Roman Catholic bishops issue manifesto

Sara Posner of Religion Dispatches reflects on the Roman Catholic Bishops’ Religious Liberty Manifesto Vowing Disobedience to “Unjust Laws.”

As promised at their March administrative meeting, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops has released its Statement of Religious Liberty, “our first, most cherished liberty.” As expected, it’s basically a rehash of the same arguments the Ad Hoc Committee on Religious Liberty has been making for almost a year. This document, though, is even more pointed and hostile than previous statements, expressing disdain for (and even a refusal to acknowledge) court rulings against the Bishops, vowing not to obey “unjust laws,” and pledging to deploy “all the energies the Catholic community can muster” to resist “totalitarian incursions against religious liberty” this summer.

Predictably, the Bishops point first to the Department of Health and Human Services contraception converage requirement as one of the “concrete examples” of the supposed infringement of their religious liberty, charging it amounts to an “unjust law.” The Bishops conveniently gloss over the fact that two state supreme courts have ruled similar laws constitutional. But ignoring court rulings is a major part of this document. Several of the Bishops’ other “concrete examples” turn out to be matters on which courts have ruled there is no infringement of religious liberty.

[A] “concrete example” the Bishops offer is what they call “discrimination against Catholic humanitarian services.” They complain that HHS declined to renew their contract to provide sex trafficking services because they refuse to refer rape victims for abortion and contraception services…

Although they do not explicitly refer to the election cycle, the Bishops have a stern warning for “those holding public office:”

It is your noble task to govern for the common good. It does not serve the common good to treat the good works of religious believers as a threat to our common life; to the contrary, they are essential to its proper functioning

This is possibly the biggest canard offered in the phony religious freedom wars: that because Catholics are called by their faith to provide services to the needy, that requiring them to play by the same rules as every other provider of those services somehow “treat[s] the good works of religious believers as a threat to our common life.” It was the Bishops, for example, who decided to no longer provide adoption and foster care services in states that permitted same-sex adoption. The states did not reject their services, the law merely required them to serve lesbian and gay couples with the same rights and dignity afforded to straight couples. What’s more, contracts from the Department of Health and Human Services to Catholic organizations have increased during the Obama administration over the Bush administration by $100 million, hardly grounds for claiming mistreatment. (In fact, many Americans probably wonder why their tax dollars are supporting groups who actively oppose equal rights for all citizens.)

More from Charles Pierce at Esquire.

Religious people can contribute to “our common life” or to “the common good” as much as they ever have, and they don’t need government’s permission to do so. But the state alone can decide who provides what services under state contracts, and the state can decide the rules that will govern those contracts, and the state can decide to waive those rules or not. And the state can decide to what use, if any, religious organizations can put the state’s own buildings and facilities. It can decide who, if anyone, gets a waiver from the secular law. In most cases, it has decided in a democratic fashion that anti-discrimination statutes contribute more to “our common life” and to “the common good” than does the Catholic Church’s opposition to freedom for gay couples to marry. In most cases, it has decided in a democratic fashion that allowing women a measure of control over their reproductive lives contributes more to “our common life” and to “the common good” than the preposterous view of humanity found in Humanae Vitae. It is repressing nobody in having done so, except some career autocrats who dream of crowns and yearn for palaces.

h/t and strong language warning from Wounded Bird blog

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