U.S. Bishops Argue Employers Should Be Allowed To Consider Being Gay A Fireable Offense

The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops wrote a letter addressed to the United States Congress people opposing ENDA, the Employment Nondiscrimination Act

For the sake of clarity, permit us first to state two basic tenets of Catholic Church teaching on this issue. First, persons with a homosexual inclination “must be accepted with respect, compassion, and sensitivity,” and second “[u]nder no circumstances can [homosexual acts] be approved.” Catechism of the Catholic Church (“CCC”), nos. 2357-58.

Catholic teaching states that all people are created in the image and likeness of God and thus possess an innate human dignity that must be acknowledged and respected, by other persons and by law. We recognize that no one should be an object of scorn, hatred, or violence for any reason, including sexual inclination. The Church affords special concern and pastoral attention to those who experience a homosexual inclination and stands committed to avoid “[e]very sign of unjust discrimination in their regard.” CCC, no. 2358.

The Catholic Church makes an important distinction between actions and inclination. While the Church is ardently opposed to all unjust discrimination on the grounds of sexual inclination, whether homosexual or heterosexual, it does teach that all sexual acts outside of a marriage between one man and one woman are morally wrong. The Catholic Church’s teaching cannot, therefore, be equated with “unjust discrimination,” because it is based on fundamental truths about the human person and personal conduct. Homosexual conduct is categorically closed to the transmission of life, and does not reflect or respect the personal complementarity of man and woman. In contrast to sexual conduct within marriage between one man and one woman—which does serve both the good of each married person and the good of society— heterosexual and homosexual conduct outside of marriage has no claim to special protection by the state.

Just as every other group in our society, the Catholic Church enjoys the same rights to hold to its beliefs, organize itself around them, and argue for them in the public square. This is guaranteed by our Constitution. This includes the right to teach what it holds to be the truth concerning homosexual conduct—and to act as an employer consistent with that truth—without the threat of government sanction.

Moreover, because the passage of such a bill could be used to punish as discrimination what the Catholic Church teaches, the USCCB has always sought as comprehensive a religious exemption as is achievable, in order to protect the religious freedom of the Church, and of all others who hold similar views. One partial solution to this problem is to apply Title VII’s prohibition on religious discrimination, which is already incorporated in the current version of the bill.

But this is insufficient alone, as the Title VII protection does not cover all religious employers, and recent experience teaches that even covered institutions may face government retaliation for relying on such exemptions. Without such additional protection, ENDA would be applied to jeopardize our religious freedom to live our faith and moral tenets in today’s society.

Andrew Sullivan, a gay Roman Catholic, responds:

I naively imagined that the church would actually support a bar on firing people solely because of an innate sexual orientation (and, yes, the church itself understands homosexuality to be, for many, “innate”). The church has no problem with anti-discrimination laws when it comes to, say, race or immigration status. It has no objection in principle; au contraire. It declares itself a champion of the weak and marginalized and vulnerable.

But Benedict’s church is different – when it comes to gays. The latest statement from the Bishops reads as if it were drafted by Robbie George, and reflects a total capitulation to theo-conservatism in the American hierarchy. Legally protecting gays from employment discrimination is now, apparently, illegitimate for Catholics. Why? Because non-procreative sexual acts violate church doctrine, and protecting employees who might engage in such acts in private therefore violates church doctrine.

Notice that there is no attempt here to argue that straight people who violate church doctrine – anyone who masturbates or uses contraception, is divorced or re-married – should not be protected from discrimination. It is always just the gays who are the target, because their identity inherently proves their iniquity, while most straight people can hide theirs. Notice also that the focus here is entirely on the victims of discrimination, not the perpetrators.

It does not matter whether they are good at their job; their orientation, even if no one even knows it results in sodomy, is sufficient to allow them to be fired and no law be broken.

The bishops also argue that their stance against protecting gays for being fired for their sexual orientation alone is necessary because if gays get this protection it will inevitably contribute to the legal precedent for treating prohibitions on gay marriage as comparably discriminatory.  Sullivan on what this calculation represents:

so we have a prudential political argument in defense of an obvious evil – persecuting people for something that they cannot change. The bishops say they’d like to protect gay people, but only if they can be seen as in no way endorsing sexual acts. But you can’t do that. You can’t enact a law protecting some gays from discrimination while omitting others, the distinction being whether they are engaged in non-procreative acts. It would be unenforceable, as the Bishops seem to imply.

And so they have a choice: favoring a civil society to protect individuals from unjust discrimination or not. When it comes to gays – and only gays – the Bishops have taken a stand. It is a de facto endorsement of obvious injustice.

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About Daniel Fincke

Dr. Daniel Fincke  has his PhD in philosophy from Fordham University and spent 11 years teaching in college classrooms. He wrote his dissertation on Ethics and the philosophy of Friedrich Nietzsche. On Camels With Hammers, the careful philosophy blog he writes for a popular audience, Dan argues for atheism and develops a humanistic ethical theory he calls “Empowerment Ethics”. Dan also teaches affordable, non-matriculated, video-conferencing philosophy classes on ethics, Nietzsche, historical philosophy, and philosophy for atheists that anyone around the world can sign up for. (You can learn more about Dan’s online classes here.) Dan is an APPA  (American Philosophical Practitioners Association) certified philosophical counselor who offers philosophical advice services to help people work through the philosophical aspects of their practical problems or to work out their views on philosophical issues. (You can read examples of Dan’s advice here.) Through his blogging, his online teaching, and his philosophical advice services each, Dan specializes in helping people who have recently left a religious tradition work out their constructive answers to questions of ethics, metaphysics, the meaning of life, etc. as part of their process of radical worldview change.


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