Later this month, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ (USCCB) will hold “Religious Freedom Week,” an eight-day period when Catholics are being encouraged to pray and act on alleged threats to religious liberty. While some concerns are valid, the bishops’ conference’s agenda shows a bias against LGBTQ equality measures.
Each day of Religious Freedom Week (RFW), which begins June 22, is focused on an issue area that the bishops claim threatens religious liberty, both in the U.S. and abroad. At least three of the days target LGBTQ people.
On June 22, the topic is “Adoption and Foster Care.” The theme promotes the idea that church should support children in need finding loving homes in keeping with Christians’ long tradition of doing so. But the focus is not on families but on Catholic social service agencies being able to discriminate against LGBTQ people. The USCCB text notes places like Massachusetts and Washington, D.C. where Catholic Charities ceased providing adoption and foster care services over non-discrimination protections for LGBTQ people. It highlights the Fulton v. City of Philadelphia case now before the U.S. Supreme Court. The action for that day is calling federal legislators to support the Child Welfare Provider Inclusion Act that would mandate states to fund religious agencies which discriminate.
On June 24, RFW takes on the “Equality Act.” The prayer is simple: “that the dignity of all people will be respected in our country.” But the bishops’ aim is the very opposite, and in seeking to oppose the legislation now before Congress, they promote falsehoods:
“By requiring all Americans to speak and act as if there is no meaningful distinction between the sexes and as if gender has no connection to the body, the Equality Act legally and socially harms Americans in serious ways and injures the common good. . .
“The Equality Act discriminates against people of faith and, by including a potential abortion mandate, threatens unborn life. Tell your elected officials to oppose it!”
Finally, on June 27, the topic is “Conscience Rights for Medical Professionals.” Highlighting the church’s long tradition of caring for the sick, the bishops then claim:
“In recent years, activists have sought to undermine the Church’s mission by forcing Catholic hospitals to perform procedures that destroy human life and undermine human flourishing, such as sterilization, gender reassignment surgery, and even abortion.”
The action that day is to contact legislators in support of the Conscience Protection Act, which would allow healthcare providers to discriminate against transgender patients seeking transition-related care.
RFW is the successor of the USCCB’s “Fortnight for Freedom” of previous years, which began in 2012 as a means of opposing President Barack Obama’s attempts to expand healthcare access through the Affordable Care Act. Over time, the bishops’ annual campaign began targeting LGBTQ equality, including the right to marry civilly.
The USCCB’s efforts perpetuate what is becoming another “big lie,” namely that any effort to expand LGBTQ equality comes at the cost of religious liberty. At times, the bishops’ framing is just biased. But at other times, the bishops’ give in to promoting disinformation, such as their claim that the Equality Act includes a “potential abortion mandate.” That claim is dishonest. And it is LGBTQ people, along with women who seek reproductive healthcare who suffer from such dishonesty.
The other victims of this new “big lie” are the world’s people who actually suffer threats to their religious liberty. During RFW, the USCCB will acknowledge the particular challenges faced by Catholics in Iraq and in Nicaragua. But against the conference’s larger agenda so focused on gender and sexuality, such Christians seem to be footnotes, and many other people of faith in the world are omitted from the bishops’ view altogether.
Religious liberty is genuinely threatened in some parts of the world. Catholics should be defending this human right where attacks occur. But LGBTQ rights do not threaten this freedom, and the bishops deeply undermine the cause of real religious liberty with their efforts to stop equality.
—Robert Shine, New Ways Ministry, June 10, 2021