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