Pope’s Influence Fails to Move Slovaks to Oppose Marriage & Adoption Equality

February 9, 2015

Even with the endorsement of Pope Francis, a referendum to ban same-gender marriage and adoption by lesbian and gay couple in the heavily Catholic European nation of Slovakia failed due to extremely low voter turnout.

Billboard in Slovakia supporting ban on marriage and adoption equality.

At least 50% of the electorate would have had to participate in the referendum, but only 21.4% showed up at the polls,  according to Associated Press news story on LGBTQNation.com

The Catholic bishops in Slovakia supported the referendum’s goals, and last week at the Vatican, Pope Francis encouraged a group of Slovakian pilgrims “to continue their efforts in defense of the family, the vital cell of society.”  This statement was his most direct involvement in a national marriage equality debate.   In addition to the questions about marriage and adoption, the referendum also contained a question about allowing parents to remove their children from sex education classes in schools.

Because the referendum was dependent on a 50% turnout for it to be valid, those who opposed the anti-LGBT measures encouraged voters to refrain from voting.  That strategy seems to have worked. Deutsche Welle reported on the results:

“Ahead of Saturday’s vote, liberals gay rights activists and various media outlets had called on the nation’s electorate to boycott the referendum – a simple tactic which proved to be a success.

” ‘The result shows that a campaign full of prejudice … failed to mobilize people, which is very good news for Slovakia,’ activist Lucia Plavakova told Reuters news agency.”

Those who did turn out to vote overwhelmingly endorsed the ban on marriage equality (95%), adoption (92%), and allowing opting out of sex education (90%).   Slovakia already has a ban on same-gender marriage, civil unions, and adoption.  The referendum was meant to strengthen the bans legally.

One LGBT activist was hopeful following the vote, according to the Associated Press story:

“Romana Schlesinger, a LGBT activist said, she hoped the government will now work to make it possible for same-sex couples to live in registered partnership ‘because all our partnerships, our families are living without legal recognition or protection.’ “

More than 80% of Slovaks are Christian, and of these, most are Catholic.  Billboards (see photo above) picturing the pope giving a thumbs-up sign, with slogans supporting the referendum, appeared across the nation, but they seem to have been ineffective.  LGBTQNation.com offered the following explanatory caption for the photo above:

“A billboard depicting Pope Francis with his thumb up located at Klokocina district in Nitra, Slovakia, Thursday, Feb. 5, 2015, invites voters to the Slovak national referendum on the protection of the traditional family scheduled for Saturday, Feb. 7. The Billboard slogans read (in clock-wise direction from left upper corner: ‘Come to referendum 7.2.2015,’  ‘Vote 3xYES’ and  ‘ “Slovakia fights brave today for the protection of the traditional family” (as a quotation) – Pope Francis, Jan. 22, 2015, in Rome.’ “

Yet, the pope’s role seemed to have little influence on the way that they voted. Despite his charismatic popularity among Catholics worldwide, it seems that Pope Francis’ political message against marriage equality is not as powerful as the power of people who want to respect human dignity, rights, and equality.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry



Pope Francis Endorses Bans on Pro-LGBT Laws in Slovakia

February 6, 2015

Pope Francis

While addressing a group of pilgrims from Slovakia during the papal audience this past Wednesday, Pope Francis gave his blessing to those working against a proposed pro-LGBT law in that country.

Speaking about Slovakia’s referendum on marriage and adoption by same-gender couples which will take place this Saturday, Buzzfeed quotes the pope as saying:

” ‘I greet the pilgrims from Slovakia and, through them, I wish to express my appreciation to the entire Slovak church, encouraging everyone to continue their efforts in defense of the family, the vital cell of society.’ “

The referendum will focus on three questions: banning same-gender marriage, banning adoption by same-gender couples, and allowing parents to withdraw their children from sex education classes.

The vote comes after legislators successfully banned marriage equality last June in a nation where 62% of the population are Catholic. These remarks place the pope in the midst of the debate about the Catholic Church’s involvement in these matters, and they are the first ones directed specifically toward one nation’s current voting.

Critics accuse the Conference of Slovak Bishops of engineering the referendum, pointing to public statements and fundraising for an anti-gay group, Alliance for Family, as evidence. The bishops’ spokesperson denied these claims, calling the vote “an initiative of civil society” and claiming ignorance about the fundraising ties. Still, Martin Macko, head of the Slovakian LGBT rights group Inokost, criticized this involvement:

“For first time in Slovak modern history the Catholic Church is heavily involved in political campaign.”

The referendum will not necessarily have an easy passage because the nation’s requires that a minimum of 50% of eligible voters participate for it to become law.

Advocate.com reported the reactions of two Catholic LGBT advocates to this latest papal news:

“American Catholic advocates for LGBT equality expressed disappointment with the pope’s endorsement of the ballot questions. ‘Pope Francis has made some amazing gestures of openness and welcome to LGBT people, but a statement like this shows that he still has a lot to learn,’ Francis DeBernardo, executive director of New Ways Ministry, told The Advocate.

“ ‘It’s pretty clear that since the synod on the family last fall … the Catholic right has really gotten to the Vatican and to Pope Francis,’ said Marianne Duddy-Burke, executive director of DignityUSA, in an Advocate interview. ‘It’s really crushing to a lot of people who were hoping to see policy change.’

“The pope needs to hear from Catholics in same-sex unions as well as theologians and laypeople who support LGBT equality if anything is going to change, both activists said. ‘The official Catholic teaching on marriage is really out of step with what most Catholic theologians think and write today,’ DeBernardo said.

“The second session of the Synod of Bishops on the Family, a follow-up to last fall’s event, will be held in Rome in October, and DeBernardo expressed the hope that the pope would meet with same-sex couples there, so he would be talking with them instead of about them. Duddy-Burke added that the World Meeting of Families in September in Philadelphia, which Pope Francis is set to attend, would provide opportunities for him to meet with same-sex couples and equality supporters.”

Pope Francis’ comments add to his ambiguous record on LGBT issues, with recent contrasts including his meeting with a transgender man while calling on Catholics to oppose ideological colonization while in the Philippines. While his welcoming words and pastoral moments are a breath of fresh air in the church’s life, his support for anti-LGBT civil laws rapidly expanding across the world are in opposition to his emphasis on justice and mercy. Caring for sexual and gender-diverse minorities requires more than kind words and touching individual moments; it requires structural justice, too.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry

Ireland’s “Gay Moment” as Marriage Referendum and Ban on Employment Discrimination Approach

February 3, 2015

As Ireland’s referendum on same-gender marriage approaches this spring, LGBT issues are making headlines nationwide in what one columnist calls ‘Ireland’s gay moment.’ Irish legislators are also considering a bill regarding family law for same-gender couples, separate from marriage rights, and a review of the country’s ban on gay blood donors. Perhaps of greatest interest to Catholics in the U.S. concerned about LGBT people being fired from Catholic schools is a directive being considered: a ban on church worker employment discrimination.

The following are recent developments with links provided for further reading.

Church Workers Could Win Employment Rights

Equality Minister Aodhán Ó Ríordáin intends to change the nation’s Employment Equality Act so that church workers who are LGBT, divorced, or parents outside of marriage will be protected from discrimination. Many of Ireland’s public schools are administered by the church meaning this change will have a widespread impact. The minister says current law:

” ‘…has a chilling effect when people feel they can’t be themselves…Members of the LGBT community and divorcees and unmarried parents will not have a fear of being themselves and being open about their private lives if they are working in schools and hospitals.’ “

Ríordáin hopes to have the changes approved by Easter reports the Irish Examiner.

Referendum Wording Released; Catholics Respond

The Irish government released the language change in regard to marriage that people will be voting on this spring.  Voters will be asked if they want the following language added to the national: “Marriage may be contracted in accordance with law by two persons without distinction as to their sex.”

Two groups, Gay Catholic Voices Ireland (GCVI) and We Are Church Ireland, responded positively. GCVI chair Ciarán O’Mathuna said in a statement:

” ‘Civil marriage is a matter for the state and should not be confused with church marriage. As chair person of GCVI and as a practicing Catholic, I want to call on all thinking Catholics to be fully aware of this distinction and vote yes for equality and social justice which, is a cornerstone of our faith belief.’ “

We Are Church said in its own statement:

 “[S]ocial justice requires that loving, committed relationships between two consenting adults should be treated equally by the Irish State, regardless of gender or sexual orientation.”

Meanwhile,  RTE reports that Bishop Liam MacDaid of Clogher, head of the Irish Bishops’ Council for Marriage and Family, objected to the language, as expected, saying it was cold.  He promised a campaign against the referendum. However, critics are criticizing the hierarchy for scaremongering in an Ireland where the church’s power is greatly diminshed. In a column for the Irish Examiner, Michael Clifford writes:

“[T]he basis on which the main plank of the no campaign is being run harks back to a time when the Catholic Church controlled the State…they have resorted to fear and to concern for children…Back in the day, they wouldn’t have had that problem. The Church would have merely issued an edict and the population would have complied, in both letter and spirit.”

Leo Varadkar

Top Minister Comes Out as Gay

Ireland’s Health Minister Leo Varadkar came out last month, becoming the first openly gay cabinet minister in this nation where homosexuality was criminalized until 1993, reports Bloomburg BusinessIn a radio interview, Varadkar said being gay was “just part of who I am,” and he continued:

” ‘I want to be honest with people, I don’t want anyone to think I’ve a hidden agenda…Whatever decisions are made on any issue, I’ll make them according to what I believe is in the public interest.’ “

These decisions include the marriage referendum and a pending review of a ban on gay blood donors. Varadkar is heavily favored to take over the leading Fine Gael party, which could mean Ireland has its first openly gay Taoiseach (prime minister) in the near future, as well. While Varadkar’s coming out was welcomed by Irish leaders, it failed to generate headlines in Europe where LGBT ministers are increasingly commonplace.

Yesterday, Bondings 2.0 reported that an Irish Catholic school cancelled an anti-bullying workshop for failing to present “the other side.” Taken together, all of these stories reveal that while one of the world’s most Catholic nations is undergoing great positive changes when it comes to LGBT rights, much work, particularly for Catholic institutions, remains.

For Bondings 2.0’s ongoing coverage of Ireland’s marriage referendum, click here.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry

Anti-Bullying Workshop Cancelled for Failing to Present “Other Side”

February 2, 2015

A Facebook meme posted by upset Coláiste Eoin students.

A planned anti-bullying workshop at a Catholic school in County Dublin, Ireland, was cancelled because school administrators said that it did not represent the “other side” of the issue, though they remained vague about what that might be.

Facilitators from Shout Out, an LGBT education group contracted by the school to conduct the workshop, had already arrived at Coláiste Eoin secondary school when administrators told them the event was cancelled, reported the BBC.

Parents had complained about the workshop, which Shout Out had done twice before at the all-boys school without previous incident. According to the principal Finín Máirtín, the workshop did not present the “other side,” which the school later clarified as meaning “other view points which have been expressed.” The The Journal reports the school’s Board of Management is choosing to stand by the administrator’s decision.

The workshop, led by LGBT twenty-somethings with experience in Irish schools, is described on ShoutOut’s website in the following way:

“Homophobic and transphobic bullying is a real and life-threatening problem in Irish schools. Our one hour interactive sessions build understanding for people who are struggling with their sexuality, foster support amongst friends and classmates, and encourage a supportive and welcoming school environment for LGBTQ students.”

Coláiste Eoin students took to social media to protest the decision. They organized on Facebook to wear rainbow clothing during classes the next day, enlisting the support of the neighboring Catholic all-girls school to join the protest. A hashtag, #ColaisteEoin, also gained prominence on Twitter. Even Ireland’s Education Minister Jan O’Sullivan weighed in on the controversy by expressing her disappointment and her hope that the program would be rescheduled soon.

Coláiste Eoin administrators released a statement saying that they are proposing to reschedule the workshop because they are a “caring, tolerant and inclusive school community.” However, Declan Meehan of ShoutOut has contacted the school repeatedly, and he has been told that the initial decision stands.

It is difficult to think of what “other side” there is to an anti-bullying workshop. Treating every person according to their human dignity and condemning discrimination are entirely consistent with Catholic teaching. There is no excuse for the bullying of LGBTQ youth. The church’s schools in Ireland and elsewhere should do their utmost to prevent this  harmful phenomenon. Coláiste Eoin should reverse their decision and invite SpeakOut to present the workshop with the school’s full apology.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry

Canadian Professor Gives Catholics a Lesson on Courage and Faith

January 31, 2015

In December 2014, Bondings 2.0 reported on a controversy in the Alberta province of Canada concerning Bill 10, a proposed law which would give local school boards the final say on whether a gay-straight alliance (GSA) could be established by students in a school.  This is especially important for Catholic schools in Alberta, which are state-funded, and run by Catholic boards.  The bill would make it more difficult for students to establish a GSA.

Alberta’s Premier delayed a vote on the bill so that a wider debate could happen among parents, school board members, administrators, students, and faculty.

But it seems that the hoped-for debate has not taken place. At least that’s the feeling of one University of Alberta professor, who recently penned an open letter calling on the Catholic school boards to start discussing the matter openly.

Dr. Kristopher Wells

Dr. Kristopher Wells of the university’s Institute for Sexual Minority Studies challenged the trustees to start speaking, but he suspects their silence is caused by the fact that even though a recent poll showed that 80% of Albertans support GSAs, the two bishops of the province would like to see the controls put in place that Bill 10 offers.

660News.com quoted from Wells’ letter:

“What we’re asking is for that curtain of silence to be lifted. We certainly have seen the pastoral letters from the bishops in Edmonton and Calgary but our democratically elected trustees have yet to speak and talk about how they understand GSAs and if they’ll support them.

“They can’t bring the issues forward out of fear for precautions and certainly the premier has promised consultation and we feel like democratically elected trustees should be part of that consultation, and we should be hearing from them, that’s their jobs.”

The Vauxhall Advance quoted Wells’ allegations that it is fear imposed bishops which caused the silenced discussion and interference with democracy:

“Catholic school trustees are not speaking out. We know that, for example, Catholic students have been silenced, parents have been silenced, along with trustees, teachers, and administrators on these LGBQT (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Queer and Transgender/Transsexual) issues in schools. So what does that say about democracy if so many people are prevented from speaking out on these issues? I think for many of the Catholic trustees, and teachers in particular, there’s a great fear of retribution, where they’ve been told to stop speaking out.

“We’ve seen the letters from the Catholic bishops who refuse to support gay-straight alliances in schools. The fact that we have this ongoing censorship, I think as a public we have to ask if democratically-elected Catholic trustees are forbidden to voice their views, or speak on behalf of their constituents, is democracy being served? Do voters and their views not count?”

Wells noted that in the past the trustees did not always side with the bishops on other issues of controversy such as HPV vaccines:

“Science, reason and the evidence moved trustees to make decisions that would support students in their schools, and we’re asking for the same kind of consideration here on this issue surrounding gay-straight alliances — let the science, let the research, and let the evidence speak, and let’s have discussions, rather than this curtain of silence being dropped on trustees, with no dialogue, no debate, and certainly no democracy being served.”

This development is a sad commentary on the state of affairs in our Catholic Church when lay people are afraid to speak their opinions because of fear of the hierarchy.  Fortitude/courage is one of the seven gifts of the Holy Spirit, and the Catechism of the Catholic Church gives this description:

“Fortitude is the moral virtue that ensures firmness in difficulties and constancy in the pursuit of the good. It strengthens the resolve to resist temptations and to overcome obstacles in the moral life. The virtue of fortitude enables one to conquer fear, even fear of death, and to face trials and persecutions. It disposes one even to renounce and sacrifice his life in defense of a just cause.”

And Canon 212 of the Code of Canon Law states:

Ҥ2.The Christian faithful are free to make known to the pastors of the Church their needs, especially spiritual ones, and their desires.

“§3. According to the knowledge, competence, and prestige which they possess, they have the right and even at times the duty to manifest to the sacred pastors their opinion on matters which pertain to the good of the Church and to make their opinion known to the rest of the Christian faithful, without prejudice to the integrity of faith and morals, with reverence toward their pastors, and attentive to common advantage and the dignity of persons.”

Pope Francis has clearly signaled that debate and discussion should not be foreign to Catholic circles. That is the method of discernment that the Church should exercise.

The road to LGBT equality in the Catholic Church would be much easier if more Catholics found the courage to speak their beliefs to their pastors, bishops, and other leaders.  We should all pray to always have that kind of courage.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry



What to Make of Pope Francis’ Latest Comments on Marriage?

January 17, 2015

Until yesterday, I had wanted to write a hope-filled blog post about Pope Francis’ visit to the Philippines this weekend.  On Wednesday and Thursday, I had been reading articles about the great expectation for his visit building in this nation with the third largest Catholic population in the world (behind Brazil and Mexico, and followed by the U.S.).  There has been much good news lately about Filipino church leaders speaking out for LGBT people.

Pope Francis addressing the meeting of families in Pasay City, Philippines

But then yesterday, the news broke that in one of his talks in the Philippines, Pope Francis decried the “ideological colonization” of the family, of which journalist John Allen said that a Vatican spokesman told him that “at least in part, the pope had gay marriage in mind.”

Joshua McElwee of The National Catholic Reporter provided the details of the statement, made at a meeting of families:

“Saying that God is calling people to ‘recognize the dangers threatening our own families,’ Francis stated, ‘There is an ideological colonization we have to be careful of that tries to destroy the family.’

“Obliquely referencing historical colonization of the Philippines and his native Argentina, he continued: ‘Just as our peoples were able to say no to the period of colonization, as families we have to be very wise and very strong with fortitude to say no to these initiatives of colonization that could destroy the family.’ “

Later in the story, McElwee reported on the pope’s elaboration of these ideas:

” ‘The pressures on family life today are many,’ Francis said. ‘The economic situation has caused families to be separated by migration and the search for employment, and financial problems strain many households.’

He continued: ‘The family is also threatened by growing efforts on the part of some to redefine the very institution of marriage, by relativism, by the culture of the ephemeral, by a lack of openness to life.’ “

In the same talk, he praised Pope Paul VI’s birth control encyclical, Humanae Vitae, but also urged pastors to be compassionate in particular cases.

What to make of this development, especially since it comes just about two months after the Vatican hosted a conference on male/female complementarity in sexuality, where the pope publicly praised the concept which many see as sexist and irrelevant to authentic discussions of sexual relationships?

John Allen wrote that while many saw Pope Francis as a progressive at the last synod, and that some feared he was stacking the deck for the next synod to align with liberal notions.  Allen’s response:

“In light of the pope’s comments in the Philippines, those conclusions may have to be rethought.”

Allen may be right that for some people, both on the right and on the left, their vision of Pope Francis as a liberal is severely challenged by his recent remarks.  But Francis, while much more progressive in many ways than the previous two popes, had never really stated firmly that he supported same-gender marriage.  The furthest he had gone was to support civil unions as an alternative to marriage when he was an archbishop in Argentina, and to make a vague reference in an interview last spring to being open to the possibility of legal civil unions, though it was unclear if he meant this for heterosexual couples as an alternative to marriage or to lesbian and gay couples as a form of civil protection.

My response to the pope’s recent comments focus more on his use of the words “ideological colonization.”  That to me is more problematic than a negative assessment of marriage equality, which I did not think he ever supported.  “Ideological colonization” invokes a political framework of imposing outside values by force.  There are two reasons why that is problematic.

First, most Catholics who support marriage equality do so because they are motivated by their faith. It is not an ideological or political stand for them.  They believe in the equality of lesbian and gay people, they see their committed relationships as holy, natural, and wholesome, and they want the children in those families to be protected.  These are not ideological concerns, and they are not based in relativism.

Second, “colonization” seems to refer to statements by some African members of the hierarchy who have erroneously stated that homosexuality is not native to their countries, but brought in by Westerners.  Of course, this is not true at all, as homosexuality has existed in all cultures.  If colonialists brought anything in this regard, it was homophobia.

There is a burgeoning LGBT movement in the Philippines, and one of the reasons I was hopeful earlier in the week was that I read a news report that a coalition of LGBT organizations had written an open letter asking the pope to meet with them.   What is interesting about the letter is that there is no mention of marriage equality in it.  They wanted to meet with him to discuss stigma, bullying, assault, disease, and dehumanization, among other problems they have.  Wouldn’t it have been great if the pope met with this group and listened, rather than speaking words which do not reflect the truth about LGBT lives?

Pope Francis could also have met with Filipino pastoral workers who do outreach to LGBT people.  The New York Times reported:

“The church has also become more tolerant of those whose lifestyles conflict with church teachings on social issues.

“ ‘Gay people and people who are living with a partner outside of marriage worship and serve in our parish, said Joseph Zaldivar, a seminarian at the Archdiocese of Manila. ‘They are welcomed.’

“He said that message had reached parishes around the country.”

Or he could have spoken to one lesbian couple who were married in a non-denominational church in the Philippines on the day that the pope arrived there.

The hallmark of Francis’ papacy has not been his outreach to LGBT people, though indeed that has been more marked than his predecessors.  The hallmark has been his openness to dialogue and discussion.  He should have followed his own principles and been a listener in the Philippines, rather than a talker.

And finally, the teaching against birth control and the teaching against same-sex relationships both spring from the principle that all sexual acts should be open to procreation.  If Pope Francis is willing to consider individual cases in regards to birth control, as he said in this speech, couldn’t the same direction be given in regards to lesbian and gay couples?

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry

Related articles:

ABS-CBN News: “Little hope of Roman Catholic revolution”

Reuters:  “Pope says ‘ideological colonization’ threatens the traditional family”

CNN: “Philippines welcomes the Pope”

GLAAD.org blog: “Pope Francis called marriage equality ‘ideological colonization’ to destroy family”

Advocate.com: “Pope Calls Same-Sex Marriage a ‘Threat’ to the Family”

On Religious Freedom Day, Protecting Liberty and Justice for All

January 16, 2015
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Today is Religious Freedom Day, a time set aside to honor one of the United States’  most cherished value: the right to worship God as one sees fit.   January 16th was selected for this commemoration because it it is the anniversary of the Virginia General Assembly’s adoption of the Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom in 1786, which became the basis for the U.S. Constitution’s freedom of religion clause in the first amendment.

For Catholics who support LGBT equality, religious freedom is an important issue because it is often used by Church leaders to oppose marriage equality and other laws that would require that LGBT people be treated as everyone else.  Conservative church leaders use religious freedom as a way to try to shield themselves from being required to comply with laws that they say their faith says they cannot obey.

I am a strong supporter of religious freedom.  I believe government should not force churches to act against their principles.  I believe that individuals should be able to live out their faith as they see fit.  However, I don’t believe that this freedom should be allowed to harm other people in the wider society, or worse, to deny others the opportunity to freely practice their faith. There is also a grave danger that the misuse of religious freedom can do serious harm to the concept itself.

For example, in a New York Times column, Frank Bruni points out that religious freedom is currently being used as an excuse to discriminate against LGBT people–the same way that it has been used against racial minorities:

“As these lamentations about religious liberty get tossed around, it’s worth remembering that racists have used the same argument to try to perpetuate segregation. [A.C.L.U. lawyer James] Esseks noted that even after the Civil Rights Act, the owner of the Piggie Park restaurant chain in South Carolina maintained that he could refuse to serve black people because his religion forbade the mixing of races. The courts were unimpressed.”

Yet, last year’s Supreme Court decision in the Hobby Lobby case paved the way for non-religious institutions like the Piggie Park restaurant chain to claim a religious exemption if those who run the institution have deeply held religious beliefs.

Bruni points out what is wrong with that kind of thinking:

“. . . [I]n a country that’s not supposed to promote any one religion over others, we do precisely that.

“Would we be content to let a Muslim store owner who believes that a woman should always cover her hair refuse service to women who do not? Or a Mormon hairdresser who spurns coffee to turn away clients who saunter in with frappuccinos?

“I doubt it. So why should a merchant whose version of Christianity condemns homosexuality get to exile gays and lesbians?

“Baking a cake, arranging roses, running an inn: These aren’t religious acts, certainly not if the establishments aren’t religious enclaves and are doing business with (and even dependent on) the general public.

“Their owners are routinely interacting with customers who behave in ways they deem sinful. They don’t get to single out one group of supposed sinners. If they’re allowed to, who’s to say they’ll stop at that group?”

While the expansion of religious freedom to non-religious institutions and activities is one danger, another similar danger is the expansion of the “ministerial exception.”  While this provision allows churches the freedom for clergy to be exempted from certain laws, there has been a movement to expand the idea of who is “ministerial.”  One only has to think of the tragic case of a gay food service director denied employment at a Catholic school because he was married to a man to see the problem with this type of expansion.

Open Doors’ map of Christian persecution world-wide.

A main problem with the way that conservatives are playing the concept of religious freedom is not only the damage it can do to LGBT people and other minorities, but that those who truly face persecution because of religious belief are overlooked.  Religion News Service recently described  a report by an organization called Open Doors USA which monitors persecution of Christians around the world.  They cited 50 nations around the globe which are categorized into places of “Extreme Persecution,” “Severe Persecution,” “Moderate Persecution,” “Sparse Persecution.”  The United States is not even on the list.  No European nation is either.  Or any Latin American country.  In short, the places on the globe where marriage equality has been established do not even register on the Christian persecution scale.

Bruni illustrated how claims to Christian persecution here in the U.S. are deceptive and false:

“Christian fundamentalists in this country are practiced at claiming marginalization and oppression. ‘They’re always saying they’re kept out of the public square, and that’s baloney,’ said Marci Hamilton, a constitutional law expert and the author of  ‘God vs. the Gavel.’ ‘They’re all over the public square.’

“They and their churches inject themselves into political debates while enjoying tax-exempt status. They get public support in questionable circumstances. After a student Christian magazine insisted on its right to funds from the University of Virginia, the Supreme Court decided in 1995 that if a nonreligious publication got financial help from a public school, so must a religious publication, even if it’s proselytizing.”

Pope Francis receives a shawl from Sri Lankan Hindu priest Kurakkal Somasundaram.

Pope Francis, in his recent visit to Sri Lanka, made an impassioned call for religious freedom during one of his homilies.  The National Catholic Reporter quoted him:

“Religious freedom is a fundamental human right. Each individual must be free, alone or in association with others, to seek the truth, and to openly express his or her religious convictions, free from intimidation and external compulsion.”

Francis continued on the theme with a message that I think sums up my own views of religious freedom, and which challenges those who try to use religious freedom as a weapon to discriminate:

“Genuine worship of God bears fruit not in discrimination, hatred and violence, but in respect for the sacredness of life, respect for the dignity and freedom of others, and loving commitment to the welfare of all.”

New Ways Ministry is a member of the Coalition for Liberty and Justice, a group of religious, political, and legal organizations which work together to make sure that religious freedom is enacted in a way which honors all people.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry


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