Friday, May 8, 2015

What is This Furor About Religious Liberty?

Religious liberty in the U.S. is under dire threat! The sky is falling!

Catholic bakers will have to make wedding cakes for same-sex marriages!

Here are some situations that are not in issue:

• People having to marry other people they don’t want to marry—not an issue

• People having to like, speak to, look at, or invite to their house same-sex married couples—not an issue

• Religions having to marry same-sex couples—not an issue

• Religions having to curb their speech in private or in the public sphere—not an issue

• Religious individuals having to curb their speech in private or in the public sphere—ditto

What is at issue?

Is the state justified in requiring you as a person doing business in public to serve all customers? Generally business people want customers, but if you do not want to serve a particular person, should the state be able to tell you that you must? You don’t have to serve everyone. Let’s say they are underage. They don’t have on a shirt or shoes. They are inebriated, disorderly, or dangerous. No service required.

But as a member of the public, benefiting from public protection and laws and from the trust of the community, can you turn away anyone you want? Over the years, we as our own law-makers have said we want to protect certain groups of people whose lives are made difficult by business people refusing service for no other reason than that the business person doesn’t like them. They have an “animus” for some reason. In the case of skin color that “animus” was making life difficult for a significant number of people. As a matter of public policy, we don’t want to stand by and let that happen.

Now we face this question: What if the customer is not complying with the laws and beliefs of your religion? Is that a good reason to refuse service, like no shirt or shoes, or is it an “animus”? Does the customer’s not believing as you do deprive you of religious liberty? You are Muslim, and a woman comes in to your store without a head covering. Is your religious liberty violated if the law requires you to sell her groceries? A traveler with a shopping bag from the liquor store hails your cab. Should you be allowed to pass him by? You are a Catholic, and a same-sex couple comes in to buy groceries. Can you refuse to sell them groceries? How about a wedding cake?

Is it a violation of your religious freedom for the state to require you to serve people who believe differently from you? Is selling goods and services a religious practice? And even if it is, do we as a matter of public policy want to allow business people to make life difficult for others because of religious differences? Does it foster peace and the common good to have religious strife in a pluralistic society?

What do you think of all this?


  1. On April 26, 2015, Tom Farr, director of the Religious Freedom Project at Georgetown University, delivered the opening keynote address—ISIS and Indiana: the Global Crisis of Religious Liberty and Catholic Responsibility—at the Annual Conference of the National Diocesan Attorney's Association (NDAA). Here is a quotation from Farr's address:
    "In our own country – notwithstanding the continued but diminishing vibrancy of religion, including Catholicism – the public expression of traditional religious values is under unrelenting assault. While there are many reasons for this development, the greatest single threat to religious freedom in the United States is same-sex 'marriage'."

    I wonder if the USCCB endorses this view?

    1. My previous message was directed to Mr. Farr. I hope that was clear.

  2. Here is the URL for Tom Farr's speech:

  3. . . . a ruse to protect the hierarchy's "freedom" to impose its will on others and retain power and control at least in their own minds.

    1. . . . and an anti-Obama ploy by a RC (Republican Catholic) Church hierarchy.

  4. Comment sent by Don Conroy, Minneapolis

    Hi, I do not consider myself well informed on this subject; however, I am displeased at my reading of the bishop's position for the following reasons:
    I find it perplexing that the international institution, the Vatican, held firmly to the separation of church and state until the middle of the last century. This stand included no religious freedom to "heretical" institutions, those other than the Vatican, because "error has no rights." This same institution silenced the outstanding American theologian, John Courtney Murray, for his writings on religious freedom, even as he participated in Vatican II as a peritus. Today the American branch of this institution claims its freedom is restricted, but has never, to my knowledge, admitted its negative role in the right to religious freedom as it now demands this freedom for itself.
    Now let's look at the claim. They say they are being forced to fund sterilization, contraception, and abortifacients. What is not clear in their statement is how the government is going about the practice of "forcing and facilitating" these practices. A careful reading of the bishops statements leads one to the conclusion that they are condemning the prescriptions that can be used in the procedures mentioned. One of their statements refers directly to "the products" they are forced to fund; namely, the prescriptions.
    Our government is not in the business of promoting pharmaceuticals that prevent or end pregnancy. The role of the U S Government is public health, and prescriptions have more than one purpose. For example, a Rx used for contraception is also used to regulate a woman's period. One MD told me that it is also useful for severe acne. Is an abortifacient used for tubal pregnancy? I do not know, but it has uses other than an abortion for an unwanted pregnancy, I expect.
    The question remains; precisely how is the religious freedom of Catholics being violated?