Archive for the ‘Freedom of Religion’ Category

Crisis Magazine Writer Austin Ruse Sees Nazi Totalitarianism in Recent European Court of Human Rights Decision Regarding LGBT Rights

January 19, 2013


Austin Ruse

Austin Ruse

Austin Ruse, president of C-FAM (Catholic Family & Human Rights Institute) has just published an incendiary article on the paleo-conservative Catholic website, Crisis Magazine. The piece, entitled “Yet More Christians Silenced in Europe … and America,” depicts Christians (by which he means paleo-conservative Catholics) as victims of a systematic oppression rivaled only by that of the Nazis against … (of course) the Catholics! At the top of the article is a photo of goose-stepping Nazi troops. Mr. Ruse, questioned about this photo, replies that modern liberals have “pronounced authoritarian tendencies.” The Crisis Editor who chose the photo adds, “I wanted to hold up a mirror to those who seek to restrict the freedoms of Christians [paleo-conservative Catholics]. We know how thick-headed these activists are. Subtle argument doesn’t work. Since the Left perceives the Nazis as rightwingers (which they were not), it would make more of an impact ON THEM…”

I have been blacklisted from the Crisis website for challenging statements like these. However, I would be pleased if others could take up the slack. You’ll find the article here.

The European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg, France

The European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg, France

Mr. Ruse’s beef is with the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR), which earlier this week ruled that an individual’s religious beliefs do not trump the rights of an LGBT person and may not be used to discriminate against him or her. Mr. Ruse repeatedly distorts the facts in this case.

One of the two decisions that drew Mr. Ruse’s ire concerned Lillian Ladele, a civil registrar in London, who was dismissed from her job because she refused to officiate at same-sex partnership ceremonies after these were made legal in 2005. She claimed she was a victim of religious discrimination. The European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) decided that she was discriminating against LGBT persons—which is to say, they had been her victims.

The second case concerned another British subject, Gary McFarlane,  a counselor providing psycho-sexual therapy to couples. He refused to work with same-sex couples and was dismissed. Like Lillian Ladele, he claimed he was a victim of religious discrimination. Again, the ECHR ruled that he had discriminated against LGBT persons, not they or his employer against him.

The Court ruled that religious freedom is no ground for exemption from the law. The principle of equality and equal treatment cannot be circumvented with a simple reference to religion.

Freedom of religion is never absolute. Sikh boys in the U.S. are not permitted to carry swords to their schools, though their religion requires them to do so. In France, Muslim girls may not wear veils in the public schools.

Mr. Ruse’s rhetoric employs all the usual tropes of scapegoating. He makes homosexuals out to be like vampires (“Has that slaked the thirst of the homosexuals?” he writes.) and implies that they are atheists (“They want Christians prostrate before them.”)

Actually, most homosexuals are neither vampires nor atheists, and many of them are devout Christians of the Catholic persuasion. The aptly-named Mr. Ruse is at the very least disingenuous in framing these Court decisions as a victory of homosexuals over Christians. That is just not the case. The decisions are simply a victory of LGBTs over discrimination.


UPDATE, 1/31/13: National Organization for Marriage (NOM) co-founder Robert George has submitted an amicus brief in the California Proposition 8 case about to be taken up by the U.S. Supreme Court. In it, he takes a position diametrically opposed to that of the European Court of Human Rights, which declared that freedom from discrimination trumps religious freedom. In his brief, George essentially claims that religious freedom should trump freedom from discrimination. Read more here.

10 Questions to Help Determine if Your Religious Liberty Is Being Threatened

September 11, 2012
The Rev. Emily C. Heath has devised a simple quiz that will let you know if you’re being oppressed. I have already found it to be a powerful tool for sorting out conflicting claims about violations of religious liberty, which has become one of the hot topics on Roman Catholic web- and blog-sites in this country. You will find the quiz on Huffington Post. Here are three of the questions that I particularly liked:

1. My religious liberty is at risk because:

A) I am not allowed to marry the person I love legally, even though my religious community blesses my marriage.
B) Some states refuse to enforce my own particular religious beliefs on marriage on those two guys in line down at the courthouse.

2. My religious liberty is at risk because:

A) I am being forced to use birth control.
B) I am unable to force others to not use birth control.

3. My religious liberty is at risk because:

A) Being a member of my faith means that I can be bullied without legal recourse.
B) I am no longer allowed to use my faith to bully gay kids with impunity.

Standing in the Cornerstone Corner, 6/21/12: “For Greater Glory”

June 22, 2012

An occasional review of news and views from The Cornerstone Forum.

ImageGil Bailey has accolades for the new film, “For Greater Glory,” starring Andy Garcia. The film is based on the true story of Mexico’s Cristero War (1926-29), which pitted Catholics against a newly-elected government headed by President Plutarco Calles. In response to Calles’ often brutal enforcement of anticlerical provisions in the 1917 constitution, the Church hierarchy suspended all religious services. Bereft of the sacraments on which they depended for salvation, lay Catholics throughout Mexico rose up in arms against the federales. As the conflict worsened, churches were burned, nuns were harassed, priests were murdered, and peasants were publicly hanged.

“A moving and powerful film,” Bailie writes.

The release of the film—and Bailie’s recommendation—were well timed for the beginning of the U.S. Catholic bishops’ “Fortnight For Freedom” conference, which ends July 4. The bishops have called for “prayer and public witness for religious freedom,” which they believe is under attack by the Obama administration on account of the contraception coverage mandate in his Affordable Care Act. Get it? Obama = President Calles, and U.S. Catholics = Mexican Catholics of a century ago. Watching this film could really get your ire up, and the bishops are waiting at the phone banks for your call.

Film dramas based on historical events have an unfortunate tendency to, well, dramatize those events. Audiences like stories with heroes and villains—the more Manichean, the better—and most producers are more than willing to deliver, even if that means ignoring historical context or neglecting the grey shades on their palette.

Daniel Ramirez, writing for Religion Dispatches, (“Religious Freedom Gets Hollywood Treatment,” 6/17/12) is not nearly as impressed with the film as Gil Bailie. He points out that the conflict underlying the Cristeros War was rooted in long-standing tensions between the Church and the State. Since the mid-19th century, Mexican liberals (including many liberal priests) had tried to untether the two in order to break the Church’s monopolies and secure for Mexico church-state separation like that of their neighbor to the North.

The problem from the separationists’ point of view was that the Church had over-weening power in matters of birth, marriage, and death, and it used state power to enforce its tithing requirements. It also held vast properties from which it derived considerable economic clout.

The 1857 Constitution and Reforma laws restricted the Church’s power and established religious pluralism in Mexico for the first time, but the matter was far from settled from the Church’s point of view. The hierarchy fought the liberals tooth-and-nail for decades, during which the country was repeatedly torn apart by violent struggles over religious freedom—on the one hand, the Church’s presumed “freedom” to dominate and monopolize religious life in Mexico, and on the other, the freedom of Catholics and non-Catholics alike to live outside the Church’s sphere of control. (The vast majority of the separationists were in fact Catholic.)

In his review, Daniel Ramirez finds fault with the film for revealing so little about the historical context and instead focusing only on the outrages committed by one faction at a particular stage of the conflict. This imposes a heavy burden on history-challenged audiences (even Mexicans, as it happens), especially when the film’s producer (Pablo Jose Barroso) has publicly stated that his sympathies are with the Church. Were he to offer up a historical drama based on the French Revolution, I think we can expect that the violent anti-clericalism of that period would be depicted without reference to France’s centuries-long struggles for religious freedom, going back at least to the St. Bartholomew’s Day Massacre (1572) and the Edict of Nantes (1598).

“For Greater Glory” has not been well-received by American film critics. Roger Ebert writes, “…it is well-made, yes, but has such pro-Catholic tunnel vision I began to question its view of events.” Stephen Holden of The New York Times has compared it to Christian mega-hits of the 1950’s such as The Robe. Robert Abele of the Los Angeles Times has called it a “stodgy, repetitive, and overblown slog.”

Joseph Backholm’s Greatest Fear

June 17, 2012

Joseph Backholm of Preserve Marriage Washington

Like many other GLBTs who follow the debates on same-sex marriage (SSM), I’ve often suspected that the professional marriage traditionalists are not leveling with us about what really drives their concerns. Nor do they necessarily understand their deeper motivations. We know that anti-SSM organizations like the Family Research Council (FRC) and the National Organization for Marriage (NOM) constantly hone their messages and field-test their talking points. It’s for their opponents to guess which of these talking points are still in testing stage, how vulnerable they may be, and how firm a grip the spokespersons have on them.

In February of this year, Washington Gov. Chris Gregoire signed a bill approving same-sex marriage. Earlier this month, opponents of the bill submitted enough petition signatures to challenge the legislature’s decision by public referendum on the November ballot. The referendum’s sponsor is Preserve Marriage Washington (PMW), headed by Joseph Backholm.

In a June 6 live-chat organized by the Seattle Times, Backholm made a curious claim about the “true” motivations of the marriage equality movement. But in so doing, he revealed one of the deepest concerns of his own movement. Here are his words:

Ultimately this movement is not about marriage. Does anyone really think [GLBT] lobbying efforts will shut down if same-sex marriage becomes law in Washington? I think the goal of the movement is to eradicate from the public sector any notion of the idea that there is a difference between homosexuality and heterosexuality. That is why, whether they go to a photographer, an adoption agency, a courthouse, a doctor’s office, or a counselor’s office, they want to make sure they will never encounter someone who feels free to express their belief that there is a difference between heterosexuality and homosexuality. If that is the goal, it can only be accomplished with a significant reduction in freedom for a huge percentage of the population. [italics mine]

Backholm would have us believe the marriage equality movement is part of a sinister stealth strategy aimed at eradicating the difference between homosexuality and heterosexuality—a difference that he believes to be so important that he alludes to it twice in this short statement, using almost the identical words each time. The GLBT movement, in his view, hopes to enlist state power in an effort to suppress all recognition of that difference. Woo-woo!


Anyone who has studied anthropology or social psychology knows that fears of indifferentiation run deep in human societies: social order is based on difference, and any blurring of distinctions—e.g., between male and female, sacred and profane, mother and lover, god and mortal—threatens that order and will almost surely produce minotaurs and cause violators to pluck out their eyes. (See image.) Taboos exist to preserve difference and hierarchical structure, and we moderns are as much in thrall to them as were our early ancestors.

What we need to understand about taboos is that some are conducive to survival—e.g., the taboo against careless handling of blood and feces—while others are purely contingent—e.g., the Mosaic prohibition against eating shellfish. But not everyone does understand this, and Backholm is playing to our ignorance and our fears. If effective use of highly emotive words were our only measure of merit in this debate, then Backholm should be congratulated for homing in on that single word, “difference.” But it is not. Truth claims are still important to some of us and should be carefully scrutinized.

His statement goes off into the weeds on three tangents:

First tangent: The implicit “stealth” claim. There’s nothing stealthy about the GLBT rights movement. Its goals have been fully articulated by legislative leaders (e.g., Senator Ed Murray, D-WA), public intellectuals (e.g., Michelangelo Signorile, Andrew Sullivan), and professional rights advocates (e.g., Evan Wolfson). Put simply, our goals are full equality under the law and an end to state-sanctioned discrimination. Marriage equality represents a giant step toward these goals.

Second tangent: The claim regarding state suppression of ideas, or “notions.” No one holds that traditionalist views about homosexuality or marriage must be suppressed by law. That would be not just undesirable, but impossible. Our hope is to garner popular support for legislation and judicial decisions that will put an end to discrimination. Our goal is to change not only laws but also hearts and minds. That said, many or most of us believe that our constitutional right to equal protection under the law should never be put to a popular vote. In a constitutional democracy such as ours, majorities may not vote to deprive minorities of their rights.

Third tangent: The “reductions in freedom” claim. Backholm’s dire warning to his supporters that they will ultimately lose their freedoms if GLBT activists accomplish their goals is only partly true. No one can deprive Americans of their freedom to believe or profess whatever they like, but our courts have repeatedly placed limits on religious practices for over 150 years. For example, federal and state statutes prohibiting gender or racial discrimination do not typically exempt discriminatory practices motivated by religious belief, except in core religious institutions (churches, synagogues, etc.). Thus, the Catholic church may refuse to ordain women as priests, but a private hospital may not refuse to treat African-Americans, even if it owned by a religious denomination that holds segregation to be part of God’s plan (as Mormons and Southern Baptists once did). So yes, we would like legal protection from discrimination, and this means that some people will lose their “freedom” to discriminate.

So that’s the part of Backholm’s “warning” that is true. What is not true about it is the presumption that GLBTs are united against the “notion” of difference in sexual orientation. This is just frothy nonsense, and he knows it. If he insists on making this preposterous claim, he should be required to offer evidence.

No one wants to “eradicate all differences.” What we would like to see eradicated are differences in treatment and opportunity. This is what true equality means: not that we are identical to one another in every respect, but that each one of us has equal access to opportunities and a fair chance to succeed. Backholm is both bright and well-educated, and there can be little doubt that he is aware of this critical distinction.

Backholm is deliberately vague about this word “difference” and dares not unpack his own rhetoric because it comes so dangerously close to the truth. The talk about loss of freedom to express beliefs about “difference” is code that many in Backholm’s movement are capable of deciphering. The ones who cannot decipher it will take it at face value, which is also fine for Backholm’s purposes. How much of all this he actually understands at a conscious level is anyone’s guess.

So what is the real fear?

It is the same fear that Maggie Gallagher of the National Organization for Marriage has expressed so often in the latest phase of her propaganda efforts.

It is the fear of the huge shift that is happening in public opinion about homosexuality. That is no small thing to fear, and we must never underestimate its power to motivate resistance to change. Growing acceptance of gays and lesbians has been steadily destabilizing moral discourse around two issues that are always in some sense front-and-center in our psyches and our social interactions: sexuality and gender. What used to be wrong is now right, what was shameful is now a source of pride, and what used to be unspeakable is now considered respectable. As old taboos lose their potency, new ones surface to replace them: anti-gay rhetoric is now more often associated with religious bigotry than with righteousness or respectability, and our movement’s anti-discrimination victories—patchy and uncertain as they are—have radically unsettled the cultural assumptions of millions of Americans.

It’s not pleasant to tell a joke, only to be told it is in poor taste.

It is not pleasant to rant about gays and lesbians, only to realize everyone thinks you are a fool.

It is not pleasant to quote Bible verses condemning homosexuality, only to be reminded that others in your company don’t really give a damn what the Bible says.

It is not pleasant to realize that your nephews and nieces consider your anti-gay views a sign that you are now old and out-of-touch.

It is not pleasant to be stigmatized.

The Civil Rights era was an exceptionally stressful time for many white Americans. The old taboos were being replaced by new ones—their opposites. Where mixing of the races was once taboo, now segregating them was taboo. The familiar polarities of insider/outsider, hateful/good, and right/wrong were reversed in a relatively short period of time, and a whole generation of racists were morally marginalized.

Marginalization looks to be Joseph Backholm’s greatest fear.

 What can Backholm and his supporters do to stay in the mainstream? Here’s one idea.

“A Constitutional Canard for Those Who Oppose Contraception”

June 8, 2012

Gil Bailie of The Cornerstone Forum is touting an article by George Wesolek in Catholic San Francisco, June 6, 2012, entitled “On Religious Liberty and a Confused Media.” The article begins,

Is it that the media doesn’t understand the issue of religious liberty and the Catholic Church, or do they refuse to report it for reasons of their own?

When the U.S. Health and Human Services mandate was promulgated by HHS Secretary Kathleen Sibelius early this year, it forced Catholic institutions – in social services, health care and education – to offer all employees, free of charge, contraception, sterilization and abortion-inducing drugs. These services are considered immoral by the church and so, naturally, the U.S. bishops objected and asked for a conscience exemption. Conscience objections have been given over the years in the interplay between state and church over a variety of issues and were considered commonplace.

But this case was different. Hidden away in the multitude of regulations accompanying the mandate was a new definition of what was to be considered “religious activity.” This new definition limited “religious activity” to houses of worship and its congregants. An exemption, therefore, would be given only to a religious entity that serves and teaches its own faithful. Serving others not of our faith, as do our social services, health care and education, does not qualify as a “religious activity.”

In essence, this new definition redefines what it is to be Catholic.

My response to Gil Bailie:

Wesolek’s position is facially nonsensical, and I cannot believe anyone is buying it. Or, rather, yes I can, because a lot of folks on the right have been imbibing the “Kool-Aid” ladled out by Paul Ryan and the anti-contraception crowd.

Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia concluded many years ago that religious organizations could never have absolute freedom to do as they choose. “It would be courting anarchy,” he wrote, to let a few do what is illegal for everyone else.

Here is the opinion he wrote for a majority decision in 1990: “We have never held that an individual’s religious beliefs excuse him from compliance with an otherwise valid law … On the contrary, the record of more than a century of free exercise jurisprudence contradicts that proposition.”

In that opinion, Scalia cited the Reynolds case from 1879, which held that “Laws … cannot interfere with mere religious beliefs and opinions, they may [interfere] with practices … Can a man excuse his practices to the contrary because of his religious belief? To permit this would be to make the professed doctrines of religious beliefs superior to the law of the land.”

Get that: Believe what you like, but don’t expect to do everything your beliefs require of you. A very sound principle, indeed.

Honestly ask yourself how you would react if other religions—Sikhs, Muslims, Jehovah’s Witnesses, Christian Scientists, and Mormons—were demanding the measure of religious freedom that the Catholic hierarchy wants for the Church.

For at least the past 133 years, U.S. courts have been requiring individuals to transgress their religious beliefs by getting vaccinations, paying minimum wage, paying into Social Security, serving in the military, settling for monogamous over polygamous marriages, not wearing yarmulkes in the military, not carrying swords into class (Sikh men are required to carry them at all times), not ingesting peyote, and a host of other concessions.

Why Jehovah’s Witnesses are still allowed to withhold medical treatment from their sick children, I don’t know, but I assume you would probably support their right to practice their faith, whatever the cost?

And you would also support Quakers who want to withhold tax payments because they object to war?

From “Justice Scalia and Religious Freedom,” by Mark Mellman in The Hill, 2/21/12:

The courts have [required religious groups and individuals to violate the tenets of their faith] because, in former Chief Justice Warren Burger’s words, “The state may justify a limitation on religious liberty by showing that it is essential to accomplish an overriding governmental interest.” Burger’s definition of “overriding government interest” included programs that were national in scope and served a positive public purpose — and by any standard, the government has an interest in ensuring that women receive preventive healthcare services.

He concludes, “The religious freedom argument is nothing more than a constitutional canard for those who oppose contraception.”

Is Religion Losing Its Voice in the Public Square?

June 5, 2012

The never-ending tug-o’-war between secularists and the religious right over religious freedom has heated up over the past six months as a result of certain provisions of the Affordable Care Act. Under the ACA, religious institutions such as hospitals and universities—but not churches—would be required to include contraception in health insurance plans offered to employees and students. The Catholic Church has been particularly outraged over this requirement and is trying to mobilize the faithful in a propaganda campaign that would depict the church as a victim of government oppression. The two principal claims circulating on Catholic websites are that (1) the ACA’s contraception provisions are an assault on religious freedom, and (2) religion is being systematically pushed out of the public square. We are told that the U.S. is, under the Obama administration, drifting perilously close to a totalitarianism of the left.

Pope Benedict XVI, the ultimate authority on all such matters (NOT!), has been quoted in an effort to bolster these claims:

Denying the right to profess one’s religion in public and the right to bring the truths of faith to bear on public life has negative consequences for true development. The exclusion of religion from the public square—and, at the other extreme, religious fundamentalism—hinders an encounter between persons and their collaboration for the progress of humanity. Public life is sapped of its motivation, and politics takes on a domineering and aggressive character. Human rights risk being ignored either because they are robbed of their transcendent foundation or because personal freedom is not acknowledged. Secularism and fundamentalism exclude the possibility of fruitful dialogue and effective cooperation between reason and faith.
—Pope Benedict XVI, from his encyclical, “Charity in Truth” (Caritas in Veritate)

The ability to avoid specifics is probably an unavoidable part of a pope’s job description. Nevertheless, inquiring minds like to inquire.

Where Pope Benedict refers to the “exclusion of religion from the public square,” I assume he is thinking of secular totalitarian regimes like that of Stalinist Russia. And by “religious fundamentalism,” he is probably thinking of their opposite–Islamic theocracies of the Middle East.

Strong currents are in fact pulling the U.S. toward theocratic totalitarianism. Christian Dominionism and Reconstructionism have become a potent influence in virtually all Christian fundamentalist churches. The First Amendment’s establishment clause is under constant attack from the right.

There is no danger that religion will be forced out of the public square in this country. Only one congressperson (out of 535) does not profess religious belief, and the others profess it loudly and often. Thousands upon thousands of religious radio stations, TV programs, blog sites, websites, and periodicals promulgate religious views. Even non-sectarian daily newspapers regularly  feature a “religion” column. (When was the last time you saw a “secularism” column?) The GOP presidential candidates would not shut up about God, some of them even claiming that He had personally “called” them to seek the presidency. G.W. Bush’s faith-based initiative, expanded under President Obama, funnels millions of dollars of public funds into religious institutions.

Religion should never be excluded from the public square, but neither should religious beliefs be offered as the sole justification for public policy. Competing justifications—those based on reason and a careful balancing of costs and benefits—need to be heard as well.

Andrew Sullivan Blasts an “Intellectually Challenged” Bishop

April 19, 2012

Bishop Daniel Jenky

Bishop Daniel Jenky’s recent comments linking the HHS contraception mandate to 19th-century European suppressions of the Catholic Church:

“In the late 19th century, Bismark [sic] waged his “Kulturkamf,” [sic], a culture war against the Roman Catholic Church, closing down every Catholic school and hospital, convent and monastery in Imperial Germany. Clemenceau, nicknamed “the priest eater,” tried the same thing in France in the first decade of the 20th Century. Hitler and Stalin, at their better moments, would just barely tolerate some churches remaining open, but would not tolerate any competition with the state in education, social services, and health care. In clear violation of our First Amendment rights, Barack Obama – with his radical, pro abortion and extreme secularist agenda, now seems intent on following a similar path,” – Bishop Daniel Jenky.

Andrew Sullivan responds:

Words fail. It is not encouraging when a reference to nineteenth century Germany cannot get the spelling of Bismarck or Kulturkampf right. But this is the current hierarchy. They weren’t selected for their intelligence, which, after all, could be a liability. They were selected for their subservience to their superiors.

And the good, if intellectually challenged, Bishop is comparing a deliberate policy of minority Catholic persecution in Germany in the nineteenth century, when thousands of Catholics were thrown in jail, with a tiny provision in the first universal healthcare law in America (a longstanding Catholic goal) that would include contraception in health insurance paid for by the insurance company. No woman would be forced to use it. And yet 98 percent of Catholic women still consult their consciences and do. The Vatican’s own commission on the subject came to the same conclusion as these Catholic women – only to be vetoed by one celibate man, Pope Paul VI. If this is a totalitarian attack on religious freedom, then I am a proud heterosexual.

What it actually is is a dyspeptic eruption from an all-male “celibate” hierarchy about the loss of its power over its employees, Catholic and non-Catholic. And it is a terribly depressing sign that the Catholic hierarchy, like much of the evangelical leadership, is now in danger of becoming a front for one political party.

Revolt in the Catholic Pews Over the HHS Mandate

April 3, 2012

Archbishop Charles J. Chaput of Philadelphia

Archbishop Charles J. Chaput of Philadelphia talks to National Review Online’s Kathryn Jean Lopez about the Catholic Church’s position on the HHS Mandate requiring Catholic institutions (other than churches) to include contraception in health insurance plans offered to employees:

LOPEZ: “What about the fact that so many Catholics — however many — use contraception and are advocates of legal abortion in their political lives?”

CHAPUT: “That’s the wrong question. Plenty of self-described Catholics also commit adultery and cheat on their taxes. That doesn’t make them right, and it doesn’t make their behaviors ‘Catholic.’ The central issue in the HHS-mandate debate isn’t contraception. Casting the struggle as a birth-control fight is just a shrewd form of dishonesty. The central issue in the HHS debate is religious liberty. The government doesn’t have the right to force religious believers and institutions to violate their religious convictions. But that’s exactly what the White House is doing.”

Catholics who advocate contraception and legal abortion shouldn’t be compared to Catholics who commit adultery and dodge taxes. The former affirm a moral position held by many fellow Catholics and the latter violate a moral position held by virtually all Catholics. Pro-choice Catholics are not doing anything unethical, but the adulterers and tax-dodgers are. Catholics who advocate family planning will vote their consciences and try to persuade other Catholics to join them. They are a force to be reckoned with, while the adulterers and tax-dodgers will never unite to advocate cheating, and so they are powerless.

Timothy Cardinal Dolan

These are critical differences. What the U.S. Catholic bishops are facing is a revolt from the pews, and they know it. Timothy Cardinal Dolan admitted as much in an interview with Fox News’ Bill O’Reilly last month:

It’s a tough battle because of [the fact that most Catholics reject the Church’s teachings against contraception] and our opponents are very shrewd because they’ve chosen an issue that they know we don’t — we’re not very popular on.” “[E]ven our — even — even very faithful Catholics, Bill, don’t like their bishops or priests telling them how to vote, a person or even on a particular issue.

Furthermore, Archbishop Chaput is mistaken in thinking the government “doesn’t have the right to religious believers and institutions to violate their religious convictions.” It does so all the time, and the legal precedents for doing so go back to the mid-nineteenth century and are very robust. Even Antonin Scalia has supported this principle.

Will Same-Sex Marriage Bring About an Unraveling of Natural Law and Unleash the Forces of Social Disorder?

March 29, 2012

Gil Bailie quotes historian Glenn Olsen on The Cornerstone Forum’s Facebook page:

For a Catholic, part of the strangeness of living in America is living in a land only superficially touched by natural law teaching. … When someone favorable to religion today wants to defend some bizarre practice, such as killing chickens in one’s rites, the defense very well may take the line that religious belief per se must be respected. Of course in a national experience properly rooted in the natural law this would not be so. In a Catholic position, reason and revelation must be in harmony, and one has no obligation to respect a religious belief which is in opposition to reason.

And Bailie adds,

This is important because there exist today religions that solemnly sanction the killing, not of chickens, but of infidels and apostates and others. In trying, for example, to redefine marriage to include homosexual relationships, we undermine the natural law argument for deeming polygamy illicit or for refusing to interfere with a religion whose highest authorities sanction both polygamy and the murder of homosexuals.

Natural law certainly has an illustrious history, and the laws enshrined in our own Constitution have their roots in it. But it cannot be used as a platform for contemporary American jurisprudence because it has no stable meaning. You can ask a Catholic, a Protestant, and a Muslim to define it, and you will get very different answers. So for historian Glenn Olsen, whom Bailie quotes, natural law must be understood as the Catholic variety. I am not a Catholic, but I am an American citizen, and so I would not like to see our country’s legal tradition uprooted to make way for natural law redux.

Sacrificing chickens is of course bizarre, but so is baptism, whether for the dead or the living. The Catholic doctrine of transubstantiation seems very bizarre to most non-Catholics, but neither it nor baptism hurts anyone, so a state that respects religious liberty has no compelling interest in prohibiting these practices. Sacrificing chickens is no more bizarre than transubstantiation or baptism, but it is borderline form of cruelty, depending on how the chickens are slaughtered and whether they’re eaten afterwards. Denying contraceptive insurance coverage to one’s employees may be motivated by religious belief, but it deserves no respect from government because it results in harm to the employees.

So I would disagree with Olsen when he writes, “…one has no obligation to respect a religious belief which is in opposition to reason.” Reason is simply the wrong criterion. We respect unreasonable beliefs all the time, and there is no real harm to anyone. Most religious beliefs are in fact irrational, but it’s only when they become harmful that the state has a compelling interest in prohibiting them.

But there are two meanings of “respect.” One is “allow,” as in “the state respects religion.” The other is “have regard for.” I may not have much respect for a belief, but I will respect your right to hold it. However, I may disrespect a religious practice while also supporting efforts to have it outlawed. Denial of contraceptive coverage on religious grounds falls into this latter category.

Killing infidels and apostates, which the Catholic Church used to approve not so long ago, is a religious practice that deserves no respect in either sense of the word.

The Church’s campaign against same-sex marriage (SSM) is based on an irrational belief that I do not respect but that its adherents have a right to hold. However, I do not believe Catholic institutions (other than churches) should have the right to discriminate against homosexuals in hiring or in provision of services.

As for polygamy and the murder of homosexuals, both are of course odious, but no less odious than the effort to link them to same-sex marriage. There is a vast difference between murder and marriage and between polygamy and monogamy. In each case, the former is harmful and the latter is generally beneficial. Recognizing this difference gives us the proper basis for legislation regarding murder and polygamy.

The grim scenario in Bailie’s final paragraph assumes that natural law is preventing both polygamy and the murder of homosexuals. It is not, of course. Constitutional law is serving this function, so there is no need to worry that same-sex marriage will unleash the forces of social disorder and lawlessness. It has not done so in countries or states where SSM has been legalized.

Such scenarios are one more example of the fear tactics and scapegoating that Gil Bailie routinely resorts to. The underlying formula is always the same: X (an individual or group) causes social disorder; order can be restored only by stigmatizing and expelling X. This is the classic scapegoating paradigm as articulated by Gil Bailie’s own mentor, René Girard, and it is unmistakably present in everything Bailie has written about homosexuality during the six or so years that I have been following his blogs. It is one thing to say that homosexuality is wrong according to God’s law, but it is another to suggest that homosexuality is a root cause of social disorder and civilizational collapse. Such irrational accusations are calculated to stoke fear and generate unanimity about the guilt of the intended victim.

Girard’s theory of scapegoating is very powerful and perceptive. I believe he must feel deeply saddened to see it used as an instruction manual for scapegoating.

Why the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops Must Sooner or Later Get With the Program

March 23, 2012

The State of North Carolina has executed a total of 43 people since 1976. In 1985, one of its citizens, opposed to the death penalty for religious reasons, withheld one penny from his state income tax payment to protest the execution of a 52-year-old woman. The state’s response: You can pay the damned penny or you can pay a hefty fine.

The notion that citizens can opt out of generally applicable tax levies on religious grounds is mythical and dangerously misguided. The IRS considers the “religious objection” argument frivolous and may impose a penalty of up to $25,000 for it.

There is hardly any publicly-financed service or endeavor that is not opposed by somebody on moral and religious grounds. A secular state cannot allow its citizens to pick and choose which services they will pay for.

Take preemptive war, to which the Catholic Church has been consistently opposed. Nowhere in this country were parishioners instructed to withhold their taxes in protest against the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

The Church also opposes the death penalty, and yet 34 U.S. states allow it. No state exempts its taxpayers from helping finance it, even when their objections are grounded in strong religious faith.

So why the recent outcry about public financing of contraception?

Louis A. Ruprecht, writing for Religion Dispatches, speculates that “the death penalty and international warfare simply do not energize the sex-obsessed American electorate the way that women’s sexual autonomy does.”

Yes, women’s sexuality is very close to home for many of us—much closer than wars and death rows. And the idea of female promiscuity is deeply disturbing to many men, even those who find male promiscuity quite unobjectionable.

Ruprecht believes women are now in their “third wave” of achievements. First there was political equality, and then came economic equality (still in progress). Sexual equality may be the biggest hurdle yet, and the U.S. Catholic Bishops and their Talibangelical allies are determined to keep women from jumping it.

The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA), passed by the U.S. Congress in 2009 and signed by President Obama in 2010, mandates that employers must include contraceptive services in the insurance plans they offer employees, whether or not they subsidize these plans. Churches are exempt, but other religious institutions such as hospitals and universities are not. The U.S. Catholic Bishops would like to broaden the exemption to include any employer who objects to contraception on religious grounds. Such was the purpose of the so-called Blunt Amendment, which was killed in the U.S. Senate by a 51-to-48 vote earlier this month.

Should employers have to obey a generally applicable law? One hundred and forty-years of U.S. jurisprudence say, unequivocally, yes. The idea of actually subsidizing a practice that we abhor may seem repugnant and unjust, but we all do it every time we pay our taxes.

Were the U.S. Catholic Bishops to prevail in their offensive against PPACA, then those who believe contraception should be covered might rightfully counter, for starters, that they are being forced to subsidize Catholic institutions whose policies they consider immoral.

Subsidize? Yes. Let’s not forget that almost all Catholic institutions receive massive federal funding in the form of direct payments and tax-exempt status.

Ruprecht sees through the Church’s protestations that this is a First Amendment issue:

It has to do with one of the most powerful patriarchal religious organizations in the world—be sure to recall that the bishops are all men, every last one of them—placing itself squarely in opposition to women’s sexual equality and autonomy.

Read Ruprecht’s article here.