A leading U.S. bishop was present at a gathering where the Trump administration announced its new religious liberty task force, showing a sign of support for an initiative with great potential to harm LGBT equality.
Archbishop Joseph Kurtz of Louisville addressed a Department of Justice (DOJ) gathering on religious liberty earlier this week where Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced that the Department had formed a religious liberty task force.
Kurtz, who heads the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ (USCCB) Committee on Religious Liberty, spoke at the meeting about Catholic teaching on religious liberty, but then indirectly criticized anti-LGBT nondiscrimination efforts. Crux reported Kurtz’s contribution to the meeting:
” ‘When activists try to force Christian ministries to violate their consciences, they force Christians into a bind. Service is in our DNA, but so is the truth about the human person. . .One of our biggest concerns is the ability of our child welfare organizations to place the foster children with families consistent with our teaching.’
“He explained that the opioid crisis, among other things, was leading to a noticeable increase in the number of children requiring help from child welfare organizations.
“n’Yet, as a real crisis emerges, faith-based child welfare providers are being targeted for closure because of the convictions about the family. Service providers who have a track record of excellence have been shut down.'”
“He mentioned that the city of Philadelphia was trying to force Catholic foster care providers to comply with its nondiscrimination policies and require them to place children with same-sex couples, and that the ACLU sued the state of Michigan because Michigan has a law permitting foster care agencies with religious beliefs to reject qualified same-sex couples as placements.”
Kurtz’s implication is that faith-based social service providers should be able to deny adoption and foster care services to LGBT people. The archbishop added that “we should look to have all hands on deck when it comes to tackling the greatest needs of our day.”
In Philadelphia, the city cut ties with Catholic Social Services, which would not abide by anti-LGBT nondiscrimination protections and has prompted a brewing legal battle. A lawsuit is also pending in Michigan and, in the past, Catholic agencies in Washington, D.C. and Massachusetts ended foster care and adoption services rather than help same-gender couples.
Other Catholic-related issues were raised at the Department of Justice meeting. Both Kurtz and Attorney General Jeff Sessions mentioned the so-called HHS mandate under President Barack Obama that required employers to provide access to contraception as part of health insurance benefits. Sessions also referenced moments when members of the U.S. Senate asked nominees for judicial and executive appointments about their religious beliefs.
LGBT advocates sharply criticized the new task force. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, a Democrat congressional candidate who is Catholic, tweeted:
“‘I highly doubt that Sessions and this administration, who fought to ban Muslims from this country, value ‘religious liberty’ at all. . .They believe in and prop up a false, zero-sum world where the expansion of one’s rights must come at the cost of another’s. Vote them out in November.'”
Elsewhere, a spokesperson for the Human Rights Campaign said it was another step in the Trump administration’s “sanctioning discrimination against LGBTQ people.” Tim Teeman of The Daily Beast said the administration had declared a “holy war” against LGBT people.
At the USCCB’s spring meeting in June, Kurtz said his Committee on Religious Liberty planned to seek new approaches to promote the bishops’ understanding of religious liberty because public opinion increasingly views that understanding as a “license to discriminate.” Crux reported:
“The effort will include ‘choosing our language carefully’ through the use of ‘inspiring and relatable language that promotes the “gift” of religious freedom,’ he said. He used the example of faith-based agencies that face the threat of government shutdown because of their religious or moral convictions.
“The effort will focus on keeping the needs of children first, Kurtz said. ‘We also have emphasized that this is not the time to limit those agencies that are able to serve children and we’ve urged the need to make space in our culture to offer service with integrity of faith,’ he said.”
While U.S. bishops have resisted the Trump administration in certain arenas, notably on the rights of migrants and refugees, they seem to have no problem with the administration’s narrow understanding of religious liberty, even at the risk of denying the equality and human dignity of LGBT people. Are the bishops concerned about protecting their institutions’ access to taxpayer funds or with promoting an expansive understanding of religious liberty that protects everyone’s human rights? Most troubling in many of these disputes is that the bishops’ efforts are also harming children in need of loving homes.
It is time for bishops who oppose their counterparts’ abuse of religious liberty to speak out against the discrimination that is increasingly being given voice. These bishops must instead propose an authentically Catholic understanding of religious liberty that is entirely consistent with LGBT equality and focuses on communities in the U.S., like Muslims, Jews, and Sikhs, whose religious liberty is actually under attack.
—Robert Shine, New Ways Ministry, August 1, 2018