Catholic bishops call on Trump to move on religious liberty concerns

Sister Loraine Marie Maguire, mother provincial of the Denver-based Little Sisters of the Poor, speaks to the media outside the U.S. Supreme Court in Washington March 23 after attending oral arguments in the Zubik v. Burwell contraceptive mandate case. (CNS photo/Joshua Roberts, Reuters)

Four high-ranking U.S. Catholic bishops expressed support on Feb. 16 for a controversial draft of an executive order that supporters say would protect religious liberty rights. But critics contend it would usher in discrimination against L.G.B.T. Americans and roll back health care gains for women.

“The right of all human beings to religious freedom, based on the inherent dignity of every person, has long been supported by the Catholic Bishops of the United States,” reads a statement released on Feb. 16 from the chairmen of four U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops committees. “Over the last several years, to our great dismay, the federal government has eroded this fundamental right, our first and most cherished freedom.”

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During his campaign, President Donald J. Trump courted Catholic voters by promising greater religious liberty protections. Earlier this month, several media outlets reported on a draft of an executive order said to be under consideration by the White House.

The president has not signaled how, when or if he will move on such policies.

According to reports, the draft includes language providing an exemption from the Affordable Care Act’s contraception mandate for employers, such as the Little Sisters of the Poor, who argue that providing such coverage, or even notifying the government that they wish to be exempt from providing that coverage, violates their religious liberty.

Writing that “religious freedom is under severe threat,” the bishops said that an “immediate remedy to these threats is needed, for without it, our freedom to serve—as exemplified by the Little Sisters and others who serve the poor—will remain in jeopardy, and needless conflict between the faith community and the federal government will continue.”

Writing that ‘religious freedom is under severe threat,’ the bishops said that an ‘immediate remedy to these threats is needed.’

Critics of the draft order say that the language could be devastating to L.G.B.T. people.

Speaking to the Wall Street Journal, David Stacy, director of government affairs for the Human Rights Campaign, said that if the order were signed it would lead to “an unprecedented rollback of L.G.B.T. equality and rights.”

“This would provide a blanket exemption for religious organizations not to have to follow any statute that they say violates their religious beliefs,” he continued.

The draft contains language designed to end a 2014 rule requiring organizations doing business with the federal government not to discriminate against L.G.B.T. people in hiring, which was condemned at the time by some Catholic groups.

But on Jan. 30, the White House announced that the rule would remain in place, saying in a statement, “President Trump continues to be respectful and supportive of L.G.B.T.Q. rights, just as he was throughout the election.” That development prompted calls from some religious liberty advocates for Mr. Trump to move quickly on other religious liberty issues.

Richard Garnett, a law professor at the University of Notre Dame, told the Catholic News Service earlier this week that he believes the draft order would not legalize discrimination, noting that it is currently not against the law for religious institutions to take religion into account when hiring, for example. He argues instead that a Trump executive order on religious liberty could clarify the confusion that has trailed Obama administration rules by signaling White House support for the Religious Freedom Restoration Act.

The U.S.C.C.B. said in its Feb. 16 press release that the bishops are “urging support for the draft executive order,” though the statement does not detail which provisions of the draft order the bishops support.

“It is indeed encouraging to hear that the President may be considering an Executive Order to implement strong protections for religious freedom across the federal government, in many of the areas where it has been eroded by the preceding Administration, such as health coverage, adoption, accreditation, tax exemption, and government grants and contracts,” the bishops said.

The four bishops signing the statement, which has a markedly more conciliatory tone toward Mr. Trump than other statements in previous weeks that condemned the administration’s refugee ban, are Cardinal Timothy M. Dolan, Archbishop Charles J. Chaput, Archbishop William E. Lori and Bishop Frank DeWane.

“We ourselves, as well as those we shepherd and serve, would be most grateful if the President would take this positive step toward allowing all Americans to be able to practice their faith without severe penalties from the federal government,” the statement reads.

“President Trump can ensure that we are not forced from the public square,” it continues. “Restoring the federal government’s proper relationship with the First Amendment and other laws protecting conscience and religious freedom will enable us to continue our service to the most vulnerable of Americans.”

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Kester Ratcliff
8 months ago

There's nothing in Catholic doctrine which justifies discriminating against LGBT people or treating them with less respect than as a person who is made in in the Image of God.

Whether homosexuality is "intrinsically disordered" or not is a matter of philosophy subsequent to the gospels, in my opinion, and anyway does not at all justify treating people with disrespect or unkindness, even if they are sinners, as we all are.

There are plenty of things in the bible which were condemned as "impure," "disgusting" and "immoral" by the culture of the time which we now accept - eating pork, for example. We no longer consider eating pork inherently objectively morally wrong or disordered. Those who suggest it is are usually considered ridiculous.

The argument for "intrinsic disordered-ness" is based on claiming that because homosexual partnerships are incapable of producing new life of themselves, it is choosing a partial, relative good vs. the ultimate good. That may be, but a) being open to adoption is arguably more open and respectful to the intrinsic dignity of other and new life than even procreating one's own children is, b) find me one anti-LGBT hate campaigner, or "religious freedom" advocate as they like to call it now, who actually understands Aquinas' Aristotelian eudaemonistic ethics that choosing a relative or partial good over an ultimate good is wrong, and whose "religious freedom" / anti-LGBT campaigning is really motivated by and practically consistent with that ethic, and I might eat my hat if I had one.

Labelling what is actually an organised systematic campaign of hate, scapegoating non-citizens and minorities, and aggressive re-assertion of an old culture of hierarchical domination by white straight men, which is really what this is about, as "religious freedom", is morally obscene.

The real reason they are so obsessed with hating gay men is because the very idea of naturally gay, bi or lesbian or transgender people's mere existence undermines their sense of the 'authority' which they assume is the basis of cohesion of their community, so the existence of LGBT people seems to them to present an existential threat to their communal identity. Every social animal so far investigated by science is flexibly bisexual: every animal from penguins to guppies to lions to horses to sheep to all primates: the natural-ness argument will not pass with any biologist now. The idea of a legitimate "authority" based on violent domination was never really a morally legitimate authority and it can never be a real basis for social cohesion, because patriarchal hierarchical domination, oppression and exploitation is inherently, objectively evil, and people naturally have been given a conscience and reason and can and do discern independently that that is fundamentally wrong. Trying to defend patriarchal authoritarianism's last gasp by calling it "religious freedom" advocacy is wrong, and should be clearly distinguished and, if it cannot be healed currently, cut off from the Church.

Let's just be honest - we're dealing with a revival of the same kind of idolatry that intrinsically leads to mass violence as was condemned as anathema in Mit Brennender Sorge 1937.

"Eucharistic communion permits only one kind of exclusion: the exclusion of exclusion: all those things that involve rejection and division, which in principle distort Trinitarian faith. Heresy involves a distorted faith that has inevitable practical consequences concerning communion and otherness. Schism is also an act of exclusion; when schism occurs, the eucharistic community becomes exclusive. In the case of both heresy and schism, we cannot pretend that we have communion with the other when in fact we have not."
(Orthodox) Metropolitan John Zizoulas, professor of systematic theology, in an essay "Communion and Otherness" -
https://incommunion.org/2004/12/11/communion-and-otherness/

Those who want to call discrimination "Catholic" or "religious" should face orthodox theology. There is nothing genuine in their claims. It is just part of an international neo-fascist movement which pretended to be merely sentimental old traditionalists but is revealing itself increasingly obviously as hostile to the Church. The same clarifications and condemnation as in Mit Brennender Sorge still applies, as it was and is a clarification of universal and eternal truths.

Derrick Weiller
8 months ago

Nicely said, Kester Ratcliff.
Thank you.

Carlos Orozco
7 months 3 weeks ago

Too bad religious freedom seems to depend on executive orders from a seating President. The Religious Freedom Restoration Act proved insufficient or became just another victim of the all-mighty and unconstitutional pen of former-President Obama.

Not even the First Amendment seems to give permanent security to the Catholic Church in the United States from ideologues that want to incrementally impose their globalist, anti-scientific ideas on all entities. It is then no mystery why politicians pushing the population control and gender-theory agendas (with the complicit silence of many religious "leaders") aim to erode the independence of church from state.

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