Archbishop William E. Lori of Baltimore, chairman of the U.S. bishops’ Ad Hoc Committee for Religious Liberty, responded forcefully in defense of religious liberty to a very disturbing statement from the chairman of the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights upon the issuance of its report on “Peaceful Coexistence.”

First, let’s go over what the report said. Here’s what page 21 of the report states:


(1) schools must be allowed to insist on inclusive values; 2) throughout history, religious doctrines accepted at one time later become viewed as discriminatory, with religions changing accordingly; 3) without exemptions, groups would not use the pretext of religious doctrines to discriminate; 4) a doctrine that distinguishes between beliefs (which should be protected) and conduct (which should conform to the law) is fairer and easier to apply; 5) third parties, such as employees, should not be forced to live under the religious doctrines of their employers [unless the employer is allowed to impose such constraints by virtue of the ministerial exception]; 6) a basic [civil] right as important as the freedom to marry should not be subject to religious beliefs; and 7) even a widely accepted doctrine such as the ministerial exemption should be subject to review as to whether church employees have religious duties.
Further, specifically with regard to number (2) above, religious doctrines that were widely accepted at one time came to be deemed highly discriminatory, such as slavery, homosexuality bans, and unequal treatment of women, and that what is considered within the purview of religious autonomy at one time would likely change.

In case you’re not sufficiently horrified, read it again. And then allow yourself a moment to be appropriately horrified.

It seems to me they’ve forgotten that it was Christians who battled against slavery and racism in this country. They seem to forget that the rights they speak about are unalienable precisely because they are derived from our Creator, not some commission of unelected utopians.

What they’re saying in real terms is that Christian schools and institutions will not be able to hire and fire for mission by the time they’re through. They’re saying that any step away from the radical secularist agenda will be punished. This isn’t just a memo. It’s a battle cry.

What they’re calling for is a faith that hides itself from public perception. What they’re calling for is faith without works, the light of faith to be hid under a bushel.

What good is it, my brothers, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can that faith save him? If a brother or sister has nothing to wear and has no food for the day, and one of you says to them, “Go in peace, keep warm, and eat well,” but you do not give them the necessities of the body, what good is it? So also faith of itself, if it does not have works, is dead. Indeed someone may say, “You have faith and I have works.” Demonstrate your faith to me without works, and I will demonstrate my faith to you from my works.

Archbishop Lori responded forcefully. You really should read it in full.

For the current Chairman of the United States Commission on Civil Rights, religious liberty is reduced to “nothing except hypocrisy,” and religion is being used as a “weapon… by those seeking to deny others equality.” He makes the shocking suggestion that Catholic, evangelical, orthodox Jewish, Mormon, and Muslim communities are comparable to fringe segregationists from the civil rights era. These statements painting those who support religious freedom with the broad brush of bigotry are reckless and reveal a profound disregard for the religious foundations of his own work.

People of faith have often been the ones to carry the full promise of America to the most forgotten peripheries when other segments of society judged it too costly. Men and women of faith were many in number during the most powerful marches of the civil rights era. Can we imagine the civil rights movement without Rev. Martin Luther King, Fr. Theodore Hesburgh, and Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel? In places like St. Louis, Catholic schools were integrated seven years before the Supreme Court decision in Brown v. Board of Education. Jesus taught us to serve and not to count the cost.

Our record is not perfect. We could have always done more. Nevertheless, we have long taught that the one God, maker of heaven and earth, calls each and every individual into being, loves every individual, and commands believers to love and show mercy to every individual. The idea of equality, which the Chairman treats as a kind of talisman, is incomprehensible apart from the very faith that he seeks to cut off from mainstream society.

Today, Catholic priests, religious and laity can be found walking the neighborhood streets of our most struggling communities in places abandoned by a “throwaway culture” that has too often determined that quick profits matter more than communities. We are there offering education, health care, social services, and hope, working to serve as the “field hospital” Pope Francis has called us to be. We wish we were there in even greater numbers, but we are there to humbly offer the full promise of America to all. Rest assured, if people of faith continue to be marginalized, it is the poor and vulnerable, not the Chairman and his friends, who will suffer.

Catholic social service workers, volunteers and pastors don’t count the cost in financial terms or even in personal safety. But, we must count the cost to our own faith and morality. We do not seek to impose our morality on anyone, but neither can we sacrifice it in our own lives and work. 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. This is no different from a tobacco control organization not wishing to hire an advocate for smoking or a civil rights organization not wanting to hire someone with a history of racism or an animal rights group wishing to hire only vegetarians.

In a pluralistic society, there will be institutions with views at odds with popular opinion. The Chairman’s statement suggests that the USCCR does not see the United States as a pluralistic society. We respect those who disagree with what we teach. Can they respect us? We advocate for the dignity of all persons, a dignity that includes a life free from violence and persecution and that includes fair access to good jobs and safe housing. People of faith are a source of American strength. An inclusive and religiously diverse society should make room for them.

Yes, it should. But in today’s culture “tolerance” means silence. “Inclusive” means marching in lockstep (or else.)

While I applaud Archbishop Lori’s statement, I truly wish that there’d be a more intense focus on defending and protecting religious liberty from all corners. Many people just don’t understand yet that their religious liberties are under direct assault and unless something changes, they will be stripped. Shortly.

What do most people hear? From the media, they hear of the random story about an “anti-gay” baker who refuses to serve gays. They hear about a state, a southern one mind you, that seeks to punish transgender people, and they hear about employees seeking to take contraception from employees. That’s the filter through which most people are viewing these stories.

We have to do better. Because those who are vowed against us already are doing their best. They have obtained the powerful levers of a massive and intrusive government, they have seen their radical brethren enrobed in black and sitting on the highest benches, and they have celebrated their own masquerading as “objective” in the mainstream media which spills into the living rooms of millions.

The Church has the pulpit, the bulletin, and news organizations like The National Catholic Register. And yes, the Holy Spirit guiding her. God can work miracles. I’m afraid we’re going to need one.