The Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA), which would provide federal job protections for LGBT employees, passed a major hurdle this week when the U.S. Senate voted 64-32 to pass it. The bill now passes to the House of Representatives, where a less certain fate awaits it.
As Bondings 2.0 reported earlier this week, the U.S. bishops are opposing the legislation based on a variety of reasons including their concerns that the law will separate gender from biological sex, that it will promote homosexual activity, and that it will infringe on religious liberty.
National Catholic Reporter columnist Jamie Manson reflected this week on the bishops’ opposition to to ENDA, noting that it seems that their major concern is the religious liberty claim. After summarizing their objections, Manson writes:
“All of this adds up to their ultimate concern: ENDA threatens religious liberty. The bill threatens to punish the church by treating the teachings of the Catholic faith as discrimination. The exemption for religious employers is uncertain, they insist, and they are convinced that even exempted employers will face government retaliation.
“Even with this litany of complaints, the bishops conclude their letter insisting that they are ready to work with ‘all people of good will to end all forms of unjust discrimination, including against those who experience same sex attraction.’
“The bishops declare they want to work to fight LGBT discrimination in the very same document where they use remarkably discriminatory ideas.
“Not only do they want to continue to fight for their right to fire and discriminate against LGBT employees, they call all same-sex relationships extramarital behavior unworthy of protection, and they negate the deep experience of transgender persons. With thoughts like these, one shudders to think what their version of ENDA might read like.”
And, as is true with many issues of LGBT equality, the bishops’ opinions are not in synch with the rest of the U.S. Catholic popoulation, the majority of which support ENDA’s principles. Manson writes:
“Perhaps saddest of all, the bishops make these claims even in light of a recent poll that 76 percent of Catholics in the U.S. support ENDA, marking yet another episode in which the conscience of the majority of Catholics is at odds with the unabashed monologue of the Catholic hierarchy.”
The religious liberty arguments the bishops make are not even relevant since ENDA already supplies exemptions for employment sites that are primarily religious in nature. The bishops’ insistence on maintaining this claim seems more like fear-mongering than legitimate objections. It’s time for them to retire this song.
David DeCrosse, the director of campus ethics programs at Santa Clara University, California, offered the bishops a new way of discussing religious liberty. In a National Catholic Reporter essay, DeCrosse, writing about religious liberty generally, suggests a new theological approach to the topic:
“The great 20th-century theologian Redemptorist Fr. Bernard Häring proposed a better way for the church to promote religious freedom in a manner consistent with the letter and spirit of the Second Vatican Council. Häring argued that the church should not primarily seek freedom for itself — a seeking that regrettably characterizes the bishops’ religious liberty campaign — but should instead consider itself a sacrament of the liberty and liberation of all. Thus the church must both seek its own freedom and proclaim the freedom of conscience of all, whether or not such freedom has any immediate connection to the church’s doctrine or practice. In Häring’s arguments, we see the balance missing from the religious liberty campaign of the bishops in which concerns for the freedom of the church subsume concerns about freedom of conscience.”
He makes an important point which explains why so many religious people are uncomfortable with the way the bishops have been using religious liberty language. Many religious people (and non-religious people, too) want church institutions to be able to exercise their faiths freely, but they also want, as a matter of religious principle, for all people’s consciences to be respected.
In the particular case of ENDA, Manson points to how this principle of balancing liberty and conscience can be applied by the bishops:
“Ultimately, the only way to get the hierarchy to call off the religious liberty dogs will be by transforming their understanding of the dignity, value and gifts of LGBT employees.”
Until the bishops start to show that they respect LGBT people as full human beings and citizens, their laments about religious liberty will continue to ring hollow.
–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry