ANALYSIS: Bishops Claim Religious Liberty Under Assault
The conference pulled together issues from the federal level and various states. For instance, in Illinois, after 40 years of cooperation, government officials stopped working with Catholic Charities on adoptions and foster-care placements because the agency refused to recognize a new civil union law. Bishops are suing the state, claiming that denying funds because of the religious beliefs of the church is impermissible. In New York, the Catholic church has complained that the religious exemption to gay-marriage laws is too weak.
This is coming on the heels of recent attempts by the church to pressure Catholic politicians to vote in line with church teachings.
And we cannot ignore the fact that other Americans have sincere religious disagreement with the positions being promoted by the bishops. Are the rights of conscience of those who take a different stance on the disputed issues to be dismissed as illegitimate?
To be sure, these are not easy questions to answer. Certainly institutions should not be compelled to act against their religious mission. Yet, the state does not have an implicit obligation to fund them. The Church can assert its right speak in the the public square, but it should not assume power it does not have in order to force the rest of society to follow its lead.
In 1773, a Baptist minister in New England observed that where “church and state are separate, the effects are happy, and they do not at all interfere with each other: but where they have been confounded together, no tongue nor pen can fully describe the mischiefs that have ensued.”
That separation should not be torn down in the name of religious liberty. I hope that the US Conference of Catholic Bishops will keep this in mind as it begins its new chapter of advocacy in Congress, and recognize that they are not the arbiters of morality in the nation, but rather are one of many organizations representing the broad spectrum of belief and non-belief in the United States.