


Rep. Paul Ryan Endorses LGBT Adoption, While Newt Gingrich Digs In Against Equality

May 9, 2013
Paul Ryan

Paul Ryan

As marriage equality becomes law in state after state, related legal matters like adoption rights for LGBT individuals and same-gender couples are gaining public attention. Catholic public figures are reviewing long-standing positions by the hierarchy anew, with Republican Congressman Paul Ryan  endorsing equal adoption rights and former House Speaker Newt Gingrich speaking strongly against what he perceives as anti-Christian laws.

Rep. Ryan, a Catholic, spoke at a town hall in Wisconsin last week where an attendee questioned him about a poor rating with the Human Rights Campaign, specifically a 1999 vote against allowing same-gender couples in the District of Columbia to adopt. David Gibson reports on the comments at Religion News Service, quoting Rep. Ryan as saying:

“Adoption, I’d vote differently these days. That was I think a vote I took in my first term, 1999 or 2000. I do believe that if there are children who are orphans who do not have a loving person or couple, I think if a person wants to love and raise a child they ought to be able to do that. Period.”

The Wisconsin congressman’s record on LGBT rights is abysmal otherwise, having voted against the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” repeal and the Matthew Shephard Hate Crimes Protection Act and vocally opposing marriage equality. Gibson points out that in another shift, Rep. Ryan also claimed:

“…he has “always supported” civil unions. Though there is no evidence to support that, it’s a clear sign that the politics of the issue have changed and that even the most conservative Republicans need to appear more hospitable to gays and lesbians in order to expand their voting bloc.”

You can view the town hall remarks in the YouTube video below:

Last weekend, on the television program Meet the Press, Newt Gingrich, a Catholic, reinforced his opposition to LGBT rights, including adoption by same-gender couples. Gingrich expressed an increasingly common talking point by anti-gay groups who claim that LGBT rights lead to the persecution of Christianity. The Huffington Post quotes the failed presidential hopeful:

Newt Gingrich

“‘But what I’m struck with is the one-sidedness of the desire for rights…There are no rights for Catholics to have adoption services in Massachusetts; they’re outlawed. There are no rights in D.C. for Catholics to have adoption services; they’re outlawed.

“‘Does [supporting LGBT rights] mean that you actually have to affirmatively eliminate any institution which does not automatically accept [homosexuality]?’”

However, another panelist on Meet the Press challenged Gingrich’s claims about Catholic Charities in Massachusetts and D.C. being forced to end their adoption services. The Huffington Post reports:

“Panelist Joy Reid, managing editor for The Grio, countered Gingrich’s argument, saying that Catholic Charities decided on its own to discontinue adoption services, rather than comply with the state’s nondiscrimination laws and provide adoptions for both heterosexual and same-sex couples.”

Pew Forum polling last year showed 55% of Catholics supported LGBT adoption rights, and it is increasingly clear to politicians this number is climbing. Recent controversies with Catholic Charities and relations to government in Palo Alto, California and Denver reiterate that the legal struggles will continue for the foreseeable future. As for the implications on Church politics, David Gibson writes:

“…Ryan, who has touted his Catholic faith as evidence of his social as well as economic conservatism…[has a] significant break with the Catholic hierarchy, which has even shut down adoption services rather than placing children with same-sex couples.

“This could spell more trouble for the Catholic bishops in their battle on gay rights; they have already been losing their own faithful, and losing political allies like Ryan is tough.

“Then again, many would say Ryan’s economic policies were hardly in line with the bishops and Catholic teaching, so there.”

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry


CAMPUS CHRONICLES: George Washington University Students Challenge Catholic Chaplain for Anti-Gay Comments

April 9, 2013
Blake Bergen

Blake Bergen

Students at The George Washington University (GWU), in Washington, DC began a campaign last week to institute changes in how the University administers its spiritual care programs, after some complained about anti-LGBT comments from Fr. Greg Shaffer, the Catholic chaplain who administers the University’s Newman Center.

Blake Bergen and Damian Legacy were once active members of the Newman Center at GWU who say they left due to Fr. Shaffer’s anti-gay stance that they say many others considered abrasive and polarizing as well.

In an essay in The Huffington Post, Bergen and Legacy further explain their reasoning in asking for an overhaul of GWU chaplaincy policies. Aware of the tension inherent to respecting religious freedom and free speech at a secular college where diversity abounds, they nonetheless oppose the Newman Center’ messaging:

“[Fr. Shaffer] has a long history of inflammatory comments towards LGBT people in his homilies and fostering a homophobic atmosphere amongst Catholics, and continued his persecution of the LGBT Community last week. While normally a sense of professional respect is observed – as neither of us are Roman Catholic priests- the idea that the Newman Center is entitled to do and believe as it pleases was violated when comments were published on his personal blog and in the student newspaper saying:

“‘Every single rational person knows that sexual relationships between persons of the same sex are unnatural and immoral. They know it in their hearts,’ Shaffer wrote. ‘And, yet, they go against what their hearts tell them when they try to argue for same-sex relationships and ‘gay marriage.’

“While this is simply a taste of the language and sentiments that permeate the Newman Catholic Student Center, the atmosphere spreads to affect those who do not even identify with the center, faith, or seek Father Greg for spiritual advice in the wider University community.”

Damian Legacy

GWU’s student newspaper, The Hatchetreports on this growing campaign and Fr. Shaffer’s record:

“The former Newman Center members are creating a video with testimony from 10 other Catholic students, who cite Shaffer as the reason they left the chapel…Legacy and Bergen also plan to file a formal complaint with the University and hold prayer vigils outside the Newman Center until Shaffer is removed.

“The students lambasted Shaffer’s counseling sessions, in which he said he advises students who are attracted to members of the same sex to remain celibate for the rest of their lives. They also criticized the priest for a fiery blog post he wrote last May, calling gay relationships ‘unnatural and immoral’ after President Barack Obama came out in support of same-sex marriage…

“Aside from the appeal to GW, Legacy and Bergen will also send letters to D.C.’s Roman Catholic archdiocese, who heads the Church for the entire District and is responsible for choosing priests’ assignments. Legacy will also ask the Student Association to defund the Newman Center as part of the SA’s annual allocations process to organizations April 15. This year, the Newman Center received $10,000 from the SA, which divvies up funds from a budget accumulated through student fees.”

GWU administrators are reviewing complaints filed by Legacy in the Office for Diversity and Inclusion.  They are also reviewing it in the Multicultural Student Services Center, comparing GWU’s policies with other comparable institutions on how chaplaincies are admitted, administered, and overseen to remain in line with the University’s mission. No comments on potential changes or a request for Fr. Shaffer’s removal from the University have been released.

Fr. Greg Shaffer

As a reaction to the campaign led by Bergen and Legacy, conservative students and other supporters of the Newman Center have labeled this a matter of ‘persecution’ of Fr. Shaffer for his views.

In response to these charges, Bergen and Legacy are open about their true intentions and goals:

“Let us be clear, we are not attacking the Roman Catholic Church. We are by no means asking the Church to change its views on same-sex marriage, nor are we seeking validation or celebration of our sexuality by the Church, or anyone for that matter.

“What we ask is to be treated with dignity and respect at our university. We ask that the Chaplain of the George Washington University Newman Catholic Student Center, a man charged with the pastoral care of students by a non-university entity, treat each of us with equal love and value. We ask that our university provide a safe and welcoming environment for every student.

“Can we not agree that our students should be safe in schools and that all bullying should be stopped? Furthermore, as an institution dedicated to acceptance and inclusion should GW not be called to take steps to stop homophobic bullying along with all other forms of bullying? We might not all agree about full celebration and inclusion of LGBT civil rights, but we can all agree that bullying should be considered unacceptable, especially from our spiritual leaders.

“We have been criticized for waging an intolerant attack on civil liberties by speaking out against a religious leader for espousing discrimination and anti-LGBT rhetoric. Hate in God’s name is hate, not religion.”

As the campaign continues at GWU, Bondings 2.0 will update our readers on any developments.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry


New Report Reveals Conservatives’ Misuse of Religious Liberty Claims

March 20, 2013

Dr. Jay Michaelson

A new report on religious liberty details the impact conservative Christians, especially Catholics, have had in opposing LGBT rights. A project of the Political Research Associates, the report , entitled Redefining Religious Liberty: The Covert Campaign Against Civil Rights, was authored by Dr. Jay Michaelson,who identifies Catholic far right organizations and the US bishops as primary players in suppressing LGBT equality.

Writing on The Daily Beast, Dr. Michaelson undercuts claims that expanding civil rights is a curtailment of religious liberty by exposing the true purpose of this conservative campaign:

“Today a far-right coalition of conservative Catholics and evangelicals perceive that they have lost the moral battle against LGBT equality, particularly same-sex marriage. And so…they are waging a multi-pronged battle against LGBT rights, not on substantive moral grounds but on the premise that equality for gays restricts the religious liberty of Christians to discriminate against them…

“And today religious-liberty activists claim that bullies are the real victims because they cannot ‘express their views about homosexuality.’ They claim that businesses who say ‘No Gays Allowed’ are being oppressed because they are forced to ‘facilitate’ gay marriages. And they claim that the real targets of discrimination are not gay people, who in 24 states can be fired from their jobs simply for being gay, but employers who can’t fire them…

“Religious liberty is being used to mask a conservative Christian agenda—the same agenda that’s been pushed for half a century now. Some on the far right may sincerely believe their liberties are being threatened, but they believed that about desegregation too. A belief does not make something so.”

Countering this religious liberty argument has been a challenge for progressives.  Francis DeBernardo, Executive Director of New Ways Ministry, examines this challenge in the foreword he wrote for Michaelson’s report.  DeBernardo also published an op-ed about the report on Alternet  which how progressives, especially Catholics, might respond to religious liberty arguments:

Francis DeBernardo

Francis DeBernardo

“The power of this [religious liberty] message comes not from the truth or validity of their [conservatives'] claim, of which there is very little to be found, but from the fact that this puts progressives into a quandary. Yet when leaders on the right make that claim, progressives often tread too delicately, for fear that they will be forced to choose between falsely competing values of liberty and equality…

“As a Catholic who works for LGBT equality, my own loyalties to faith and justice sometimes pull me in opposite directions when an argument for religious liberty is raised. As a practicing Catholic, I want to be sure that the government is not going to interfere with my church’s ability to govern itself. As an advocate for LGBT issues, I want to make sure that equality is served…

“One of the most important recommendations in this report is that a strong faith-based response to the religious liberty argument is needed. And long overdue…A faith-based response to religious liberty would help to unearth the hidden gems within faith traditions, which value conscience, equality, and justice.”

Moving forward politically, LGBT advocates can expect this religious liberty argument to remain active given previous successes nationwide. This report, which you can read here, provides one tool that progressive people of faith can employ in reorienting a distorted narrative.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry


Will Catholic Agencies in Maryland Avoid the New Marriage Equality Law?

November 15, 2012

A week after Maryland became one of the first states to enact marriage equality through a ballot initiative, some Catholic leaders in the state are starting to consider how the new law will affect the church’s social service agencies, such as adoption programs, which accept state funding.

An article in the Archdiocese of Baltimore’s Catholic Review newspaper examines how several other states which have legalized marriage equality witnessed the withdrawal of Catholic involvement with state contracts, particularly in the area of adoption, rather than agree to live by the new law:

“Catholic Charities in Washington, D.C.; Boston; and San Francisco dropped adoption and foster care services after same-sex marriage’s legalization would have required them to place children with same-sex couples in order to continue government contracts for those services. In Washington, Catholic Charities also discontinued benefits for employee’s spouses.

“Catholic Charities in Illinois dioceses also stopped providing adoption and foster care services after the state began recognizing same-sex civil unions in 2011. Catholic Charities of the Diocese of Peoria, Ill., withdrew from state-funded social services contracts altogether.”

The Maryland Catholic Conference (MCC) is expressing concern that Catholic institutions in the state will be faced with a choice about whether or not to accept state funds:

“ ‘According to the actual legislation, religious organizations that accept any sort of state or federal funds are excluded from religious liberty protections,’ the MCC said. ‘They are not exempt, and there are no protections for individuals. Marylanders should not be fooled into thinking we can redefine marriage and still protect religious liberty.’ ”

Surely, Catholic leaders do not have to withdraw ALL support for children in adoption and foster programs as a way of avoiding the new marriage equality law.  It is ironic that church leaders who so forcefully argue against marriage equality as a way of protecting children are now willing to put children at terrible risk because these same leaders refuse to find some creative way to find a workable solution.  The “all or nothing” approach damages not only children, but also Catholic leaders’ credibility who should be people in dialogue with the world around them, not avoiding it.  It would be a true scandal if children become the victims of this struggle.

The Catholic Review story included a quote from your humble blogger , calling for the bishops to make a humanitarian choice in this matter:

“Francis DeBernardo, a coordinator for same-sex marriage advocates Catholics for Marriage Equality for Maryland [and executive director of New Ways Ministry], said it would be ‘a shame’ if any Catholic services in Maryland such as adoption were withdrawn due to the law.

“ ‘I don’t think that there’s anything wrong with allowing gay and lesbian couples to adopt. I think it’s a question of equality and fairness,’ he said. ‘The hierarchy of Maryland is going to have to decide what is more important – the protection of children, or the defense of their definition of “civil marriage,” which the voters of Maryland have decided has a new definition, and whether or not they would like to continue to take (state) government funds, or fund their programs on their own. ‘ ”

If Catholic leaders are unwilling to work within the law of the land, they should not sacrifice the welfare of children to do so.  If they feel they cannot work within the law, they should find a way to fund their programs so as not to let the most vulnerable among us be harmed.

Better still would be if they could open their hearts and minds to the reality that lesbian and gay couples can parent as well as heterosexual couples.  All research points to this truth.  Instead of looking at this matter as an ideological struggle, Catholic leaders should view it, instead, as a learning opportunity to educate themselves better about the reality of lesbian and gay lives.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry

 


How Threatened Is Religious Liberty?

April 13, 2012

LGBT issues are central to the campaign that the U.S. bishops have been mounting to “protect” and “defend” religious liberty.  One example is their argument that laws requiring legal recognition of lesbian and gay couples impinge upon the religious liberty of our church.  One important effect of this religious freedom argument has been that some bishops have closed down adoption services because they claim their faith does not allow them to place children with families headed by a lesbian or gay couple.   Clearly, a scorched earth policy.

Catholics concerned about LGBT equality will be interested to learn that yesterday the U.S. bishops stepped up their campaign about religious liberty, as reported in a New York Times article:

‘The nation’s Roman Catholic bishops issued a proclamation on Thursday calling for every priest, parish and layperson to participate in ‘great national campaign’ to defend religious liberty, which they said is ‘under attack, both at home and abroad.’

“In particular they urged every diocese to hold a ‘Fortnight for Freedom’ during the two weeks leading up to the Fourth of July, for parishioners to study, pray and take public action to fight what they see as the government’s attempts to curtail religious freedom.’

“ ‘To be Catholic and American should mean not having to choose one over the other,’ said the statement, issued by the bishops ad hoc committee on religious freedom. “

The bishops fail to recognize, however, that many, many Catholics have no problem with integrating their faith and national identities, and that they disagree strongly with the bishops’ positions on the so-called “religious liberty” issues such as LGBT equality and access to birth control.

You can read the entire text of the bishops’ statement, entitled “Our First, Most Cherished Liberty” by clicking on the title.

What I found most troublesome was the bishops’ attempt to identify themselves with Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s civil disobedience movement:

“In his famous ‘Letter from Birmingham Jail’ in 1963, Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. boldly said, ‘The goal of America is freedom.’ As a Christian pastor, he argued that to call America to the full measure of that freedom was the specific contribution Christians are obliged to make. He rooted his legal and constitutional arguments about justice in the long Christian tradition:

I would agree with Saint Augustine that “An unjust law is no law at all.” Now what is the difference between the two? How does one determine when a law is just or unjust? A just law is a man-made code that squares with the moral law or the law of God. An unjust law is a code that is out of harmony with the moral law. To put it in the terms of Saint Thomas Aquinas, an unjust law is a human law that is not rooted in eternal law and natural law.

“It is a sobering thing to contemplate our government enacting an unjust law. An unjust law cannot be obeyed. In the face of an unjust law, an accommodation is not to be sought, especially by resorting to equivocal words and deceptive practices. If we face today the prospect of unjust laws, then Catholics in America, in solidarity with our fellow citizens, must have the courage not to obey them. No American desires this. No Catholic welcomes it. But if it should fall upon us, we must discharge it as a duty of citizenship and an obligation of faith.”

What is troublesome about this passage is that the bishops themselves have often not allowed any discussion of unjust laws the church maintains.  Their comparison to Dr. King rings hollow and degrades his memory.

An interesting analysis of the bishops’ statement comes from an editorial published by Commonweal magazine within hours of the statement’s release.  What makes this editorial so interesting is that the editors agree that the bishops should be concerned about religious liberty, however, they view their tactics as alarmist, misguided, and potentially perceived as partisan:

“The bishops are right to call for vigilance on behalf of religious liberty. There are influential currents of opinion today that advocate restricting the presence of religion in public life and would reduce religious liberty to the freedom of individuals or congregations to worship as they please. That is not the American way. There should be considerable room for government to cooperate with religious groups as with other non-governmental bodies in serving the common good. Unfortunately, the argument made by the bishops as well as their proposed tactics for public action undermine their case. Worse, the tenor of the bishops’ statement runs the risk of making this into a partisan issue during a presidential election in which the leaders of one party have made outlandish claims about a ‘war on religion’ or a ‘war against the Catholic Church.’

“The USCCB’s statement vastly exaggerates the extent to which American freedoms of all sorts and of religious freedom in particular are threatened. Church-state relations are complicated, requiring the careful weighing of competing moral claims. The USCCB’s statement fails to acknowledge that fact. Worse, strangely absent from the list of examples provided by the bishops is the best-documented case of growing hostility to religious presence in the United States: hostility to Islam. Unless the bishops correct that oversight, their statement will only feed the impression that this ‘campaign’ for religious freedom has been politically tailored. This silence is especially striking in view of the parallels between anti-Muslim sentiment today and the prejudice encountered by Catholic immigrants in the nineteenth century. If religious freedom becomes a partisan issue, its future is sure to grow dimmer, not brighter.  Religious liberty, absolutely. Partisan politics, no.”

Let’s pray that the bishops soon recognize that this type of campaign, in which they portray themselves as victims, is not only unpersuasive, but it further erodes their moral authority and the credibility of all Catholics.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry


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