All too often, gay rights’ opponents accuse LGBT people of demanding “special rights,” as if the freedom to marry the person you love or the right to work without being harassed are privileges only available to a worthy few. Religious groups are often guilty of making the special rights argument — ironic, considering some recent moves from the Catholic Church.
Frank DeBernardo, executive director of the pro-LGBT Catholic group New Ways Ministry, recently wrote this editorial for Advocate.com about how officials in the Catholic Church misuse and misinterpret the concept of “religious freedom”:
The Catholic hierarchy is trying to fundamentally change the legal understanding of individual liberties, weighting the supposed rights of religious institutions more heavily than individual rights. At New Ways Ministry, we think there are good secular and religious arguments for not twisting the law into a tool for discrimination.
He seems to be particularly peeved with the “Ad Hoc Committee for Religious Liberty,” a group that Catholic bishops created last fall to protect against a group of threats to the Church’s well-being that mostly related to sexuality. Surprised? The committee’s official stances actually differ pretty significantly from those of most Catholics, but they suggest and impose discriminatory policies anyway.
This committee formally opposes same-sex marriage, even though Catholics support same-sex unions more than any other Christian denomination (and even more than Americans overall). Worse, the committee’s endorsement of “ministerial privilege” paves the way for employee discrimination that would otherwise be illegal, like being fired just for disclosing that you’re in a same-sex relationship.
Under the guise of the “freedom of religion,” it’s not only permissible and proper, but hailed as moral, righteous, and the “right” thing to do.
Our fundamental objection to the bishops’ religious freedom campaign is that it’s a misuse of the law — an attempt to create new rights for religious institutions while trampling on the rights long-guaranteed to all individuals.
His objection is sound. The freedom of religion does not grant the freedom to discriminate, and it certainly doesn’t mean religious institutions can impose on existing laws.
Catholic leaders who try to impose policies like these unfairly cross the line between church and state. If anyone is vying for “special rights,” it’s religious leaders who fail to understand the meaning of religious freedom itself.