North Carolina Bishop Distances Himself from HB2 Support

May 8, 2016
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Bishop Michael Burbidge

A North Carolina bishop has distanced himself from initial support offered by the state’s Catholic conference for an anti-LGBT law the legislature is considering. The bishop is now saying the law, which criminalizes public restroom use according to one’s gender identity rather than assigned sex at birth and bans local LGBT non-discrimination protections, raises concerns that should be remedied.

Bishop Michael Burbidge of Raleigh said legislators should rework problematic parts of the law, known as HB2, and he called for mutual respect and dialogue between opposing sides. Burbidge said “another remedy to the unfortunate situation created by the Charlotte Ordinance and HB2 should be considered.” The Charlotte Ordinance is an LGBT non-discrimination law passed in the state’s largest city.

The bishop suggested that a remedy should be guided by a respect for human dignity, the avoidance of bigotry, and a pursuit of the common good, among other factors. He told WRAL 5 that legislators could “come up with something better” that is not understood to be bigoted or misconstrued. His statement at a media luncheon continued:

“No person should feel as though they are unwelcome in our communities of faith. The priests of this Diocese, myself included, remain committed to speaking with anyone who has concerns about how we operate or what we believe. This applies regardless of one’s gender or gender identity. Building strong relationships is fundamental to healthy faith communities. All people are made in the image and likeness of God as man and woman, and we stand ready to continue accompanying all people in their faith walk.”

Burbidge, however, defended the diocese’s policies for “gender specific multi-stall bathrooms and said organizations’ decisions about their own operations “should be respected.” He closed with an appeal for civility in what has become a most contentious debate:

“My hope and call, is that before this issue takes another step in either direction, both sides will treat one another with decency, love, and mutual respect.”

These are Burbidge’s first public comments on HB2 since it was passed in April, although it should not be considered his first time weighing in on the matter. Catholic Voice North Carolina, the bishops’ public policy arm, asked Catholics to oppose the Charlotte LGBT protections ordinance to which HB2 was responding, and said the state law had “yielded a favorable outcome for religious liberty.” Later, a spokesperson for the Raleigh diocese then said that “the Diocese does not have a position on HB2.”

Attacks continue against HB2. The U.S. Department of Justice notified Governor Pat McCrory that this law violates federal civil rights laws, specifically the rights of state workers and students who should be able to access public restrooms. The federal Departments of Transportation, and Housing and Urban Development are inquiring as to whether their civil rights policies are being violated too. Whether Bishop Burbidge’s distancing is tied to the shifting realities in law and in public opinion, or whether he is waking up the fact this law is unjust discrimination is not clear.

Thankfully, as with marriage equality, U.S. Catholics are among the most supportive religious adherents for non-discrimination of LGBT people. New polling from Reuters/Ipsos showed U.S. Catholics evenly split on the question of whether restroom use should be according to one’s gender identity or assigned sex at birth. While more education is needed to improve these numbers, Catholics are more supportive of transgender protections than religious people overall and mirror trends which find people in the U.S. overall split on the issue.

One high-profile Catholic from the Carolinas is speaking out for LGBT equality. Stephen Colbert who hosts CBS’ The Late Show shared his thoughts about the restroom controversies, saying, “And to all those lawmakers out there who are so obsessed with whose using what bathroom and what plumbing they’ve got downtown, newsflash, you’re the weirdos.” You can watch Colbert’s thoughts below or by clicking here.

Ellen K. Boegel, a legal scholar at St. John’s University, wrote in America that these anti-LGBT laws really reflect “a deeper societal divide and [illustrate] the need for reasoned use of political power.” She continued:

“Regardless, politicians and advocacy groups serve their constituents best by avoiding unnecessary controversy and looking instead for mutually beneficial solutions. . .Focusing on outcomes that are universally beneficial will not end all disputes regarding the appropriate balance between civil rights and religious rights, but it would be better government.”

Passing laws which are blatantly unconstitutional undermines government credibility and faith in the democratic process, Boegel wrote, especially when religious liberty is already well-protected. She pointed out, too, that non-gender-specific facilities benefit women, families, and persons with disabilities, in addition to trans* people.

Most bishops, led by the USCCB’s partisan fight over religious liberty, have thus far refused to admit the harm that anti-LGBT state laws can cause.  They do not see that these laws as violating the common good. Protecting LGBT people from very real and harmful discrimination is not on the bishops’ agenda. They seem to forget the many times in the 1970s and 1980s when their episcopal predecessors supported ordinances and laws aimed at curtailing discrimination against people based on their sexual orientation.

But this admission from Bishop Burbidge that HB2 is questionable and may indeed advance discrimination could be the first sign of a shift. His outreach to dialogue with people of all gender identities may open the door for further progress. Let us hope so.  In the meantime, lets keep focused on what we as Catholics can do to ensure every person is protected under the law and respected as a child of God.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry

Related article:

National Catholic Reporter: “North Carolina bishop calls for bathroom bill alternative”


A Look Into What Drives the Conservative Public Policy of the USCCB

May 6, 2016

Tony Spence’s forced resignation from his position as editor-in-chief of Catholic News Service is indicative of a greater disturbing trend at the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops.  That’s the claim made by John Gehring, the Catholic program director at Faith in Public Life. In a Commonweal article, Gehring lays out the USCCB’s recent trend of digging deeper into culture war battles, just at the time when Pope Francis has been calling church leaders to put aside such strident partisan involvement in favor of a method which engages culture and differing opinions.

Tony Spence

Spence left his job a little over two weeks ago, primarily because tweets he sent out from his personal Twitter account in which he criticized some state legislative battles involving LGBT issues and religious liberty.  The USCCB, which owns Catholic News Service, forced him to submit a letter of resignation.

Gehring spoke with Spence after his sudden departure and reported that the former editor has observed much anxiety and tension among Catholic leaders.  Spence told Gehring:

“I think it’s a very tense time in the American church and some things are off limits for discussion in any kind of rational way. It’s difficult to talk about religious liberty, sexuality, women’s issues. But we don’t live in a Catholic bubble. We’re a country of 320 million people.”

Spence observed that the USCCB’s agenda would often creep into the editing of Catholic News Service pieces, which traditionally had editorial independence from the bishops.  Spence said:

“When you reported on positions that politicians took on health care or issues of sexuality even neutrality was seen as an implied endorsement. We really had to be careful about the language we used and how we wrote things. Eventually you start to do that so much you look up and you’re self-censoring and you almost don’t realize how you got there. There was never any direction from the leadership of the conference not to report on something. We had editorial freedom, but there were a lot of battles fought over it.”

Through research for his book The Francis Effect, Gehring interviewed a number of high-ranking conference staff members who gave him a picture of what he calls “the larger, systemic changes at the USCCB in recent years.”  Moreover, many of those interviewed “lamented the all-consuming focus on religious liberty fights, and expressed concern that a hunkered-down approach is limiting the bishops’ effectiveness.”  Not surprisingly, LGBT issues are often at the center of these battles:

“Whether it’s decrying as “extreme” President Obama’s 2014 executive order prohibiting federal contractors from discriminating on the basis of sexual orientation, comparing American disputes over religious liberty to the persecution of Christian martyrs, or publicly opposing the bipartisan reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act for including LGBT protections, the conference often seems determined to box itself into a corner.”

Citing Cathleen Kaveny, a legal scholar, Gehring notes that the U.S. bishops agenda is in opposition to the new agenda which Pope Francis is trying to set for the church, described as “a clear desire to recalibrate the Catholic public voice in a way that doesn’t reduce those moral teachings to a short list of hot-button sexual issues.”

John Gehring

One of those interviewed was Dolores Leckey, the first head of the Secretariat for Family, Laity, Women and Youth.  Leckey told Gehring:

“There is now a kind of unspoken test, and if anyone has a perceived taint of not being on target with every single element of Catholic doctrine, it just doesn’t fly. The church gets cut out of all kinds of effective partnerships. It’s crimping our ability to make a difference.”

Gehring also examines the handful of conservative Catholic websites who have had undue influence on the USCCB, including prompting the ouster of Spence.  Among those mentioned is “Church Militant,” anchored by Michael Voris, who has been notoriously anti-gay in many of his commentaries.  Gehring points out an interesting development about Voris’ personal life:

“. . . [Voris] last week acknowledged for the first time that in the past he had been in sexual relationships with men. He accused the Archdiocese of New York of preparing documents to publicly discredit him, a claim the archdiocese denies.”

Spence acknowledged that these conservative groups often have an immense amount of influence at the USCCB and on individual bishops.  He told Gehring:

“What blows my mind is these groups are given so much credibility and have influence. They are destructive. We’re only talking about a few hundred people in a very big church, but church leadership sometimes doesn’t have confidence in its own voice and these shrill challenges make them jump for cover.”

Gehring’s article is well worth reading in its entirety, and you can do so by clicking here.  He offers many more examples of the culture war mentality at the USCCB.  The stories show that it will take much work and prayer for Pope Francis’ proposed reforms to take root in this institution.

Still, of all the chilling examples he offers, for me the idea that I find the most dangerous is the one that Spence himself warned against:  “self-censorship.” In days gone by, silencing by the Church was accomplished by imprisoning people, exiling them, and, in the worst cases, execution.  Today, silencing is achieved by instilling an atmosphere of fear in church officials, lay leaders, and people in the pews.  The best way to prevent such self-censorship is through overcoming the fear that motivates it.  The best way to overcome fear is through contemplative prayer.

In order to change the culture of the USCCB, we need to keep speaking out truthfully and courageously, and we need to continue to pray to overcome our own fear and to ask that others are able to overcome theirs, too.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry

 

 


Top Gay Rights Campaigner in UK Speaks Movingly About Her Catholic Faith

April 20, 2016
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Ruth Hunt

In an interview with The Scottish Catholic Observer, a leading gay rights advocate in the United Kingdom spoke movingly about her faith, while at the same time she appealed again for more common ground between LGBT and religious communities.

Ruth Hunt, head of the LGBT rights organization Stonewall, and a Catholic lesbian woman, gave the interview to coincide with LGBT month in Scotland, which this year celebrates the theme “faith, religion and philosophy.” In the interview, Hunt spoke about being raised Catholic, and she said of the faith which she still practices:

” ‘I was brought up Catholic, I believe in one Holy Roman Catholic Church. . .I believe it is where Christ is most accurately reflected. I feel at home there, I maintain a good relationship with the Church, I am pleased to be part of it. . .

” ‘I never felt the need break away. . .In the past, when I didn’t go I found I missed it, it provides community and creates a space that is very profound and spiritual for me.’ “

Hunt later said she “never felt excluded from the Church I attended. . .never felt I wasn’t welcome.” Like many Catholics, though, Hunt has questioned the church, yet remaining Catholic was a “very important thing” in her teenage years and was reaffirmed during her college studies of medieval English.

Hunt acknowledged that some sharp divisions and deep hurt exist between LGBT and religious communities, which can create further difficulties for LGBT people of faith. She explained:

” ‘I do meet people who have had different, difficult experiences though who’ve been damaged by being told to deny their sexuality, who felt rejected by God. . .That’s saddens me, and at Stonewall we often talk about the need for “kind eyes,” when we listen to people.'”

But too often these divisions are “something artificially constructed,” particularly the “over inflated” conflict between religious freedom and LGBT rights that some propose. Hunt noted:

” ‘There are many LGBT people of faith and many LGBT people have lots of friends and family in faith communities. To think in terms of binaries and opposites is not helpful. . .It does concern me the way some opposition is expressed. I don’t think it is Christian to be harmfully offensive. I think there’s always room to disagree with compassion.’ “

Working towards more inclusion in religious communities and more common ground between LGBT and religious communities remain an important task, according to Hunt, because “legal rights only go so far.” She offered advice on how LGBT advocates could proceed as they seek greater justice and equality:

“Hearing the truth of people’s testament is very important. . . A lot can be achieved if you start on basis of love but it’s difficult when people are utterly determined not to hear each other. . .

“We need to reach deeper into communities, to help people be accepted as they live, work, socialise and pray. . .

“The rights of LGBT people don’t get in the way of people of faith who practice that faith.”

This interview is not Hunt’s first time speaking about the need to overcome divisions between LGBT and religious communities. When she was appointed Stonewall’s director in 2014, Hunt recognized that despite legal advances, there was still much work to do to bring about religious and cultural acceptance of LGBT people and their relationships. Last year, Hunt reaffirmed to The Tablet that changing attitudes rather than legislation was her priority. She welcomed Archbishop Vincent Nichol’s support of monthly LGBT outreach Masses near London as an effort to overcome the deep chasm that may exist between faithful Catholics and their church institutions.

Her wisdom is again insightful in this interview with the Observer, and LGBT advocates, Catholic and non-Catholic alike, would do well to read it. Hunt, who recommends listening to the truth of people’s lives, witnesses powerfully by living her own truth as a lesbian Catholic woman refusing to compromise on either her faith or her sexual orientation.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry


Sacrificing Profits to Avoid Discrimination and Protect Religious Freedom

April 14, 2015

For a person like myself who cherishes both religious freedom and LGBT equality, the recent discussions over state laws designed to allow religious people and institutions to discriminate against LGBT people are somewhat vexing.

Let me state outright that I do not believe laws should allow this type of discrimination.  That said, I have to admit that I feel sympathy for people who feel that their religious principles are compromised.   As someone who opposes the death penalty and military intervention on religious principles, I feel that my U.S. tax dollars are being used against my religious principles when a federal prisoner is executed or when our government has cavalierly become involved in overseas military expeditions.

A recent New York Times news article caught my eye and interest on this topic.  The headline: “To Keep Free of Federal Reins, Wyoming Catholic College Rejects Student Aid.”  A small, conservative Catholic school in Wyoming has rejected federal funding so that they do not have to comply with regulations on social issues which they disagree with because of their beliefs.  The story reported:

“Citing concerns about federal rules on birth control and same-sex marriage, the school decided this winter to join a handful of other religious colleges in refusing to participate in the federal student-aid programs that help about two-thirds of students afford college. For students here, the decision means no federal loans, work-study money or grants to finance their annual $28,000 tuition, which includes housing in gender-segregated dorms and three meals in the school’s lone dining hall.”

While, of course, I disagree with this institution’s beliefs about same-gender marriage, for one thing, I admit that I find this decision to be an intriguing answer to the current religious liberty question.

What has bothered me for a long time about conservative religious freedom advocates is that they often want it both ways.  They want to be able to have government aid or contracts, but not to live up to the obligations that come with such support.  So I have a certain amount of admiration for religious people who are willing to sacrifice something because of their beliefs.

This Wyoming decision reminds me of the many Catholic peace advocates that I have admired over the years who have resisted paying federal military taxes.  Sometimes such peace people keep a low income so that their federal tax obligation is minimal to nil. Sometimes, they have done jail time for their beliefs.  Until hearing of this Wyoming case (and the examples of several other religious colleges, Catholic ones included, which the Times article cites), I have not seen a similar interest in sacrificing for principle on the part of conservative religious individuals or groups.

At the business level, one way the religious freedom question plays out is that establishments such as photographers or bakers want the ability to deny service to same-gender couples’ weddings.  It seems that one recourse they can have to live out their religious principles is to refrain from not providing business services for any weddings.

The logic behind such a suggestion is that since same-gender marriage has become the law in many locations, it is incumbent on businesses licensed in a locale to provide services for all people. After all, the state is providing the business with the opportunity to exist within its borders; it is reasonable to expect that the business would follow the state’s laws, including non-discrimination laws. If, for religious reasons, a business does not feel they can follow the law of the land, they could simply refuse to provide that service to any one.

Of course, such a decision would involve sacrifice on their part. Weddings, in particular, are big money-makers.  Yet, abstaining and sacrificing are appropriate religious responses to situations where people are motivated by faith principles.  Discrimination is not.

Such decisions will not solve the religious freedom questions that our nation faces.  It doesn’t solve the problem of what to do about legitimately identified religious organizations (churches, for example) and how they conduct their employment policies.  But the route of sacrifice looks like it could be a viable alternative for conservative religious leaders who feel they are being harassed by doing business transactions which they feel violate their beliefs.

Another alternative would be what I do for issues like the death penalty and military intervention, for which I have religiously principled objections.  I follow the laws while I do what I can through civil channels to influence them.  Is my religious freedom impinged upon?  Yes, but I also recognize that we do not live under a religiously-based government, so I have to find the best way to be in dialogue with those with whom I disagree.  The strategy of dialogue is also a valid religious response.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry

 

 


Catholics Respond to Indiana’s Controversial RFRA Law

April 7, 2015

Gov. Mike Pence signing Indiana’s “right to discriminate” law, surrounded by religious leaders

In the days since Indiana passed its Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA), reactions to this “right to discriminate” law and similar bills have captured national attention. Below, Bondings 2.0 summarizes Catholic responses with links provided for further reading.

While initially calling for dialogue and mutual respect, Indiana’s five bishops clarified their position in a second statement about the changes to RFRA. These changes, which added sexual orientation and gender identity as protected classes when it comes to spheres like housing and employment, make the bishops wonder that the revised law “may undermine religious freedom.” It is worth noting that Indiana’s bishops endorsed the original RFRA bill in February.

Weighing in during morning shows on Easter Sunday, Cardinals Timothy Dolan of New York and Donald Wuerl of Washington both advocated for “right to discriminate” laws, reports The Washington Post.

Speaking on Meet the Press, Dolan said religious believers did not make religious freedom an issue, but he appreciated Indiana Governor Mike Pence for signing the law and protecting the rights of religious communities. He continued:

” ‘It’s tough to balance religious conviction. But it’s easier to ignore religious freedom than it is today the more popular issues…I just wish we could do that in a temperate, civil way instead of screaming at each other.’ “

Cardinal Wuerl, appearing on Fox News Sunday, said “different measuring rods” were used for what counts as discrimination. Likely speaking to recent developments in the District of Columbia, the cardinal added:

” ‘Why would it be discrimination for a Catholic university to say, “We’re not going to allow a gay rights or an abortion rights group have their program on our campus,’ and it not be discrimination for that group to insist that the Catholic school change its teaching?’ “

Archbishops William Lori of Baltimore and Charles Chaput of Philadelphia attacked the “acrimony and lies” they believe characterizes those criticizing Indiana’s originally-worded law. In a joint piece with Southern Baptist leaders published by an anti-gay organization, the archbishops lashed out at those who claim religiously motivated opposition to marriage equality is bigoted or discriminatory.

In an editorial, the National Catholic Reporter criticized the original law while admitting that they generally support RFRA laws. However, the newspaper’s reservations in the Indiana case centered around extending individual protections to corporations. Last year’s Hobby Lobby decision has made them rightfully concerned. The editors continued:

“The trouble with the Indiana religious freedom law is in how it was conceived. With a ballot initiative that would outlaw same-sex marriage stalled in the Legislature, Republican representatives and Pence, winking and nodding the whole time to opponents of marriage equality, passed the RFRA legislation thinking it would cost them nothing while at the same time bolster support from so-called values voters. They clearly misjudged this cynical political ploy. Instead of a sop to appease conservative voters, they tossed a grenade into the business community.”

The University of Notre Dame has not commented yet on the Indiana law, but last fall announced it would extend employment benefits to same-sex partners and has been implementing an LGBTQ pastoral plan since 2012. However, Sherman Alexie, a writer and filmmaker, cancelled a scheduled appearance at the University until Indiana has full protections for LGBT people.

Meanwhile, a more positive response came from Dan Eisner, the president of Indianapolis’ Marian University. In a statement reported by WTHR 13, Eisner said the school supported religious liberty, but added:

“We also believe in the dignity and civil rights of every person regardless of race, religion, age, disability, ethnic heritage or sexual orientation. We support the action called for by the CEOs of nine major Indiana corporations asking the governor and the legislature to ‘make it clear that Indiana is the welcoming state we all believe it to be’ and to ‘take immediate action to ensure that the Religious Freedom Restoration Act will not sanction or encourage discrimination against any residents or visitors to our state by anyone’….As we enter Holy Week and the Easter season, let’s do everything in our power to affirm the values of religious freedom and civil rights for all.”

For Bondings 2.0‘s previous post on the Indiana controversy, click here, and for our coverage of religious liberty related issues related to the Catholic Church, check out the “Politics & Human Rights” category to the right.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry


On Religious Liberty and LGBT Rights, Catholics Must Pursue Third Way

March 30, 2015

Gov. Mike Pence signing Indiana’s “right to discriminate” law, surrounded by religious leaders

Legislative developments in Indiana and other states, as well as the District of Columbia, are seemingly pitting LGBT rights against religious liberty. This binary is, however, false and Catholics must pursue a third way which upholds justice for all people while respecting real religious liberty.

First, a bit of context. Last week, Indiana Governor Mike Pence signed a law which could legalize anti-gay discrimination by prohibiting “state and local laws that ‘substantially burden’ the ability of people, businesses and associations to follow their religious beliefs,”reports Crux. This was one of more than a dozen similar bills introduced in state legislatures this year, and many LGBT advocates consider it among the most extreme, triggering calls for a boycott of the state from business leaders and celebrities. Ongoing updates about such bills are available at Crux.

Writing at the blog Catholic Moral Theology, Thomas Bushlack highlights that Indiana’s law and those like it are undergirded by “bad jurisprudence and bad theology.” Bushlack states:

“This bill strikes me as one of the most ironic and perverse applications of religious liberty imaginable: a fundamental principle of the United States’ Bill of Rights, enshrined in the First Amendment non-establishment clause, is now being used to sanction discrimination.  The ironies of history and politics know no bounds.”

Critiquing a photo from Pence’s signing ceremony, where Catholic religious are prominently displayed, Bushlack adds:

“Is this really the way in which religious leaders, including members of the Catholic Church such as those represented in this photo, want to stand up in defense of religious liberty?  Do we want to use the fundamental tenet of American democracy as an excuse to discriminate against our own citizens, against our own brothers and sisters in Christ?  I submit that this is not the face of religious liberty that we need to defend in America today.”

It is tragic that Catholics, including church leaders, are among those working so actively to enshrine a right to discriminate against LGBT people into law. More than 40 church workers have lost their jobs over LGBT issues since 2008 and, in almost every case, church officials appealed to religious identities and ministerial exemptions in legally justifying their actions. The immorality of expelling these workers, however, is quite clear.

As LGBT rights progress in the United States, it is time for Catholics, regardless of their views on homosexuality or gender, to pursue a third way which protects the rights of all people and respects religious liberty, properly understood. Instead of pursuing legalized discrimination and endless litigation, perhaps an example from Utah illustrates how the Catholic Church might proceed.

Senate Bill 296 became law earlier this month, banning discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity in housing and employment while concurrently strengthening religious liberty. What is remarkable is that both pro- and anti-LGBT organizations have welcomed the law,including the Diocese of Salt Lake City reports Fox 13. LGBT advocates praised it, according to Religion News Service:

“Sarah Warbelow, legal director of the Human Rights Campaign, said the law will have a  “dramatically positive effect on the LGBT youth of Utah,” because it dramatizes to Mormon parents that their church accepts the dignity of LGBT people.

“Clifford Rosky, professor of law at the University of Utah and board chairman of Equality Utah, said adding bans on discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity to the state’s anti-discrimination measures was a critical first step. Rosky also cited the new speech protections for employees outside the workplace.”

The press conference announcing the law included LGBT advocates standing next to Mormon leaders. For Utah, which is ranked by Gallup as the fourth most conservative state in America, expanding LGBT equality was enacted by a remarkable political process.  Although the process was imperfect, according to all sides, the dialogue and compromise Utahans performed exhibited a satisfactory step forward.  A columnist in the The Star Press expands on this idea, writing:

“The precise language of the Utah’s law, of course, is not a one-size-fits-all solution readily transferable to other states. Existing civil rights laws and religious freedom exemptions vary from state to state, so any recipe for compromise in other places will require a somewhat different mix of protections and exemptions.

“Despite these caveats and remaining disagreements, the spirit of the Utah agreement — the willingness to seek a balance between nondiscrimination and religious freedom acceptable to people on all sides — can, and should be replicated elsewhere.”

Religious liberty discussions can be misleading, for adjudicating religious liberty and LGBT equality is not a zero-sum game. Treating it as such only hurts the common good. For the Christian, protecting religious liberty is one and the same with advancing LGBT rights as matters of justice and equality for all God’s people. In future disputes about religious liberty, Catholics must position themselves as bridge-builders for divided interests.  A third way approach, like we saw in Utah rather, is so much more preferable than our church’s leaders lending their voices to those who desire to discriminate.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry

Related Articles

National Catholic Reporter, “Catholic Mission, Religious Freedom, & LGBT Rights”

Part One

Part Two

Part Three


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


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