Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Religious Liberty Under Attack

     One of my favorite radio programs is Catholic Answers Live, to which I listen on our local Catholic radio station, The Presence.  The host and his guests almost always get right to the heart of listeners’ questions, and their answers are almost always on target.  That’s why I’m sorry to say that they dropped the ball last night (or at least bobbled it).
     How? A woman called in, saying that she wasn’t trying to be confrontational, but wasn’t the Church being hypocritical in claiming to defend religious freedom by opposing the contraception mandate, while at the same time opposing gay marriage?  After all, “other religions” support gay marriage: weren’t the Catholics seeking to violate their religious freedom?  The guest, a priest who, again, normally does quite well with call-in questions, gave a long, diffuse, nuanced answer that was quite true in its particulars, but never quite addressed the question head-on.  Too bad.  There is a very simple, direct answer: in both cases the Church is defending religious freedom, and in both cases its opponents are seeking to suppress it.
     The Catholic Church is not proposing limiting anyone’s freedom.  We aren’t proposing using the law to force churches that support same-sex marriages not to perform them; nobody is saying individuals can’t choose whatever partners they like and call their relationships “marriages”; we certainly are not trying to destroy peoples’ businesses and reputations if they disagree with us. Even in the cases of employees of Catholic institutions who have lost their jobs, it’s a matter of religious organizations not being forced to hire people who publicly oppose their faith, people who accepted those jobs with the understanding that they not subvert their employers beliefs.
     The supporters of same-sex marriage, on the other hand, are trying to use the law to punish people and businesses who disagree; not only that, they are even trying to destroy the livelihood of those who don’t publicly endorse their view.  They have sued photographers and caterers who won’t participate in homosexual weddings, harassed church-goers, they have tried to get people fired.  The Catholic Church is doing nothing comparable in response: so who’s trying to restrict religious freedom?
     It’s against this backdrop that LD 1428:  An Act to Protect Religious Freedom has been introduced in the Maine State Senate.  The bill would ensure that the state shows "compelling government interest" before burdening the free exercise of religion, and would need to apply the "least restrictive means” to serve that interest.  These are rights that were commonly understood to be inherent in the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution for over two hundred years. After several adverse Supreme Court decisions in 1990’s put our liberty at risk, Congress restored these protections at the federal level, and eighteen states have done so as well.
     Sadly, the judiciary committee of the State Senate has recommended that the full body reject the measure.  We contacted our local state senator about LD 1428 (see post here); he quickly responded with a short reply, thanking us for contacting him but saying that he was “inclined to agree” with the judiciary committee (i.e., oppose the bill).  He has not responded to our subsequent e-mails asking him to explain why he opposes common-sense protections for his constituents’ liberty (see our letters here).  Today we wrote to a number of other state senators who may be on the fence (here).
     The vote on the LD 1428:  An Act to Protect Religious Freedom was scheduled for tomorrow (Thursday 6 Feb); because of today’s snow storm, it may be postponed for a day or two.  Please pray for the State of Maine and, if you live here, contact your state senator!