Writing as a “Guest Voice” for the Washington Post, Laura W. Murphy, Director of the Washington Legislative Office of the ACLU urges readers to reject the basis of the USCCB Campaign of prayer, study and action with the following headline: “Fortnight for Freedom’ distorts true religious liberty”. Is her argument correct? Many in the media are mimicking her words. In fact, after dealing with Murphy’s claims I’ll point out the exhaustive list of answers to the media’s objections to the campaign from the USCCB’s June 27 “Advisory Memo to Journalists”.
I find several major flaws in her approach. Her central claim is that this “much-hyped campaign […] purports to champion religious freedom, but in actuality distorts it by promoting the use of religion as a license to discriminate.” Without actually using the word “bigot” she essentially has written a skewed rant trying to connect the insistence of Catholics (not just bishops mind you) that they not be forced to violate their conscience by being forced to do things that are immoral. This approach is really just one small step above playground bully.
Her proof that “it’s about discrimination plain and simple” is a list of supposed religiously motivated discrimination. She connects religious motivation to businesses that “claimed that religion compelled them to segregate their establishments,” efforts to prevent mixed-race marriages, and even the use of the Bible to defend slavery. Next she adds a list of “The same arguments […] used to exclude women from public life.” She closes her argument with the bold statement that, “these claims are all borne out of the same world view – that ‘religion’ justifies treating certain segments of our society as second-class citizens.”
The big problem with her argument; none of her examples are instances of Catholic bigotry or discrimination. In fact, the history of most of these issues are marked by support and direct action by Catholics (including bishops) to bring an end to misuse of the Bible to argue that women are second class citizens or that mixed-race marriages should be forbidden. Let’s not forget (as people like Laura Murphy seem to want us to) that the Catholic Church stood side-by-side with the leaders of the civil rights movement. Let us also not forget that movement to abolish slavery in Great Britain, in Europe and the U.S. was led by Christians including many Catholics. While it is true that some Christians have used religion to support slavery and unjust discrimination based on race or sex, this is not the real history of Catholicism.
Finally, we must answer her claim that Catholic adoption agencies which refuse to facilitate the adoption of children to same-sex couples commit an act of unjust discrimination. What is true is that the Catholic religion is only willing to place children in homes where the couple is married. The very definition of marriage and family are at stake and the Church refuses to compromise the truth about these institutions. Refusing to do something that is not good for children and not good for society and is against our moral principles is exactly what is at stake. The playground charge of “bigot” only sticks if we allow it to and Catholics should not back down or be cowed into submission. Our answer must point out the above facts and with our head held high we can then point out the fact that we will be on the side of truth and real justice. For example Peter Kreeft points out the accurate picture of the real principles that motivate the actions of Catholics in relation to those with same-sex attraction and their rights in society. In a 2004 interview he said:
“One of the things I fear from this is an ugly backlash against homosexuals. If the truth is now whatever we will, then just as there is nothing to stop society today from redefining marriage, there is nothing to stop it tomorrow from redefining personal dignity and rights so as to take them away from homosexuals. The Nazis did exactly that.
The Church is the best friend of homosexuals, both because she tells them they are made in God’s image and have intrinsic dignity and rights and are called to be saints, and because she is the only social force left that insists on moral absolutes—so when they sin against themselves she says NO, just as she does to heterosexuals who sin against themselves sexually, but when others sin against them she says NO also.
No one else dares to say NO. She speaks up for everyone, including homosexuals.”
The Note to Journalists
To help the media prepare what he thought would be embarrassing questions related to the Fortnight For Freedom, John Gehring of Faith in Public Life distributed a memo to journalists on June 7th. The Bishop’s media office does a masterful job answering his long list of “facts” with a long list of responses and actual facts. The basis for all of Mr. Gehrings’s concerns is his underlying premise that the Catholic Bishops (and the Catholic faithful) don’t really have the right to speak up about their concerns that religious liberty is under assault. His list of accusations attack the bishops for making this a political battle against Obama and for narrowly focusing in on the HHS Contraception Mandate. The answer to this charge from the USCCB Note: “[Gehring] should have noticed that the bishops’ key insert for Church bulletins during the Fortnight for Freedom lists seven recent threats to religious liberty – only two of which have anything to do with the President or his administration.”
Catholics do have the right as Americans to speak out about issues, and so do tax-exempt entities. Last time I checked it’s called freedom of speech. It seems to me that if folks like Gehring get their wish churches and perhaps even individuals who do not agree with his political or moral views would be silenced. This is why we are praying to maintain the right to exercise our religion in the public square. To settle for mere freedom of worship would be a loss for all Americans. Freedom of worship remains in many countries where freedom of religion has been long ago suppressed and forbidden. Americans deserve the kind of America where freedom of religion is respected. Isn’t that why so many of our ancestors came here in the first place?