QUOTE TO NOTE: Theologian Says U.S. Courts Must Find “Judicial Clarity” on Religious Liberty

Patrick Hornbeck

Religious liberty is among the most disputed topics when it comes to LGBT equality in the United States today. LGBT-negative forces have attempted use religious liberty to legally discriminate against LGBT people, while advocates for equality have pushed back.

Often, these disputes end up in the courts. But thus far, the courts have been unable to produce a clear jurisprudence on such matters despite the need for it, wrote the chair of Fordham University’s Theology Department, Patrick Hornbeck, in Religion Dispatches.

Citing a case where a Catholic Charities affiliate in Texas refused foster care services to a lesbian couple, Hornbeck predicts such cases will proliferate. Courts need to make clear how far “people’s belief that same-sex marriage (or even LGBT identities) are sinful can serve as a legitimate reason to treat same-sex couples differently.” He explained:

“True, religious freedom may lose its meaning if government can tell religious organizations how to govern their own affairs. But when should religious freedom be allowed to justify behaviors that in other contexts would be illegal, not to mention simply offensive? Perhaps out of this next phase of our contentious national conversation about the equality of LGBTQ citizens, we may find ways of better living with a tension that is built into both the structure of our Constitution and the sharp divisions that remain among Americans when it comes to the subject of sexual diversity.”

Catholics are well-suited to participate constructively in adjudicating competing rights claims which can be quite complex at times. Church teaching upholds both the right to religious liberty and the right to not be discriminated against, but Catholic theology also contributes its long history of finding a third-way or “both/and” solutions to complex problems. It has been said that for every problem there is a simple solution, and it is always wrong. Let us hope U.S. courts will heed Hornbeck’s advice and find the right way forward, with Catholic help.

Robert Shine, New Ways Ministry, March 17, 2018

2 replies
  1. Graham-Michoel
    Graham-Michoel says:

    If you are referring to the Church of Rome when using the terms Catholic or Catholics please state Roman Catholic or Latin Rite. Not all Catholics are tarred with the same brush, because not all Catholics are Roman.

  2. John Hilgeman
    John Hilgeman says:

    And what kind of “third-way” could be developed? I am leery of the involvement of Catholic bishops and their lawyers in this matter. Too many arguments about religious liberty being the license to “justly” discriminate against LGBTQ people. I can see an option of allowing Catholic institutions to refuse adoptions to gay couples if those institutions are privately funded, and in no way dependent on government funding. But I don’t see their being allowed to discriminate if they are funded by a government that does not allow such discrimination.

    Nor do I see businesses, licensed to serve the public, being allowed to refuse their publicly offered services to LGBT people, any more than they are allowed to refuse such services to people of other religions or races, or genders, etc.

    And I think there need to be some demands made on Catholic hospitals that are the only ones in certain areas serving the public. Catholic organizations have taken over hospitals, leaving those needing and seeking certain services in those areas, unable to obtain them.

    So what is the solution?


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