A coalition of religious and secular organizations which are concerned about the religious right’s interpretation of religious liberty has released a video with testimonies from people harmed by the conservative understanding of this concept. The video features a Catholic lesbian minister who was fired from her parish job in the name of religious liberty.
The new video was posted on the website of the Coalition for Liberty & Justice includes the story of Colleen Simon, a lesbian woman who lost her job at a Kansas City, Missouri parish when her marriage to another woman inadvertently became public.
The Coalition for Liberty & Justice is an alliance among various U.S. organizations that “works to ensure that public policy protects the religious liberty of all faiths and no faith and to oppose public policies that impose one religious viewpoint on all.” New Ways Ministry is one of the member organizations.
The coalition’s mission focuses on the variety of ways in which people are harmed by certain US policies that favor religious freedom over the good of a patient, employee, or client, whatever the case may be. It works to advocate for those persons who have been negatively affected by the abuse of religious liberty via unjust policies.
One very pertinent and poignant effect of the invocation of religious liberty across the nation has been firing of LGBTQ people from Roman Catholic institutions. In the CLJ video, Colleen Simon discloses her story of working at a Catholic parish:
“I saw a notice for St. Francis Xavier, saying that they needed a social minister. So I called and I talked to the director of religious education, and she checked with the pastor and called me back and they said they encourage me to apply. I told him at that time that I was very interested in the job. I also told him that I was married and a lesbian. Two weeks later they offered me the job, and I took it, and I couldn’t have been happier.”
Simon described the way in which she connected with the people at St. Francis through their longing for justice. She said that the Church and the people were eager to engage in social justice issues and ask questions about why people were ending up in food kitchens. Then, Simon was blindsided by being fired from her position:
“When I was fired by St. Francis, my issue was that it came from the top down, and that the hierarchy would would cause me to be fired from a job that I loved and that I was good at, a job that knew full well that I was married to Donna. The people of the Church sometimes are much more open and accepting than the laws of the Church.”
The “top down” decision that Simon described is echoed by the two other women that the video features: Deborah Stulberg, a family physician in Chicago, and Dian Alarcon, a Colombian immigrant who now lives in Miami.
The hospital at which Stulberg works had been taken over by a Catholic medical managment organization, and she watched as services that had once freely been offered to the public, such as birth control, could no longer be offered because they contradicted Church teaching.
In Alarcon’s case, she had begun working in a Catholic parish, but her healthcare plan through the parish did not cover birth control pills that she needed because she has endometriosis. Both women expressed that these decisions were being made “from above–” not from God, but from the Church hierarchy. And in both cases, religious liberty exercised by the Catholic hospital and the Catholic parish harm physical bodies when proper access to care is denied to people.
The three women in the video are the faces of people who are on the receiving end of the cruelty that results from the Catholic ability to continue to exercise religious freedom without regard for the lives of the people who serve the Body of Christ.
“It was faith in many ways that started this country: people leaving places where they were persecuted that came to this country so they could have religious freedom. And now religious freedom is getting reinterpreted, and instead of being about freedom, it’s about freedoms that are taken away from people sometimes that are affiliated or work for religious groups.That’s troubling to me. It’s very troubling because I feel that the faith that I know and love is getting used against people like myself, people that are in same-sex relationship, or in marriage, or that want to be in marriage, people that are at the margins or different in some way.”
The Coalition for Liberty and Justice continues to work towards a vision for a world in which one’s own faith is not used against them in the workplace, in the healthcare system, or elsewhere.
–Lizzie Sextro, New Ways Ministry, April 12, 2018