As we sit here, preparing for Christmas, it is the calm before the next storm. Soon, our religious liberties will be under attack in a way not seen since the early days of the Republic. And I’m not talking about the annual battle over crèches or menorahs.
With the upcoming changes in control of the New York State Senate, and the incoming Administration and new Congress in Washington, several pieces of legislation pose significant and alarming threats to our freedom of conscience. In Albany, we’re talking about the “Reproductive Health and Privacy Protection Act” (“RHAPP”) and the same-sex “marriage” bill. In Washington, we’re looking at the “Freedom of Choice Act” (“FOCA”) and various other regulations that affect religious freedom. Here in New York City we’ve got the new abortion clinic access bill.
FOCA or RHAPP are both extreme bills that would establish abortion as a “fundamental right”, and make it impossible to pass common-sense regulations of abortion, like parental notification laws. But they would also undermine or eliminate the conscience protections in law that protect religious liberties, under the guise of eliminating “discrimination” against the newly-recognized “fundamental right”. Church-owned hospitals, social service agencies, and schools could be required to promote, perform, or refer for abortions. Our schools could be required to help pregnant girls to get an abortion, or risk being sued for “discrimination”. And the licenses of doctors, nurses, and other professionals could be at risk if they don’t promote, perform or refer for abortions.
Also on the federal level, the current Administration has put forward proposed regulations that would grant greater protection to doctors, nurses, and health care institutions that have conscientious objections to abortion and other morally-objectionable procedures. As simple as that sounds, there has been talk that the new Administration may rescind those regulations as soon as it takes office.
Legalizing “same sex marriage” in Albany would also inevitably endanger religious liberty. Proclaiming Church teaching about homosexual behavior will be called “bigotry” or even prosecuted as “hate speech”. Religious organizations will be coerced into recognizing the equivalence of marriage and same-sex relationships, and we will be forced to withdraw from important activities, such as education and social service. We’ve seen this threat in some areas, with broadly drafted “human rights” bills, and it’s already happened in the United States, Canada, and the United Kingdom.
The new clinic access bill before the City Council has been deliberately drafted to be so vague as to chill the free speech rights of sidewalk counselors outside abortion clinics. It is even possible that people who merely want to pray outside of the clinics will be the subject of harassing arrests and lawsuits, merely because they want to give witness to their faith and their belief in the dignity of human life.
On top of all of this we have the anti-religious ugliness in the reaction to the passage of Prop 8, the California law that preserved the traditional meaning of marriage. We’re still waiting for the wave of condemnation of this bigotry from the media and the political classes.
The common theme here is a hostility to the religious belief, and an apparent desire to expel religious believers from public debate and from certain professions or businesses. In essence, we would be forced to do things against our conscience, and be forced to stop teaching what we believe.
To be authentic disciples of Christ, we must bring our religious beliefs into the public square and robustly debate them with those of differing views. We will not be silent, or be intimidated into silence.
We will not sit down and shut up.