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

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





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