Catholics Sign Flawed Document on Religious Freedom

At least 19 people identified as Catholics or employed by Catholic institutions have joined a group of 75 religious leaders in endorsing a “religious freedom” statement issued in December 2016 by The Colson Center for Christian Worldview.

Entitled “Preserve Freedom, Reject Coercion,” the seven-paragraph manifesto claims that religious freedom is under attack because of the adoption of SOGI (sexual orientation, gender identity) laws which have adopted these categories as “protected classifications in the law—either legislatively or through executive action.”

While such statements are not uncommon, and while conservative Catholic support for them is certainly not unusual, it is still surprising to find Catholic leaders agreeing to sign this particular document since it is so poorly worded and argued.  For example, at one point, the statement claims:

“Creative professionals, wedding chapels, non-profit organizations, ministries serving the needy, adoption agencies, businesses, schools, religious colleges, and even churches have faced threats and legal action under such laws for declining to participate in a same-sex wedding ceremony; for maintaining policies consistent with their guiding principles; and for seeking to protect privacy by ensuring persons of the opposite sex do not share showers, locker rooms, restrooms, and other intimate facilities.”

I have followed marriage equality laws carefully, and I do not know of any law in the U.S.  (or elsewhere, for that matter) which compel religious people or institutions to participate in same-sex ceremonies.  I also do not know of any case where a religious institution has been penalized for not providing facilities for transgender people to use that are consistent with their gender identity.  In fact, there have been cases where Catholic educational institutions have voluntarily provided such facilities for students because they see that as part of their religious mission.

Additionally, the statement makes a sweeping generalization which condemns religious exemptions as weak and ineffective:

We therefore believe that proposed SOGI laws, including those narrowly crafted, threaten fundamental freedoms, and any ostensible protections for religious liberty appended to such laws are inherently inadequate and unstable.

What is most surprising about this statement is that religious exemptions that  have been incorporated into these laws have been done so not only at the request of religious leaders, but often with their active participation in crafting such exemptions.  Are they now saying that the input of themselves and their colleagues was inadequate?

Overgeneralizing is also evident in one of the documents concluding passages:

“SOGI laws in all these forms, at the federal, state, and local levels, should be rejected. We join together in signing this letter because of the serious threat that SOGI laws pose to fundamental freedoms guaranteed to every person.”

Really?  What about SOGI laws which protect victims of hate crimes or which punish what the Catholic Church has determined is “unjust discrimination” against LGBT people?  How do the Catholic leaders who signed this document justify this statement in light of what the Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith said in its 1986 Letter on pastoral care with lesbian and gay people:

“It is deplorable that homosexual persons have been and are the object of violent malice in speech or in action. Such treatment deserves condemnation from the Church’s pastors wherever it occurs. It reveals a kind of disregard for others which endangers the most fundamental principles of a healthy society. The intrinsic dignity of each person must always be respected in word, in action and in law.”

Among the Catholics who added their names to this document are:  Archbishop Charles J. Chaput of Philadelphia, Chairman, United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB)Committee on Laity, Marriage, Family Life, and Youth; Bishop Frank J. Dewane of Venice, Florida, Chairman, USCCB Committee on Domestic Justice and Human Development; William Fahey,President, Thomas More College of Liberal Arts; Sister Mary Sarah Galbraith, President, Aquinas College; Archbishop William E. Lori of Baltimore, Chairman, USCCB Ad Hoc Committee for Religious Liberty; Bishops George V. Murry, S.J. of Youngstown, Chairman, USCCB Committee on Catholic Education; Rev. Sean O. Sheridan, TOR, President, Franciscan University of Steubenville; H. James Towey, President, Ave Maria University; George Weigel, William E. Simon Chair in Catholic Studies, Ethics and Public Policy Center.

The Colson Center website states that the organization “seeks to build and resource a movement of Christians committed to living and defending the Christian worldview.”

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry, February 5, 2017



8 replies
  1. Ned Flaherty
    Ned Flaherty says:

    This Colson Center outfit now owns and operates the infamous Manhattan Declaration.

    Robert P. George launched his Manhattan Declaration pet project in 2009, with the goal of persuading all Americans to physically and publicly defy every law allowing same-gender civil marriage.

    The first 150 signers included the most prominent anti-LGBT bigots in America, including James Dobson, Tony Perkins, Dinesh D’Souza, Maggie Gallagher, Robert George, Richard Land, Albert Mohler, Jr., Russell Moore, Frank Schubert, Alan Sears, Luiz Tellez.

    In 2010, and again in 2011, Apple Computer removed the Manhattan Declaration App from its store because it advocated for legalized discrimination and oppression of LGBT people.

    The 4,732-word manifesto was on-line 2009-2016, but even after all those years, only 551,130 people signed it. On 18 July 2016, after 2 years of near-zero blog activity, the organization officially closed its doors, and transferred its mailing list to the Colson Center.

  2. John Hilgeman
    John Hilgeman says:

    It’s not surprising that some of these people have signed such a misleading statement as this. However, it is heartening that so many have not signed the statement. The great danger to religious freedom in this country comes not from those who want LGBT people to be treated justly and fairly. It comes from those who would impose their religious beliefs on everyone else. And in this particular moment of our nation’s history, it comes from those who would deny religious freedoms, and indeed basic human rights, to Muslims in the world and in our midst. It would be well for the signers of this statement to address the attacks of the Trump Administration on those in our midst and in the world who are Muslim.

  3. Malcolm McPherson
    Malcolm McPherson says:

    The current focus on religious freedom is centred entirely on LGBTI issues. There appears to be no conscientious problem of being involved in a marriage where one of the couple is divorced. There is no problem with Christians being coerced to work on Sundays. There are many issues in which freedom of conscience could be important but nothing is said by church leaders.

    The focus of the current Senate inquiry in Australia into changing the definition of marriage to ‘two people’ has been religious freedom. The submissions and oral evidence from the Australian Catholic Bishops Conference, the Anglican Diocese of Sydney, the Australian Christian Lobby and others follow much the same theme as this document.

  4. Rosa G. Manriquez, IHM
    Rosa G. Manriquez, IHM says:

    As a Catholic, I have been disappeared. Disrespectful. As a Catholic, I don’t accept that these signers solely represent me. I stand on the Primacy of Conscience and declare this document as bogus.

  5. Timothy O'Dell
    Timothy O'Dell says:

    Chuck Colson, of Watergate infamy, was a social and religious authoitarian who persuaded himself that he’d achieved forgiveness and justification via ministerial activities in prisons. The experience of being a con no doubt helped him to recognize and work to correct systematic, race and class based injustice in law and in the courts. Colson neverthless never lost his sense of self-justification to bash people of minority sexual orientation. His spirt , regretably, seems to live on in the institution he founded. What can you say for the RC church, an instituion of the ancient regime of throne and altar which is still not sure that the Magna Charta is a good idea, the current Pontiff notwithstanding. The dirty secret is that many of those celibate priests are celibate with respect to women, but not necessarily with respect to men (hey, knock yourself out) and children (in which case their turn to be knocked out).


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