‘The phrases ‘religious liberty’ and ‘religious freedom’…remain code words for discrimination, intolerance, racism, sexism, homophobia, Islamophobia or any form of intolerance.’
The battles over religious liberty—or “religious liberty,” as many media reports term it—have been much in the news in the last several years, from the Obama administration’s attempts to compel the Little Sisters of the Poor to pay for contraception through their health insurance to fining bakers and photographers for declining to assist in same-sex weddings. Now, a donnybrook has erupted over a recent report from the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights called (ironically) “Peace Coexistence.”
The USCCR dusted off the scare quotes and had sharp words for those opposed to some recent changes in public policy: “The phrases ‘religious liberty’ and ‘religious freedom’ will stand for nothing except hypocrisy so long as they remain code words for discrimination, intolerance, racism, sexism, homophobia, Islamophobia or any form of intolerance,” said Chairman Julian Castro. He added, “today, as in past, religion is being used as both a weapon and a shield by those seeking to deny others equality. In our nation’s past religion has been used to justify slavery and later, Jim Crow laws.”
Archbishop William Lori, archbishop of Baltimore and chair of the U.S. bishops’ Ad Hoc Committee on Religious Liberty,responded with no minced words, “shocked” at the claims being made. The thought that religious institutions are inherently bigoted is absurd, he said. “Can we imagine the civil rights movement without Rev. Martin Luther King, Fr. Theodore Hesburgh, and Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel?” he asked.
“We do not seek to impose our morality on anyone, but neither can we sacrifice it in our own lives and work,” he said. “The vast majority of those who speak up for religious liberty are merely asking for the freedom to serve others as our faith asks of us. We ask that the work of our institutions be carried out by people who believe in our mission and respect a Christian witness.”
Lori’s comments would have seemed a commonplace in the not-too-distant past, an almost trivial restatement of the sort of thing that everybody knew. Yet now we live in a time where students at one of our most prestigious universities gladly sign a (unbeknownst to them) joke petition to repeal the First Amendment. Thus, it seems, some major truths need restating.