Threading the Needle Part II: Bishops say not so much

USCCB Chairmen Respond to ‘Unprecedented and Extreme’ Executive Order

July 21, 2014

Advertisement

WASHINGTON–The bishop-Chairmen of two USCCB Committees responded with great concern to President Obama’s July 21 executive order to prohibit federal government contractors from what the Administration deems “sexual orientation” and “gender identity” discrimination and to forbid “gender identity” discrimination in the employment of federal employees.  The problems the bishops identify in the order relate both to the flaws in its core prohibitions, and to its lack of religious freedom protection.

Two USCCB Chairmen – Archbishop William E. Lori of Baltimore, Chairman of the Ad Hoc Committee for Religious Liberty and Bishop Richard J. Malone of Buffalo, Chairman of the Committee on Laity, Marriage, Family Life and Youth – together issued the following statement.

Today’s executive order is unprecedented and extreme and should be opposed.

In the name of forbidding discrimination, this order implements discrimination.  With the stroke of a pen, it lends the economic power of the federal government to a deeply flawed understanding of human sexuality, to which faithful Catholics and many other people of faith will not assent.  As a result, the order will exclude federal contractors precisely on the basis of their religious beliefs.

More specifically, the Church strongly opposes both unjust discrimination against those who experience a homosexual inclination and sexual conduct outside of marriage, which is the union of one man and one woman.  But the executive order, as it regards federal government contractors, ignores the inclination/conduct distinction in the undefined term “sexual orientation.”  As a result, even contractors that disregard sexual inclination in employment face the possibility of exclusion from federal contracting if their employment policies or practices reflect religious or moral objections to extramarital sexual conduct.

The executive order prohibits “gender identity” discrimination, a prohibition that is previously unknown at the federal level, and that is predicated on the false idea that “gender” is nothing more than a social construct or psychological reality that can be chosen at variance from one’s biological sex.  This is a problem not only of principle but of practice, as it will jeopardize the privacy and associational rights of both federal contractor employees and federal employees.  For example, a biological male employee may be allowed to use the women’s restroom or locker room provided by the employer because the male employee identifies as a female.

In an attempt to avoid these needless conflicts, states that have passed “sexual orientation” or “gender identity” prohibitions have overwhelmingly included protections for religious employers.  When the U.S. Senate, which is controlled by the President’s own party, passed the similar Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA) last year, it included religious liberty protections as well.  Indeed, all prior versions of ENDA had at least some religious liberty protections.  But the executive order is an anomaly in this regard, containing no religious liberty protections.  In this way, the order, which is fundamentally flawed in itself, also needlessly prefers conflict and exclusion over coexistence and cooperation.

Regarding federal contractors, the Executive Order will take effect after rules to be promulgated by the Department of Labor implementing the Executive Order become final. Regarding federal employment, the Executive Order is effective immediately.

Comments are automatically closed two weeks after an article's initial publication. See our comments policy for more.
Marie Rehbein
3 years 4 months ago
There is so much wrong with the bishops' position that it seems ridiculous to consider commenting. However, Hobby Lobby does not get government contracts. Most contracts go to uber-large corporations that could not possibly have a religious bias against hiring people who cohabitate, fornicate, or fall in love with people of the same gender. "Joe's Office Cleaning" (the single proprietorship) hires people on the cheap, so isn't likely to look too closely at the private lives of its employees. So, whose religious freedom are the bishops defending?
Sandi Sinor
3 years 4 months ago
Sadly, the bishops believe that they have the right to impose Catholic teaching on all - using the tax money of all, including tax money of those whose religious freedom they wish to deny. Their concept of religious freedom stops at "religious freedom for Catholics".
Chris Sullivan
3 years 4 months ago
I am saddened at the tone of the US Bishops statement which is harsh and unhelpful. The emphasis ought to be on welcoming Obams's initiative and strongly opposing all forms of unjust discrimination against homosexuals, as the Catechism clearly teaches. The US Bishops need to have a rethink about their approach to the gay community because their response does not meet the gospel imperative for compassion and solidarity and their harsh approach is driving many, both gay and straight, away from the Church. It would be helpful for the US Bishops to sit down with Pope Francis and take some lessons on how to lead effectively. God Bless
ron chandonia
3 years 4 months ago
It is astonishing how quickly American Catholics have jumped on the bandwagon to redefine not just marriage and family but sexual identity itself. All it took, apparently, was a little "evolution" on the part of a politician favored by the cultural elites, and many of us - I suspect most of us - are suddenly carried away by all kinds of strange teachings. Our fathers in faith would not recognize us as their progeny.
Michael Barberi
3 years 4 months ago
Many gay and lesbian persons, as well as many Catholics, would say that the letter of the U.S. bishops was not being respectful, compassionate and sensitive to those with a same-gender orientation.This is one of the issues that the 2014-2015 Synod on the Family will deal with. It is a major problem that Pope Francis recognizes. If we follow the letter of the bishops, it is clear that the Church strongly opposes both unjust discrimination against those who experience a homosexual inclination and sexual conduct outside of marriage, which according to the Catholic Church, is a union between one man and one woman. They also say that Obama's executive order "ignores the inclination/conduct distinction in the term sexual orientation". What is unclear and ambiguous, is how the bishops propose not to discriminate in employment practices relative to sexual conduct outside of a marriage? Are they proposing that anyone who fornicates or co-habitates outside of a Catholic Church marriage can be refused employment or fired from their current position, for example as a teacher in a Catholic elementary or high school? Or does this only apply to homosexual persons? With respect to employment practices, is it morally permissible to treat homosexual conduct one way and heterosexual conduct outside of marriage another way? Does being morally consistent mean anything? If the objection to Obama's executive order is one of religious liberty, the remedy is to go to court and argue their case. The bishops have every right to send a letter in protest but a letter does little to resolve the call to being compassionate, respectful and sensitive to persons with a same-gender orientation who strive to love God and neighbor and want to be part of a Church where they don't feel like second-class citizens.
Anne Chapman
3 years 4 months ago
Michael, the order does not impact those employed n Catholic schools or other Catholic organizations that are specifically Catholic in mission. It impacts those organizations that the Catholic church has set up to compete for government contracts, such as Catholic Charities (which gets billions from federal funding) and Catholic Relief Services, along with many smaller Catholic run organizations that run (mostly) social justice programs and services as government contractors. The bishops want the exemption granted to religious organizations that are only operating as religious organizations (churches, schools etc) without federal funding to extend to projects they operate as contractors using mostly tax money. Essentially, the bishops wish to be able to compete for and win federal contracts without agreeing to all of the requirements attached to the contract. They want to be exempt from them. You make a very valid point about the double-standard that seems to be operable regarding extramarital activity on the part of heterosexuals and that of homosexuals.
Marie Rehbein
3 years 4 months ago
I suspect that non-profits that are given government money to provide social services to the public are not what the order is about. I think that most likely this order pertains to corporations that compete for contracts to provide services to government agencies like NASA or the Department of Defense. These would be companies like Boeing and Northrup Grumman and the companies that these companies hire to help them service the government contracts.
STEVEN PAYNE
3 years 4 months ago
Organizations that do not want to follow non-discrimination policies set by the government should not accept monies from the government for any purpose. The ancient Church thrived and grew under a much more oppressive Roman government. The Church can't survive without federal funds now? If so, it is in a very pathetic condition. Private contractors should abide by government policies if they bid for government jobs and not impose their religious beliefs on their employees. If they aren't willing to do that, they shouldn't bid.
Tim O'Leary
3 years 4 months ago
The current aggressive attempt by the government to impose its moral belief system on corporations (in this case, on those who want their contracts, in ObamaCare, on every corporation with over 50 employees, and in anyone who wants to do organized charitable work such as managing adoptions) should teach all Catholics of the perils of big government approaches to addressing community needs. The government with the power to give much is the government who can take much. There is a disagreement in what entails discrimination, in that the government currently puts sex rights above religious freedom rights, and discriminates against the latter by prioritizing the former. But, this discrimination has been going on for a long time, in the school system, for example (those who send their children to religious schools have to pay twice for education), or in community standards such as pornography. The best solution for greater freedom all around is a much smaller government, where a humble government recognizes its incompetence in dictating the morals to religious institutions, who have a much more appropriate and fundamental basis for determining moral decisions. An alternative is to have Catholics/Christians organize and vote out politicians hostile to Christianity. An intermediate is piecemeal solutions like religious accommodations, robust conscience clauses and school choice. But, I prefer the former strategy (smaller government) for the sake of overall freedom and tolerance, even for those who listen to a different moral drum. That is the most "American" solution.
Michael Barberi
3 years 4 months ago
Anne, Thanks for the clarification. The example that comes to my mind, as you also pointed out, is Catholic Charities that provide child adoption services. All for-profit and non-profit organizations that are considered federal government contractors (and receiving government funds) must abide by governmental non-discrimination laws, as they apply to their business practices. For Catholic Charities that provide child adoption services, and want to be a federal government contractor, they cannot discriminate against eligible parents, homosexual or heterosexual. Some Catholic Charities who accept government money, as government contractors, have elected to stop such services because they cannot continue to provide these services without government money or because they do not want to violate their religious beliefs or their interpretation of moral laws. I don't see how Catholic Charities, as federal government contractors, can be exempted from non-discrimination laws on religious freedom grounds. For example, in the Hobby Lobby case, certain for-profit and non-profit religious organizations seeking a religious exemption from the contraceptive mandate under the ACA (because of they violated the religious beliefs of the owners), were allowed an exemption because, in part, there was a viable accommodation in place that allowed employees of such organizations (who had different religious beliefs) to receive contraceptive products and services at no cost by a third party. This particular issue has been settled, in part, by SCOTUS. Similarly, witness the decisions of various courts regarding state laws prohibiting same-gender marriages which have increasingly been overturned based on violations of the U.S. Constitution. All issues concerning the civil rights and non-discrimination of same-gender persons, as well as the issue of religious freedom, will eventually be settled, hopefully, on the Federal level by the SCOTUS. A smaller government is a step in the right direction, but this alone will not impact challenges to certain business and benefit practices, or individual civil rights that might violate the U.S. Constitution or Federal and State non-discrimination laws. Voting in Catholic candidates to Congress, with the goal of changing certain laws the magisterium disagrees with, may not help because most Catholics disagree, at least in part, with many of the sexual ethical teachings of the magisterium.
Tim O'Leary
3 years 4 months ago
Michael - I generally agree with your interpretation on this. But, it is worth contemplating how these issues get decided in our country in recent years. Large majorities of the US population were opposed to 1) contraceptive use outside marriage at the time they were approved ostensibly for married couples, 2) abortion at the time of Roe v Wade, and 3) gay marriage at the time of the early rulings. They were all introduced through creative redefinitions of rights by a legal-progressive elite. And while Catholic teaching never changed on any of these issues, the populace eventually changed their opinions and accepted the new legal status quo. Now, several commentators on this site think it obvious that religious rights be subservient to secular definitions of right and wrong. It takes only a few decades to turn a wrong into a right, in both meanings of the latter term. Malcolm Muggeridge famously said re abortion, that it took only a few decades to turn a "crime-against-humanity" into a human right.
Michael Barberi
3 years 4 months ago
Tim, Many moral teachings in the past have been changed or ignored, from some of the teachings of Augustine to the infamous Syllabus of Errors of Pius IX, etc. It is not through "creative redefinitions" that Catholic opinions changed regarding sexual ethics in the post-concliar period of Vatican II. This period witnessed a significant increase in theological scholarship and publications as well as a dramatic increase in the education of Catholics at least in Europe and the U.S.. It is not merely a matter of a secular definition of right and wrong behavior but a much deeper judgment of an informed conscience of those who love God and neighbor and receive the sacraments and are open to the grace of God and his Holy Spirit, et al. You can disagree for good reason and still be a faithful Catholic without being disrespectful of the magisterium. I understand you don't ascribe to this, but unless there is an epiphany among the worldwide laity regarding many sexual ethical teachings of the RCC, and fueled, in part, by a convincing moral theory in support of these teachings, non-reception will continue to grow, not decrease. This does not mean that certain secular civil laws are morally right according to the RCC and other Christian religions, for example abortion on demand for no good reason. However, your quotation of Malcolm Muggeridge concerning abortion fails to distinguish the profound disagreement among both many traditionalists and revisionists, et al, regarding direct and indirect abortion. Tim, I really don't want to debate this issue with you "at length" again. Hence, if I don't respond to your further reply I trust you will understand. Much of this article is about the tension between civil law, Catholic canon law and religious freedom of all Americans (those who are Catholic and not Catholic). If a religious origination such as the USCCB brings this issue to court, it will hopefully be decided by the SCOTUS, and not by a letter in protest.
Marie Rehbein
3 years 4 months ago
Perhaps the bishops can explain how it is that they are bidding on government contracts and yet are exempted from the Executive order from 1965 that President Obama amended to include discrimination on the basis of gender identity. The original order prohibits discrimination on the basis of Creed. Tell me the Catholic organizations don't discriminate on the basis of Creed. "It is the policy of the Government of the United States to provide equal opportunity in Federal employment for all qualified persons, to prohibit discrimination in employment because of race, creed, color, or national origin..."
Tim O'Leary
3 years 4 months ago
Marie - What if the Government decides euthanasia is a right (as in the Pacific Northwestern States), they could use the same logic to prevent Catholic hospitals from caring for the elderly? The bishops are trying to protect Catholics as this is not about bishops bidding on government contracts but about lay Catholics who own businesses. This is a perversion of the idea of discrimination. Since it is the Federal Government that hires the contractors, if they exclude all companies that practice their Catholicism faithfully, then it is the government that is doing the discrimination. The Roman Empire claimed they didn't discriminate against Christians, as they required everyone to sacrifice to their gods. It was those radical Christians who insisted on obeying a different God.
Marie Rehbein
3 years 4 months ago
Lay Catholics who own businesses may be surprised to find out that the government does not usually, if ever, award contracts to small, closely held businesses, since they do not have the resources to meet the requirements set forth in the proposal. They may also be surprised to find out that the very act that was amended does have exemptions for sub contractors that are hired by the companies that are awarded contracts. Obviously, from these comments, almost no one, including the bishops, has any idea what government contracts and government contractors are and what restrictions are currently in place. This kind of reaction sounds to me more like politics than like genuine concern about freedoms and rights. The Catholic Church's business is Jesus. I'm sure this addition to existing practices regarding the awarding of government contracts has nothing to do with either the Catholic Church or its individual members. To squawk that the Church or its members are under attack from this is absurd. They are, however, under attack from extremists in Iraq. Where is the squawking about that? Where is the squawking that the situation there would not be but for the destabilization of that country by this country?
Tim O'Leary
3 years 4 months ago
Marie - I am not sure you know what you are talking about on this issue. I lived with it from the government side for several years in the past. They make hundreds of thousands of contracts each year. While most of the big bucks go to large contractors, many contracts go to hospitals and academic institutions, and include small contractors. they also target small businesses (22.25% of contracts in 2012 went to small businesses). And they award SBIRs (Small-Business Innovation Research grants & contracts). They have affirmative action (meaning discrimination for a specific good) for small minority-owned and female-owned businesses) in their bids and have for years required businesses to delineate the race and sex (the traditional definition of male or female) of the owners for that very purpose. And, there are some very large but closely held businesses in the USA. But, my point was not just about closely-held businesses. It is that the Federal government uses its purse to legislate what it considers moral good. So, while I am not as exercised about affirmative action discrimination per se, I do think that recent rulings are resulting in a form of religious test for corporations. Of course the mission (not a for-profit "business") of the Church is Jesus. But, even the Chinese government will leave you alone if you confine your work to the Churches (which I have been in). They too want to keep Catholics in the private realm. They too want to define what is a moral good and what is unacceptable. All authoritarian government do this. That is the problem.
Marie Rehbein
3 years 4 months ago
I do realize that preference is given to some categories of business owners -- and as a result, men make their wives CEO's while they actually run the day to day operations. The idea is to help women owned businesses compete because they are presumed to be at a disadvantage due to discrimination in society. I am not particularly buoyed by this practice, given that the implication is that women owned businesses are at a disadvantage because they are nominally owned by women. I am much more comfortable by the idea that no preference be given, and this would be consistent with the idea of not discriminating. My take on the government's position is that it represents all citizens and, therefore, needs to prohibit discrimination against individuals based on someone identifying them as part of some group for the purpose of depriving them of access to something the government makes available. Therefore, if a business is owned by a homosexual, the people determining to whom to award the contract can no longer say they reject the bid because the company is owned by a homosexual. Look at what the bishops wrote: "...a biological male employee may be allowed to use the women’s restroom or locker room provided by the employer because the male employee identifies as a female." HUH? Where does not discriminating in hiring or awarding of contracts mandate allowing people with penises to urinate in the women's room instead of the room with the urinals? They also wrote: "...contractors that disregard sexual inclination in employment face the possibility of exclusion from federal contracting if their employment policies or practices reflect religious or moral objections to extramarital sexual conduct." Huh? If anyone isn't making the distinction between conduct and inclination, it is the Catholic bishops. Terms of employment often do stipulate conduct and consequences for violation of standards. The bishops apparently can tolerate the sin of heterosexual fornication -- they don't call for the discrimination against employers who fail to make fornication conduct that results in termination -- but not the sin of homosexual fornication, which they seem to think is not only worthy of firing, but worthy of preventing by preventing those who would potentially commit this sin from obtaining employment.
Tim O'Leary
3 years 4 months ago
Note it is the government's executive order that is doing the "prohibiting," so it is the party that is requiring a new "gender identity" test. In any case, the restroom case is not just a hypothetical. See here: http://www.opposingviews.com/i/society/gay-issues/transgender-woman-sues-hobby-lobby-use-ladies-bathroom The bishops are purely on the defensive here, but you insist it is they who are the aggressors. But, they are not getting into fornication or adultery because the government hasn't raised those issues. You know people have been fired from Catholic schools for such practices. Many people have been fired from companies because of a public affair, especially if it is with someone else in the company. And at least one person was fired for supporting traditional marriage (Mozilla CEO). This administration will certainly use their new executive 'fiat" to discriminate further. For example, they could require all companies to state they will not discriminate based on "sexual orientation" and a Catholic company will then have to take a legal risk to "thread" that needle. I understand that many people (even many self-identified Catholics) do not accept the Church's understanding of gender or morality. But, why take it to the point of excluding faithful Catholics from contracts? That is the aggressive and intolerant stance. The government should not use the contract system to impose its "religion" on others.
Marie Rehbein
3 years 4 months ago
The restroom case you cite has nothing to do with hiring or the awarding of contracts. Restroom issues have nothing to do with the Executive Orders that have been amended to include people whose gender identities do not fit the mold. The man transitioning to a woman who is suing Hobby Lobby in order to be allowed to use the women's restroom would be doing this no matter that Executive Orders pertaining to hiring and the awarding of contracts have been amended. There would still be an issue as to which restroom such an individual should be using even if discrimination were the law of the land. The bishops are claiming victimhood for no reason whatsoever. I cannot think of a single Catholic individual who will have his religious freedom curtailed by these amendments. It isn't part of Catholicism to mistreat people who commit sins; the teaching is to give infinite forgiveness and love one another. It is only right that those who want to be so "pure" and exclusive be excluded by their misguided beliefs. That is what the original versions of the Executive Orders made happen to the KKK and its members. The bishops have painted themselves as equals to that group by this complaint.
Tim O'Leary
3 years 4 months ago
You really don't get what the topic is about, Marie. The KKK would agree with you that Catholics need to shut up about heir rights.
Marie Rehbein
3 years 4 months ago
Tim, I hope your faith doesn't rest on the bishops getting everything right. The Catholic Church's rights are not in question. There is no reason for them to object to the Executive Order.

Advertisement

Don't miss the best from America

Sign up for our Newsletter to get the Jesuit perspective on news, faith and culture.

The latest from america

Images: CNS/Composite: America
On Nov. 11, the Catholic Church lost a moral titan in the long struggle for racial equality and justice in the United States.
Shannen Dee WilliamsNovember 22, 2017
Senior Gen. Min Aung Hlaing, Myanmar military commander-in-chief, speaks during the Union Peace Conference Aug. 31 in Naypyitaw (CNS photo/Hein Htet, EPA).
Gen. Min Aung Hlaing wields great political power in the country.
Jacob Tremblay and Julia Roberts in “Wonder” (CNS photo/Lionsgate). 
‘Wonder’ is a tween melodrama on a mission of mercy.
Simcha FisherNovember 22, 2017
The change was in “no way” a response to the C.C.H.D.’s persistent online critics, an archdiocesan official says.
Kevin ClarkeNovember 22, 2017