Posts Tagged ‘Religious Liberty’

Dissent and Heroic Witness

Tuesday, November 24th, 2015

I had the honor the other day of attending a luncheon hosted by Alliance Defending Freedom.  They are one of the leading public interest law firms in the nation, dedicated to promoting and protecting life, marriage, and religious liberty.  The purpose of the event was to highlight several people who have been suffering legal attacks, as a result of their public witness to their faith principles regarding human life and marriage.

These kinds of events are very important.  It’s all too easy to deal with issues of religious liberty as abstractions, or as arcane constitutional law questions.  That drains the life out of the issue, and prevents us from seeing what is really at stake.  This panel provided a powerful reminder that religious liberty is a real-world issue, with real people suffering from real effects on their lives, careers, and businesses.

It can also be a story of real heroism, as exemplified by the people on this panel, all of whom have been defended by ADF:

  • Baronelle Stutzman, who faces the loss of her florist business, her home, and her life savings, all because she declined to provide flower arrangements for a same-sex “marriage”.  The State of Washington and the ACLU have been hounding her, and she faces crippling fines and legal fees.  She also was the target of a deluge of hate calls, threats, and disruptions of her business. She described the ideology of her persecutors in stark terms: “If you don’t bow down to an agenda, you will be destroyed”.  Yet she stands firm.
  • Kelvin Cochran, who is pretty much everything you would want as an example of the American dream.  An African-American from Louisiana, he grew up in dire poverty in a single-parent household, yet he was taught to rely on faith, patriotism, and hard work.  He became a fire-fighter, and rose rapidly through the ranks to become Fire Chief of Shreveport, and then of Atlanta.  He was even hired by President Obama to head the U.S. Fire Administration, before returning to Atlanta again.  In 2014, he was summarily suspended from his job and ordered to undergo “sensitivity training”.  His offense?  Publishing a book expressing his belief in the Biblical teaching on marriage and sexuality.  Despite never having engaged in any discrimination — and having been a leader in fighting for equal opportunities — his career was ruined because he dared to speak out for his faith.
  • Cathy DeCarlo, an immigrant from the Philippines who is a dedicated nurse from New York.  She was coerced by her hospital employer into participating in a 22-week abortion, despite her objections due to her faith.  She was threatened with being fired and having her nurse’s license revoked.  As a result, she literally lived through a nightmare — having to witness the brutal dismemberment of a baby, being forced to inspect and dispose of the child’s remains, and then reliving the horror in her memory and dreams.  She sought legal recourse against the hospital, only to learn that neither state nor federal law gave her the right to sue for this egregious violation of her rights.  Her words:  “How could this happen in America?”
  • Blaine Adamson, a small businessman from Kentucky.  His T-Shirt company specialized in servicing Christian organizations, and was very careful not to get involved in printing any messages that were contrary to his faith.  So when the local gay and lesbian organization tried to place an order, he referred them to another printer.  So began his descent in to the Kafkaesque world of “human rights” commissions.  He was found guilty of discrimination, ordered to print the T-shirts, and required to consult with the government any time he thought about turning down a job because of the message.  Even worse, he had to undergo “diversity training”, an Orwellian concept that is designed to use the muscle of the government to force him to admit that his ideas — his faith — is wrong and must be rejected.  He too remains firm:  “If no one stands up and says something, they win.”
  • Jeanne Mancini, the President of the March for Life, which is the largest annual human rights event in the entire world, dedicated to defending life from the moment of conception.  Her organization ran afoul of the evil HHS Mandate, which would have required them to provide health insurance and pay for drugs and devices that cause abortions — directly contrary to their mission.  Because the March for Life is not a religious organization, she had no alternative but to sue in order to defend her rights.  At the heart of their case is a simple principle — the right to life isn’t just a religious issue, it’s a human right.  So, as she said, “We couldn’t not fight it”.

These admirable people are on the receiving end of the new intolerance, the message of which is stark — “conform to the orthodoxy of sexual liberationism, or be crushed”.  This attitude is a danger to everyone, not just those who have the audacity to dissent.  As Alan Sears, the admirable head of ADF, said (quoting Martin Luther King): “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.”

Pope Francis, on his return flight after visiting the United States, said very clearly:

I can say conscientious objection is a right, and enters into every human right. It is a right, and if a person does now allow for conscientious objection, he or she is denying a right. Every legal system should provide for conscientious objection because it is a right, a human right.

Very few people are standing up to defend this basic human right.  ADF is doing so, the Holy Father is doing so.  And we all need to do so.


Ignorance of the Law is No Excuse

Tuesday, September 15th, 2015

In the past few weeks, we’ve seen headlines about a Kentucky county clerk who was sent to jail briefly, because she refused to issue marriage licences to same-sex couples, based on her religious beliefs.

As with virtually every recent controversy on this subject, this one led to an huge amount of rhetoric by people who lack even the most rudimentary understanding of what the laws regarding religious liberty entail.  There is the old adage that “ignorance of the law is no excuse”, and that certainly applies here — the law of religious liberty is really not that hard to learn and understand.

The most egregious example of public, culpable ignorance can be found in a recent article by a physicist, who entitled his piece “All Scientists Should Be Militant Atheists”.  I generally couldn’t care less what a militant atheist might say.  But I couldn’t resist commenting on one thing the professor says in his screed, namely:

To what extent should we allow people to break the law if their religious views are in conflict with it?

There’s another old saying, “A man has to know his limitations”.  I am a lawyer, and I know virtually nothing about physics.  I therefore have the good sense not to write a single word about physics, pretending that I know what I’m talking about.  Would that the professor had the same sense, and refrained from pretending that he knew the first thing about the law.

This is really not that difficult.  The laws of the United States — including the First Amendment to our Constitution — are actually quite clear in recognizing that the government cannot easily impose laws upon people when they conflict with the person’s religious beliefs.  In other words, when a person claims a religious exemption, they are not breaking the law, they are merely asserting their basic human rights.  If the government or a private person fails to recognize that exemption, they are the ones who are breaking the law, not the religious believer.

A very clear example can be found in the Hobby Lobby decision, in which the Supreme Court held that the federal government violated the Religious Freedom Restoration Act by not recognizing that the company was exempt from the HHS contraception/abortion mandate, due to their religious beliefs.  Or in the hundreds of civil lawsuits where employers are required to recognize religious holidays or clothing, cities are banned from restricting street-corner evangelists, schools are prevented from closing religious clubs or newspapers, etc.

And it doesn’t stop with the Constitution.  Title VII of the federal Civil Rights Act, a law that has been in effect for over forty years, utterly rejects the idea that an employee has to surrender their religious beliefs as a condition of keeping a job.  Instead, it imposes a duty on the employer to exempt employees from work requirements that conflict with their religion, so long as that does not impose an undue hardship on the employer. In other words, for the last four decades, employers are required by law to make reasonable accommodations for their employees, not vice versa.

Similar statutes exist in every state, and in many localities.  Here in New York, our state Human Rights Law has been in existence for about seventy years.  It explicitly imposes on employers a duty to make reasonable accommodations for sincerely-held religious beliefs.  There are also other many other laws that protect religious liberty from government imposition.  Most notable are federal and state Religious Freedom Restoration Acts.   One time, I counted the number of religious exemptions recognized in New York law, and managed to find about two dozen.  More legislation is being proposed, such as the First Amendment Defense Act.

In short, the law protecting religious liberty is well-established, and can be easily accessed and understood.  Certainly a person who opines on the law in a public forum should be expected to inform themselves of these basic facts.

So it’s hard to chalk these kinds of statements and arguments to good faith ignorance.  Rather, it seems more likely that the person is inveterately hostile to religion, and, due to this animus, will not even consider the facts or arguments that stand against their position.

I think, if you were to consult a dictionary, that would be a pretty good definition of bigotry.


Approaching a Dangerous Threshold

Wednesday, April 1st, 2015

Many years ago, the Supreme Court of the United States took up a case involving people who did not wish to conform to a law that they considered to be an imposition on their religious beliefs.  The government, backed by strong public opinion sought to enforce the law, and to compel this religious group to comply.

But they persisted in defending their civil rights, particularly their freedom of religion.  It was a time when it was widely understood that freedom of religion was actually a civil right, essential to well-ordered liberty.   People recalled that the freedom of religion was so important that it was explicitly enshrined in the United States Constitution in two separate places — in the Free Exercise and Establishment clauses of the First Amendment, and in the ban on religious tests for public office.  It was a time when freedom of religion was under attack around the world, with people of some faiths being openly and brutally persecuted.

But it was also a time when unpopular religions still faced legal obstacles in the United States.  Some faiths were considered to be out of step with American values, out of the mainstream of acceptable opinion, and were widely criticized and even derided in the popular media.

The group in that case was the Jehovah’s Witnesses, and the law required their children to recite the Pledge of Allegiance.  They took the issue all the way to the Supreme Court, in hopes that the highest court of our land would defend their right to live in keeping with their faith, and would grant them an exemption from the law.  The Supreme Court agreed with them, and reversed an earlier decision that gave their religious interests little respect.  In doing so, the Supreme Court, in the words of Justice Jackson, said something very significant about the nature of our government, and the importance of respecting dissent:

[F]reedom to differ is not limited to things that do not matter much. That would be a mere shadow of freedom. The test of its substance is the right to differ as to things that touch the heart of the existing order.  If there is any fixed star in our constitutional constellation, it is that no official, high or petty, can prescribe what shall be orthodox in politics, nationalism, religion, or other matters of opinion, or force citizens to confess by word or act their faith therein. If there are any circumstances which permit an exception, they do not now occur to us.  (West Virginia State Board of Education v. Barnette, 1943)

We are now at a point in American history where this foundational principle is under direct attack, and it is not clear whether it will survive.  The long-standing conflict between the Christian faith and the forces of sexual liberation and radical egalitarianism is approaching a threshold that will be very dangerous to cross.

The battle right now is being conducted over religious freedom restoration statutes (“RFRA’s”) that have been enacted in twenty states (and which are the law by judicial decision in eleven others).  Those laws reflect the values expressed by the Supreme Court in the Jehovah’s Witness case.  RFRA laws recognize the civil rights of religious people to an exemption from certain general laws.  They would only get an exemption if they can prove that the law imposes a substantial burden on their religious beliefs.  However, they would still have to obey the law if the government has a compelling interest in enforcing it and there are no reasonable alternatives.  A RFRA law essentially creates a balancing test that courts would have to apply to a fact-based situation.  It does not grant a  blanket or automatic exemption to religious people.

The real dispute is, of course, whether Christians can be compelled to recognize same-sex “marriages” and to provide direct services to ceremonies that purport to create such unions.  A reasonable argument can be held about this question.  But that’s not what’s happening, and that’s precisely why we are in such a dangerous moment.

There has been an amazing amount of hysterical, ill-informed opposition to these RFRA laws that fail to take into account their true, limited nature.  But what really concerns me is the dismissive attitude that’s being displayed about religious freedom and the freedom to dissent.  People are speaking as if the category of “civil rights” didn’t even include freedom of religion, and that it must always be suppressed in favor of the supposed right to same-sex “marriage”.  One of our major political parties, most of the mainstream media, many of our courts, and a number of large corporations have already crossed the line into official intolerance towards religious liberty.   Public opinion polls show a shrinking number of people (albeit still a majority) who respect the right to dissent based on religion.  Gone are the days when dissent was considered a legitimate form of patriotism.

Basic respect for the right to dissent from official orthodoxy is under threat, and may not survive much longer.  When, as I expect, the Supreme Court invents the imaginary “right” to a same-sex “marriage”, this conflict will grow even more intense, and the danger to dissent based on religious beliefs will be even more acute.

On the other side of this threshold is real persecution, like that shown to the Jehovah’s Witnesses in the old days.  People are already being forced to recognize same-sex “marriages”, or face crippling fines and loss of businesses.  Institutions that resist will be punished by loss of public funding, access to public programs, and tax exemptions.  Individuals who dissent will be shunned and excluded from certain professions, and even from public office.

The right to dissent is essential to American liberty.  The Supreme Court saw that in the Jehovah’s Witness case.  Will our nation continue to see that now?

Pessimism about Marriage and the Supreme Court

Saturday, January 17th, 2015

The Supreme Court has now agreed to decide one of the marriage redefinition cases. The oral argument will be held at the end of April, and a decision will come down at the end of June.

In my opinion, this is not good news. The conventional wisdom is that the Court takes cases in order to reverse lower courts, and the statistics bear that out (in revious terms, they’ve reversed about 75% of the cases they take). So it’s very significant that the Court took the case from the Sixth Circuit — the only Circuit Court to have upheld real marriage.

We also have to bear in mind that in the Windsor case, the majority of the Court struck down the federal Defense of Marriage Act, on the theory that it violated Equal Protection because the law was enacted specifically with “animus” towards homosexuals. In the case the Court just accepted, each of the state laws involved (Ohio, Michigan, Kentucky, and Tennessee) would be vulnerable to that same argument, since they adopted constitutional amendments specifically to rule out the redefinition of marriage to include same-sex couples.

So I think there’s every reason to anticipate that the Court will rule the wrong way. It’s clear that there is a solid 4-vote bloc that will vote to recognize same-sex “marriage” (Sotomayor, Kagen, Breyer, and Ginsberg), and a 4-vote bloc that will likely vote against it (Alito, Scalia, Thomas, and probably Roberts). Given Justice Kennedy’s past record on homosexual rights cases — he has always voted in favor of them and has written some terrible majority opinions centered on the issue of alleged “animus” (see the Lawrence, Romer, and Windsor cases) — it seems virtually certain that he will follow his own reasoning in his Windsor majority opinion, and rule that the secret messages, written in invisible ink but that he manages to discern in the Constitution, somehow require the recognition of same-sex “marriage”.

In other words, the Court will likely decide that the Equal Protection Clause requires that we must abandon logic, and say that inherently different things are actually the same.  Welcome to the Humpty-Dumpty world of justice, where words mean whatever the people in power wish them to mean.

I am innately pessimistic about Court rulings, but I just can’t see any path to a good outcome here. Not only will a marriage re-definition ruling flout the will of the people as expressed in the democratic process, it will contradict the fundamental truths about marriage contained in the natural law and in the nature of the human person. It will also increase pressure on religious people to conform, and will test our ability to live in keeping with our faith in an increasingly hostile nation.


A Bleak Outlook for Religious Liberty?

Wednesday, September 24th, 2014

For the past few years, disputes over religious liberty has been very prominent parts of the American legal and political agenda. No observer of the state of religion in our nation can fail to be struck by the series of difficult and contentious controversies. The HHS mandate and the redefinition of marriage are just the most recent examples that have brought the conflict into stark view.

This conflict has attracted a great deal of attention from legal and political scholars.  In my view, no book does a better job of explaining its background and likely future course than the recent sobering work by Steven Smith, The Rise and Decline of American Religious Freedom. Prof. Smith is one of the leading scholars of religious liberty, which might scare people off from this book. But his writing is remarkably accessible to non-experts, and anyone with a basic knowledge of American history would find it a fascinating and compelling read.

The basic thesis of the book is to contrast what Prof. Smith calls the “standard story” of American religious liberty, which is generally accepted and taught in academia, with a “revised story” that he proposes as a better explanation for where we’ve come from and where we’re going.

The “standard story”, in essence:

tells how, under the influence of the Enlightenment, the American founders broke away from the intolerance and dogmatism of centuries of Christendom and courageously set out on a radical new experiment in religious liberty. More specifically, the founders adopted a Constitution that committed the nation to the separation of religion from government and thus to secular governance that would be neutral toward religion.  These commitments were not immediately realized… Even now the achievement is under threat… mainly from religious conservatives…

This basic description of the “standard story” should be familiar to all, since it is reflected in Supreme Court decisions and the general public debate about the role of religion in our society.  It is the story that I learned in law school, and, I imagine, that is taught in every high school and college history and political science class.  It is the story of the alleged “wall of separation” that keeps push religious groups and ideas out of the public square.  It is the reason that our courts and legislatures increasingly find little reason to accommodate or protect unpopular religious beliefs and practices.  Prof. Smith says that the general acceptance of the “standard story” has reached such a point that nobody feels a need to explain or defend it.  Instead, it has become one of those things of which people say, “as we all know…”

According to Prof. Smith, the problem with the “standard story” is that it is actually false in many significant respects.  Instead, he proposes a “revised story” that better explains the history of American religious liberty in key ways:

  • American religious freedom is mostly a retrieval and consolidation of Christian themes (with some pagan principles mixed in), particularly libertas ecclesiae (freedom of the church), and freedom of the “inner church” of conscience.
  • The First Amendment religious clause did nothing radical or dramatically new, but instead re-stated principles that were uncontroversial at the time — a limitation on the jurisdiction of Congress relating to Churches and religion.
  • The first century and a half of our history were a “golden age of American religious freedom”.  It was not a time in which the Republic failed to live up to the ideals of the First Amendment, but instead  those ideals were allowed to grow and work out through the democratic process.  Prof. Smith proposes that this was the time of the “American settlement”, which rested on the separation of church from state (but not a strict exclusion of religion from government) and freedom of conscience, together with “open contestation” about what that meant in practice.
  • The modern Supreme Court, far from restoring the original ideals of the First Amendment, wrongly rejected the American settlement and instead declared that secularism is the controlling principle of constitutional law.  This brought an end to the open discussion and debate about our differences, and sought (usually inconsistently and incoherently) to impose hard rules to limit the role of religion in law and government.
  • The result is that religious freedom is in jeopardy, particularly when it comes into conflict with the modern ideologies of egalitarianism and sexual liberation.
  • In the end, Prof. Smith is pessimistic about the future of religious freedom in America, and he believes that life in our nation will suffer as a result.    Given all that we have seen in recent years, it is difficult to disagree with him.  One thinks of the intransigent refusal of legislatures to grant sufficient conscience clause exemptions from laws redefining marriage, or expanding availability of contraception or abortion.  Or we can cite the Administration’s denial of the right of religious organizations to choose their own ministers, according to the dictates of their faith.  And there is always the rhetorical tactic of certain politicians to brand religious believers as “extremists” who are unwelcome in their own home states. Or the tendency of judicial opinions to brand religious beliefs on marriage as irrational hatred or bigotry.

    This book is an important contribution to the ongoing debate over the role of religion in contemporary society. It provides a much-needed balance to the “standard story”, which has dominated the public discussion and the law-making process. It is essential that legal professionals, policy makers, and engaged citizens understand the true history of religious liberty.

    Prof. Smith reminds us all that religious liberty is very fragile, but it is very important to a healthy American society. Such a fundamental freedom, deeply rooted in American and Western history, cannot be so lightly thrown away, or forced to depend on narrow majorities of the Supreme Court. In particular, he warns us that “states that fail to protect religious freedom usually trample on other freedoms as well”.

    The Enemies of Religious Freedom Declare Themselves

    Saturday, July 12th, 2014

    There have been many results from the Supreme Court’s religious freedom ruling in the Hobby Lobby/Conestoga Wood case.  One is that we can more readily identify many people who either lack fundamental reading comprehension skills or are subject to such ideological blindness that they egregiously mis-characterize what the case actually held.

    Perhaps most important, though, is that we can now see very clearly who the enemies of religious freedom are — and we can see that they are heavily represented in the Democratic Party delegations in Congress.

    This can be seen very plainly from new bills introduced in both the House and the Senate (S.2578 and H.R.5051), reportedly in consultation with the Administration.  These bills purport to be a way of overturning the Hobby Lobby/Conestoga Wood decision, and forcing for-profit businesses to comply with the HHS mandate to provide insurance coverage for abortion-causing drugs, contraception, and sterilization.

    But they go much, much further than that.  In fact, they directly and seriously endanger the religious freedom of every church and religious non-profit, and any other organization that is operated by faith-based persons who don’t want to cooperate with evil.  This is a proposal of “startling breadth” (to quote Justice Ginsburg’s dissent in Hobby Lobby/Conestoga Wood), and astonishing audacity.

    As with every bit of legislation the devil (literally) is in the details.  So let’s break down the actual language of the bill, and explain what it means.  Here is what the House version of the bill says (in italics), with my analysis to follow:

    (a) In General — An employer that establishes or maintains a group health plan for its employees (and any covered dependents of such employees) shall not deny coverage of a specific health care item or service with respect to such employees (or dependents) where the coverage of such item or service is required under any provision of Federal law or the regulations promulgated thereunder.

    The key word here is “employer”.  Nowhere in the bill does it define that word, so it is an outright lie to claim that the bill is limited to overturning the Supreme Court’s decision, which was limited to family-owned corporations.  This bill would instead reach every single employer in the United States that has an employee health plan — individual business owners, churches, schools.  Nobody would be exempted.

    It would also cover any health care “item or service” required to be covered by federal law or regulation — which is so broad as to potentially include any number of evils our federal government might choose, such as abortion, contraception, IVF, sex-change operations, and euthanasia drugs.

    The significance of this becomes even more clear when we look at another section of the bill:

    (b) Application — Subsection (a) shall apply notwithstanding any other provision of Federal law, including [the Religious Freedom Restoration Act].

    This would give employers essentially no defense to any law passed by Congress or imposed by executive fiat that would substantially burden their faith by requiring them to cooperate with evil.  In other words, people of faith would be reduced to second-class citizen status.  This echoes infamous prior court decisions, as if the bill’s sponsors thought that religious employers “had no rights which the [government] was bound to respect” (to quote the Dred Scott decision], or as if they were not “recognized in the law as persons in the whole sense” (to quote Roe v. Wade).

    It gets even worse — here’s where the real evil lies:

    (c) Regulations — The regulations [relating to the current HHS mandate] shall apply with respect to this section.  The Departments of Labor, Health and Human Services, and the Treasury may modify such regulations consistent with the purpose and findings of this Act.

    In other words, the government shall have carte blanche to change the HHS mandate at a whim, or to impose any other mandate they wish.  So there is no limit to what can be done by a future administration with even more commitment to the Cult of Moloch (i.e., the Planned Parenthood, pro-death agenda) than the current regime.  Nothing would stop them from removing the current HHS mandate exemption for churches and “accommodation” for religious non-profits, and enact regulations that would require coverage for abortion, euthanasia, you name it — and there would be no defense under the Religious Freedom Restoration Act.

    If there were any further question about the fragility of religious freedom in America today, this bill removes any doubt.  The sponsors of this wicked bill have openly declared themselves to be enemies of religious freedom.

    Here is a list of the House sponsors — 142 as of the date this is posted, all of them Democrats.  Here are the Senate sponsors — 42 of them, all Democrats, including the original sponsor of RFRA, our own Senator Charles Schumer. If your representative is on the list, contact them right away.

    Nelson Mandela once said “I cherish my own freedom dearly, but I care even more for your freedom.”  Ask your representative why they don’t agree, and remember well the answer, when they come asking for your vote.

    Getting Past the Hysteria

    Thursday, July 3rd, 2014

    The Supreme Court’s decision in the Hobby Lobby/Conestoga Wood case has certainly been the cause of much controversy. This is natural, and to be expected, since it touches upon so many key issues in the so-called “culture war”, and it was both a hotly contested and much anticipated decision.

    But much of the reaction to the Court’s decision has been, well, a bit unhinged. Some have claimed that the Court was casting women back into virtual slavery. One legal commentator for a major newspaper stated openly — and bizarrely — that the reason for the Court’s majority ruling was simply that they lacked a uterus.  Right.

    Why all the hysteria?

    I think much of it is a result of the nature of the controversy itself — one that goes to the heart of conflicting visions of who we are.

    One of the key issues underlying this case is the role of women in society, and how that is to be assured. Everyone agrees that women should be a full and equal participants in society, free from unfair treatment. But we are in a pluralistic society, and there are many views on how that is to be accomplished, which necessarily involves differing views on the questions of fertility, sexuality, human life.

    Many women and couples consider controlling their fertility to be a core value, and have organized their lives around it. They believe that easy, low-cost access to contraceptives is essential to their lives.  They view anything that works against that value, and, indeed, anything that casts doubts upon it or appears to disagree with it, as a direct attack on their self-definition and identity.

    We disagree with that value. But, in our pluralistic society, it is a reality that we must recognize.  The fact is that those views have a place at the table in the public discussion.

    But pluralism is a two-way street. As Catholics, we have a different view of sexuality, fertility, and human life.  Our values are based on our faith, reason, and a particular understanding of the nature of the human person. We believe that fertility is a gift, not an “unwanted physical condition”. It’s a blessing given to us by God, inherent in human nature as male and female, and not a curse. To deny this is to deny an essential part of who we are, and to set us at war with ourselves.  As a result, we believe that the “contraceptive mentality” is bad for individuals, relationships, and society.  We are convinced (largely from our own failings and hard-earned experience) that the virtue of chastity is a beautiful, beneficial way for people to live and love.

    We also believe in the sanctity of human life, from the first moment of conception. It is a scientific fact, not a matter of religious belief, that at the moment of conception a new, individual, unrepeatable human being comes into existence. We also believe, based both on faith and reason, that it is a grave injustice to deliberately end the life of any innocent human being, and is a sad failure in our duty to love one another.

    We have also organized our lives around these values, which are central to our religious faith.  It’s not just something that we do on Sunday morning, or in the privacy of our homes.  It’s essential to our self-worth and identity, and it affects all aspects of our lives.

    We understand that many people disagree with us — just as we disagree with them.   But, again, in our pluralistic society, it is a reality that others must recognize.  The fact is that our views have a place at the table in the public discussion.  In the end, people should certainly be free to make their own decisions about fertility and sexuality and the meaning of their lives – but so should religious people.

    The American way is to guarantee the freedom, equality and autonomy of everyone, including religious people, to live lives of integrity, in keeping with their core values.   We have long recognized that.  Our laws are full of religious accommodations, like the exemption from the draft for Quakers, and the freedom from saying the Pledge of Allegiance for Jehovah’s Witnesses.  This is a matter of basic respect, civility, and just plain good manners. 

    The bottom line is that there is a serious conflict of values going on here, one that is difficult, if not impossible, to resolve definitively.  There’s no easy answer, no magic bullet, that will solve all the disputes and make everyone happy.  And “winner take all” is a terrible way to conduct politics — some people will triumph, but it also means that many of our neighbors will be “losers”.   That’s no way to have a healthy community.

    People naturally respond emotionally, even hysterically, when they’re scared that their way of life and values are threatened.  Even though we won this particular case, we’re scared too — our religious freedom is very fragile right now.

    So maybe it would be a good idea to turn the volume down a bit, recognize the raw feelings on all sides, and try to find a way that we can preserve as much as possible of everyone’s values, while preserving a sense of unity, solidarity, and mutual love.

    Resistance to the Dictatorship of Relativism

    Wednesday, March 5th, 2014

    Pope Benedict famously warned about the impending dangers of a “dictatorship of relativism” — a state where truth is denied, morality is defined by subjective desires, authentic tolerance is extinguished, and political power is used to force compliance with the whims of the day.

    Well, we certainly have enough relativism in our culture, and the slide to dictatorship seems to be accelerating.

    Just in the past few weeks we’ve seen more and more Black-Robed Platonic Guardian Rulers on the Courts, er, I mean federal judges, overruling the democratic decisions of legislatures and the people, and redefining marriage.  We’ve seen elected officials foreswearing their oaths of office to uphold the laws, and refusing to defend the authentic definition of marriage.  We’ve seen hysterical and mendacious accounts of proposed religious liberty legislation, even to the point where defenders of the free exercise of religion are compared to Jim Crow racists.  Intolerance from the forces of “tolerance” is becoming the language of the day.

    We need to be clear about what is at the heart of this situation, and what our response must be.  There are several fundamental truths that are being denied by our current culture:

  • Being male and female is an inherent aspect of the human person, they are not arbitrary and irrational concepts.
  • Marriage is ordained by God and by nature to unite a man and woman in a life-long bond that benefits them as persons, and that is the proper context for sexual relations and the procreation and raising of children.
  • A homosexual inclination is contrary to the true meaning and purpose of human sexuality as created by God and enshrined in human nature.
  • Homosexual conduct is always contrary to the will of God and the nature of the human person.
  • Persons with a  homosexual inclination must be treated with full human dignity and cannot be treated with unjust discrimination;  however, their unions cannot be recognized as equivalent to marriage, and their sexual activity cannot be approved.
  • Every human person has the right and obligation to follow their conscience, even when it disagrees with human laws.
  • The budding “dictatorship of relativism” is becoming more and more intolerant of these truths, and will gradually subject those who hold them to criticism, ostracism, and legal penalties.

    In the face of this, we must be ready to resist.

    The starting place for resistance is to recall several key points, most eloquently explained in Henry David Thoreau’s Civil Disobedience, and Vaclav Havel’s The Power of the Powerless:

  • Resistance is a duty of all citizens when faced by injustice.  It is not an “extra-credit” activity.
  • It must be always be grounded in the truth.  It makes no compromise with lies, and always seeks to expose them.
  • It must always be pursued with love and respect.  It is not an excuse for violence and lawlessness.
  • The goal is conversion of heart on the part of those who support injustice, not overbearing their will with power.  It’s message always is “come, join us”, and never “we will force you to agree”.
  • The most important tactic is our willingness to testify to the truth by our words and our actions, and our refusal to cooperate with injustice and lies.
  • Underlying this duty of resistance is an important understanding of the freedom of conscience, and my duty of obedience to the truth rather than to mere human laws.  The government may attempt to coerce my external cooperation with injustice by imposing penalties, fines, and so on.  But no government, and no law, can force me to accept a lie as the truth.

    We cannot have any illusions.  Many, if not most of our family and friends will conform, and will consider us to be strange.  We may be estranged from loved ones.  It will be painful.

    Yes, we will be persecuted — indeed, it has already begun.  It will be a soft persecution, nothing like the hardship  suffered by our brethren in countries like Syria.  Nonetheless,  we will feel the steel fist under the velvet glove.

    Resist.  The power of truth and love cannot be extinguished.

    How Much Times Have Changed for Religious Liberty

    Thursday, January 9th, 2014

    Every so often, it’s useful to review some history, and see if we can learn any lessons.

    In 1802, the United States obtained from France what is now the State of Louisiana as part of the famous Louisiana Purchase.  At that time, there was a group of Ursuline Sisters in Louisiana, educating poor girls at a school that still exists to this present day.  They were worried about whether they would be able to continue to own property and carry out their charitable work, once they became part of the United States.  So they wrote to President Thomas Jefferson, seeking assurances about their religious freedom.

    President Jefferson has an undeserved reputation as an enemy of religion, based largely on a misunderstanding of the meaning of his position that the Constitution created a “wall of separation” between church and state.  But he gave no evidence of any hostility or indifference to religion in his response to the Ursulines.  Instead, he wrote:

    I have received, holy sisters, the letter you have written me wherein you express anxiety for the property vested in your institution by the former governments of Louisiana. The principles of the constitution and government of the United States are a sure guarantee to you that it will be preserved to you sacred and inviolate, and that your institution will be permitted to govern itself according to it’s own voluntary rules, without interference from the civil authority. Whatever diversity of shade may appear in the religious opinions of our fellow citizens, the charitable objects of your institution cannot be indifferent to any; and it’s furtherance of the wholesome purposes of society, by training up it’s younger members in the way they should go, cannot fail to ensure it the patronage of the government it is under. Be assured it will meet all the protection which my office can give it.  I salute you, holy sisters, with friendship & respect.

    President Jefferson clearly recognized the fundamental freedom of people to live according to their religious beliefs.  After all, he was the author of the famous Virginia Statute of Religious Freedom.  He understood that government had no business interfering in the practice of religion, or in coercing the consciences of believers.  In fact, he recognized the benefit to society from the good works of religious individuals and institutions.

    Sad to say, it is difficult to imagine the incumbent President writing a similar letter to the present-day Little Sisters of the Poor.  Times have indeed changed.

    An Important Victory for Religious Freedom

    Monday, December 16th, 2013

    An important victory was won today for religious freedom.  In a well-reasoned decision, Judge Brian Cogan of the United States District Court for the Eastern District of New York, issued a permanent injunction barring the enforcement of the HHS Mandate against Catholic agencies in the Archdiocese.

    This is not the final stroke of victory against this iniquitous and repressive mandate, as we might hope.  But as Winston Churchill once said, “Now this is not the end. It is not even the beginning of the end. But it is, perhaps, the end of the beginning.”

    The key element in Judge Cogan’s finding was his specific rejection of the Administration’s minimalistic approach to religious liberty.  The Administration continues to operate on the view that religion is a private matter. It apparently believes that any time a person or organization steps into the public square in any way, they leave their religious freedom behind, and can be compelled to conform their every action to secularist rules of behavior and thought.

    Judge Cogan rejected that view.  He rightly found that the HHS Mandate improperly requires church agencies to perform acts that are directly contrary to our Catholic faith — by forcing them to affirmatively endorse and facilitate access to abortion, contraception and sterilization, under penalty of ruinous fines.  The essential quote from the decision:

    [The plaintiffs] have demonstrated that the mandate, despite accommodation, compels them to perform acts that are contrary to their religion… there can be no doubt that the coercive pressure here is substantial…  and the Government has failed to show that the Mandate is the least restrictive means of advancing a compelling governmental interest.

    This is a very important point, and one that should be axiomatic to anyone who believes in ordered liberty.  If religious freedom means anything, it means that the government can’t force people to do things that they believe God has forbidden.  For people of faith, there is a hierarchy of authority, and it is unjust for the government to try to arrogate to itself the ultimate authority over people’s consciences.  Coercion on matters of conscience are a gross violation of human rights.

    Pope Francis has made this point forcefully in Evangelii Gaudium, saying

    “A healthy pluralism, one which genuinely respects differences and values them as such, does not entail privatizing religions in an attempt to reduce them to the quiet obscurity of the individual’s conscience or to relegate them to the enclosed precincts of churches, synagogues or mosques. This would represent, in effect, a new form of discrimination and authoritarianism.”  (255)

    This fundamental principle underlies Judge Cogan’s well-reasoned decision.  At some point, one hopes that the Administration will awaken, and recall that there are necessary limits on state power, if a nation, and its people, are to be truly free.