New Report Reveals Conservatives’ Misuse of Religious Liberty Claims

Dr. Jay Michaelson

A new report on religious liberty details the impact conservative Christians, especially Catholics, have had in opposing LGBT rights. A project of the Political Research Associates, the report , entitled Redefining Religious Liberty: The Covert Campaign Against Civil Rights, was authored by Dr. Jay Michaelson,who identifies Catholic far right organizations and the US bishops as primary players in suppressing LGBT equality.

Writing on The Daily Beast, Dr. Michaelson undercuts claims that expanding civil rights is a curtailment of religious liberty by exposing the true purpose of this conservative campaign:

“Today a far-right coalition of conservative Catholics and evangelicals perceive that they have lost the moral battle against LGBT equality, particularly same-sex marriage. And so…they are waging a multi-pronged battle against LGBT rights, not on substantive moral grounds but on the premise that equality for gays restricts the religious liberty of Christians to discriminate against them…

“And today religious-liberty activists claim that bullies are the real victims because they cannot ‘express their views about homosexuality.’ They claim that businesses who say ‘No Gays Allowed’ are being oppressed because they are forced to ‘facilitate’ gay marriages. And they claim that the real targets of discrimination are not gay people, who in 24 states can be fired from their jobs simply for being gay, but employers who can’t fire them…

“Religious liberty is being used to mask a conservative Christian agenda—the same agenda that’s been pushed for half a century now. Some on the far right may sincerely believe their liberties are being threatened, but they believed that about desegregation too. A belief does not make something so.”

Countering this religious liberty argument has been a challenge for progressives.  Francis DeBernardo, Executive Director of New Ways Ministry, examines this challenge in the foreword he wrote for Michaelson’s report.  DeBernardo also published an op-ed about the report on Alternet  which how progressives, especially Catholics, might respond to religious liberty arguments:

Francis DeBernardo

Francis DeBernardo

“The power of this [religious liberty] message comes not from the truth or validity of their [conservatives’] claim, of which there is very little to be found, but from the fact that this puts progressives into a quandary. Yet when leaders on the right make that claim, progressives often tread too delicately, for fear that they will be forced to choose between falsely competing values of liberty and equality…

“As a Catholic who works for LGBT equality, my own loyalties to faith and justice sometimes pull me in opposite directions when an argument for religious liberty is raised. As a practicing Catholic, I want to be sure that the government is not going to interfere with my church’s ability to govern itself. As an advocate for LGBT issues, I want to make sure that equality is served…

“One of the most important recommendations in this report is that a strong faith-based response to the religious liberty argument is needed. And long overdue…A faith-based response to religious liberty would help to unearth the hidden gems within faith traditions, which value conscience, equality, and justice.”

Moving forward politically, LGBT advocates can expect this religious liberty argument to remain active given previous successes nationwide. This report, which you can read here, provides one tool that progressive people of faith can employ in reorienting a distorted narrative.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry

0 replies
  1. tomfluce
    tomfluce says:

    O.K. Bob and Francis, and my colleagues in New Ways Ministries: I’m having to exercise to the utmost my virtue of forbearance. Google defines forbearance: Patient self-control; restraint and tolerance: is this a spiritual cousin of love?

    In other words I’ve had it with the focus on Brother Bergoglio–the papacy–, hoping, speculating about his attention getting humility and care for the poor and how it might be the key to easing the plight of LGBT’s under his term. And now today the issue of “religious liberty” which underscores our serious lack of organization and plans to influence a very conservative church, made up of not just “hierarchy” but of very influential groups worldwide who have just named one of their own as pope.

    I have to eat this rebellious upsurge of mine and try to practice what I’m calling us all to do, namely showing utmost love and respect for our adversaries at the same time as standing up for our rights. The enormous work all of you in the various reform groups have done to promote our rights is simply enormous and has created–and will continue to–significant change within the church. But how do I ask you lovingly to change your tactic, to enforce change now within the church structures? How do I recruit you to formulate a mechanism that will gain the support of our allies including the conscientious priests and bishops and cardinals(?) to deal with dissent in a 21st century–not to mention 1st century, Jesus-like–way? I’m calling it the “Galileo Reconciliation Commission”.

    Yeah, if we can create a reasonable action plan to force (moral suasion, non-violent acts…) a new entity into being to counteract the absolutist, silencing, intimidating hold that has its grip on us now, recruit our allies, then we will be able to effect a power equal to that of our opponents who use money and blind obedience to support people like Brothers Wojtala and Ratzinger. If we are humble and united with the “weak” we might even sway Brother Bergoglio! Not. The majority of cardinals were appointed by our two previous popes.

    Could we agree to use as a primer for this planning, Matthew Fox’s, “The Pope’s War” Why Ratzinger’s secret crusade has imperiled the church and how it can be saved”? Can we become as powerful inside the church as Opus Dei, Communion and Liberation? Can we become champions of Vat II and counterbalance the anti-laity forces that have given the power to their side even over bishops?

    Brother Bergoglio was named to the cardinal crowd by Brother Wojtala who, along with Brother Ratzinger, nurtured the absolutist version of Catholicism using Opus Dei and Communion and Liberation worldwide. We have seen that Brother Bergoglio followed the conservatives in the Latin American struggle between the poor and the rich. He has espoused the war on “secularism” of his mentors and has pulled this “religious liberty” ruse in Argentina, using language like “demagoguery” that is used by the right wing there who are glad to jump on the anti-gay bandwagon and slam President Fernandez de Kirchner.

    Let’s get down to the business of a real revolution within the church, no longer next door in our friendly denominations, no longer the silent majority, to put an end to any more deaths of LGBT’s because of Catholic teaching. Let us show how to deal with dissent in love. But it has to be as “wise as the serpent and guileless as the dove”. We have to somehow engage the other reformers who don’t dare drag us into their fights for easier issues like women priests and married priests.


  2. Theophania
    Theophania says:

    I am going to have to disagree. Free association and private properties are the cornerstone of civil society, as opposed to barbarism and tyranny. Nobody has a *right* to respect, employment, membership at the local golf club or admittance to a movie theater. As much as it may annoy me, people have the right to be bigoted and exclusionary on their own property.

    • tomfluce
      tomfluce says:

      Hmm, it seems to me that it is a basic understanding that freedom in our civilized nation is not unlimited. You know, yelling fire in a theater. But more importantly the “freedom” to own slaves, or to discriminate against mixed-racial marriage–fought tooth and nail by religious people–is not allowed. Whether a company–especially if it gets any aid from tax breaks–has the “freedom” to withhold paying for birth control health policies for women (or men) may well be argued–like slavery/mixed racial marriage–in the courts for a long time on specifics about how a particular method works. But to start out with the “unlimited freedom” on private property as a “bigoted and exclusionary” incursion is to violate our basic limited notion of freedom in America. I hope!


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