Commenting on my last post regarding the USCCB's latest statement on religious liberty, ctdkite writes:
The point of the document--and the issue that has raised public concern--is how did respect for religious liberty diminish to such a degree that public officials would even think of requiring adoption agencies to place children in homes against their religious beliefs or require a religious entity to cover procedures against their conscience and so on.
The answer is that changing civil norms always pose new challenges for weighing free exercise rights against others that are also constitutionally guaranteed. In jurisdictions where same-sex couples have been accorded the same legal rights as married couples, their access to adoption services underwritten by the state--secured by the Fourteenth Amendment's guarantee of equal protection--must be weighed against a religious adoption agency's free exercise right not to acknowledge such relationships. Likewise, a woman's right to obtain legally prescribed contraception coverage must be weighed against an employer's right to a exception from providing such coverage on religious grounds. And so on.
Reasonable people may disagree about how the balancing should be done, but it is nonsense for the bishops to pretend that the religious liberty that they see as under threat is somehow absolute. No one can doubt that refusal of blood transfusions is central to the faith of Jehovah's Witnesses, but states have increasingly not permitted them to deny transfusions for their children in life-threatening situations. No one would deny that the practice of polygamy is central to the faith of fundamentalist Mormons, but would the USCCB support that right under the First Amendment? I don't think so.
"Religious liberty is not only about our ability to go to Mass on Sunday or pray the Rosary at home," say the bishops. "It is about whether we can make our contribution to the common good of all Americans." No doubt, a case could be made that the Catholic Church could contribute to the common good by going into the public schools and making the case for Catholicism in the same way that the League of Women Voters can go into the public schools and make the case for participatation in our electoral system. But this would clearly represent a violation of the Establishment Clause.
It would be nice if the bishops could stop hyperventilating and acknowledge that what they call the "American public square" involves constant negotiation of the boundaries of free exercise and no establishment. It does not mean that religious bodies get to do whatever they'd like.