The politics of religious liberty

As U.S. Catholic bishops met in Baltimore this week, this was the headline from the National Catholic Reporter:

Bishop says religious freedom under attack in America

The Associated Press’ coverage of the meeting carried a similar headline:

Bishops say government eroding religious liberty

But this was the headline from The New York Times:

Bishops Open ‘Religious Liberty’ Drive

Notice the subtle (or perhaps not-so-subtle) difference? As the National Catholic Reporter and AP framed the news, the bishops voiced concerns about religious liberty. As presented by the Times, however, the bishops took a calculated political stand.

The top of the Times report:

BALTIMORE — The nation’s Roman Catholic bishops opened a new front in their fight against abortion and same-sex marriage on Monday, recasting their opposition as a struggle for “religious liberty” against a government and a culture that are infringing on the church’s rights.

The bishops have expressed increasing exasperation as more states have legalized same-sex marriage, and the Justice Department has refused to go to bat for the Defense of Marriage Act, legislation that established the definition of marriage as between a man and a woman.

“We see in our culture a drive to neuter religion,” Archbishop Timothy M. Dolan of New York, president of the bishops conference, said in a news conference Monday at the bishops’ annual meeting in Baltimore. He added that “well-financed, well-oiled sectors” were trying “to push religion back into the sacristy.”

A reader who submitted the link to the Times story commented:

It’s not bad, but it seems a bit skewed to me in its language. Writing that the bishop’s concern about religious liberty is a way of repackaging their concerns over abortion and gay marriage seems to imply their concerns are not genuine.

That was my reaction, too. I’d love to know what other GetReligion readers think (not about the issue itself, needless to say, but about the story angle chosen). Does the Times story push aside the religious liberty concerns in an effort to frame the bishops’ concern as a purely political maneuver? Are there other factors at play?

The Times ends its report by quoting a “liberal” advocate who questions the bishops’ concern for the poor:

Some liberal Catholic commentators have criticized the bishops’ priorities, saying they are playing into the culture wars. John Gehring, Catholic outreach coordinator with Faith in Public Life, a liberal religious advocacy group in Washington, said, “The bishops speak in hushed tones when it comes to poverty and economic justice issues, and use a big megaphone when it comes to abortion and religious liberty issues.”

Interestingly, an address by Bishop William E. Lori of Bridgeport, Conn., at the bishops’ meeting included this section:

In the dioceses that we serve, the Church is the largest non-governmental source of educational, social, charitable, and healthcare services, offered as an integral part of our mission, offered as an expression of our faith in the God who is love. In a time of economic hardship, the services which the Catholic Church and other denominations offer are not only beneficial but indeed crucial, but it is becoming more and more difficult for us to deliver services in a manner that truly respects the very faith that impels us to provide them.

In other (related) news, the Chicago Tribune reported on three Illinois dioceses deciding to end state-subsidized foster-care services rather than work with same-sex parents in civil unions. From that story:

Springfield Bishop Thomas Paprocki said the decision to drop the lawsuit enabled the central Illinois diocese to redirect its energies toward serving the poor instead of a protracted legal battle.

“The silver lining of this decision is that our Catholic Charities going forward will be able to focus on being more Catholic and more charitable, while less dependent on government funding and less encumbered by intrusive state policies,” Paprocki said.

Since March, state officials have been investigating whether religious agencies that receive public funds to license foster care parents were breaking anti-discrimination laws if they turned away openly gay parents.

Is there a possibility that the bishops’ concern for religious liberty has a direct tie to the poverty issue — a chance, in other words, that a “conservative” advocate could argue that speaking about religious freedom is using a big megaphone on behalf of the poor? I would love to have seen the other side explored.

Again, I’d welcome opposing viewpoints from GR readers, but it strikes me that the Times story misses the full picture in its eagerness to frame the bishops’ concern as purely political and tied primarily to the fight over other hot-button issues.

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About Bobby Ross Jr.

Bobby Ross Jr. is an award-winning reporter and editor with a quarter-century of professional experience. A former religion editor for The Oklahoman and religion writer for The Associated Press, Ross serves as chief correspondent for the The Christian Chronicle. He has reported from 47 states and 11 countries and was honored as the Religion Newswriters Association's 2013 Magazine Reporter of the Year.

  • Keith

    It is unquestionably a politically-motivated restructuring of the argument: it is being done purely in an attempt to better communicate the same stance to a political audience. There really isn’t a difference between the personal and political in these matters, as the semi-old saw goes.

    Whether it’s a wise restructuring is to be seen. Myself, I think it’s a mistake. It seems to more shine a brighter light on one of the underlying premises: that the Church thinks it has the right to determine secular law, or at least be exempt from it. I don’t see that turning out well for the Church, to be honest.

  • Stan

    I think the New York Times got the story right. The Bishops are simply trying to use a slogan that they think will be politically effective. It is hard to see how depriving people of the right to marry furthers “religious liberty.” No state that I am aware of is trying to force people to marry partners of the same-sex and no law requires churches to marry anyone that they do not want to marry.

    I think the journalists at the Chicago Tribune and those reporting on Bishop Lori speech at the Bishops Conference should demand evidence of the assertions about how “the Church is the largest non-governmental source of educational, social, charitable, and healthcare services, offered as an integral part of our mission, offered as an expression of our faith in the God who is love.” Most of the “charity” offered by Catholic Charities and other “faith-based” organizations is actually funded by taxpayers.

    Similarly, the reason the Illinois dioceses lost contracts to place foster children and serve as adoption agencies is because the state ruled that they could not use taxpayer money to discriminate against same-sex couples. The Catholic adoption agencies are quite free to fund their own adoption agencies and discriminate against whomever they want. Journalists have an obligation to make these points clear.

  • Kate

    I spot a glaring omission – there is no mention of the recent brou ha ha where the bishops lost funds for services to victims of sex trafficking because of a late-instituted policy excluding any bids that did not offer ‘a full range of reproductive policies’.

  • Daniel

    Seems to me the bishops understand that “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof;” and the Times doesn’t. I know at this point that the courts will never catch onto these simple words, and that the U.S. is on the way down, but I do think the prophetic voice of the bishops here can be useful. Seems to me Congress has outlawed the free exercise of religion; the bishops are on far better Constitutional ground than Congress; and I wish that a bunch of the laws Congress has made respecting an establishment of religion could be repealed! Being a cizen of this country, I think that this is an excellent journalistic issue, and I wish that more papers and magazines would cover this neglected issue.

  • Reader John

    I got my back up at the scare quotes in the headline, which struck me as tendentious. It casts the Bishops as dishonest aggressors rather than defenders of their liberty.
    I do not see the Bishops’ position as a mere repackaging. Serious erosion of religious liberty in the U.S. began in 1990, with Employment Division v. Smith, but has accelerated dramatically under Obama, whose administration has aggressively pursued a course that threatens to force Catholic hospitals and charities into compromise or closure. The Administration has not been subtle about it at all.

  • Jerry N

    I think the scare quotes in the Times headline undermine the bishops from the start; it’s similar to MSM coverage of “conscience” legislation re. healthcare providers.

  • Bobby

    Reader John and Jerry N,

    Good point on the scare quotes.

  • Harris

    To my reading the article is actually a bit more complicated. the overall framework seems to be a division between two types of political engagement, and secondly between two types of leadership.

    On the former, the article draws a clear distinction between the stance of the Church in the 80s and 90s “as a nationally recognized voice on the moral dimension of public policy issues like economic inequality, workers’ rights, immigration and nuclear weapons proliferation” and the political concerns of more recent vintage, those turning on abortion and homosexuality. On this, the use of scare quotes serve as a commentary on the presumed narrowing of the Church’s response.

    A second complicating strain is that of leadership. In the Times, the local guy, Archbishop Thomas Dolan, is clearly favored than Bishop Lori of Bridgeport, CT. In this there is a focus on the centrist versus the edgier, more partisan folks away from the City. Abp Dolan the pragmatist is set against the ideologues — this suggests that scare quotes are ways of branding these outsiders against their home town bishop.

  • Julia

    My So. IL diocese is one of the three mentioned in the article that had their state contracts ended.

    Actually, the long-time policy that only now causes problems is not doing adoptions for unmarried couples of any kind. It wasn’t until Illinois recently passed a civil union statute regarding gays that the state decided to eliminate the contract.

    The changes come after months of legal wrangling that has followed the Illinois Department of Children and Families Services’ decision to terminate contracts with Catholic Charities agencies because they refused to place foster-care children with unmarried couples, including those in civil unions.

    Read more:

    The Belleville diocesan agency has decided to cut its connection to the diocese in order to keep its services available to the many low income people in the diocese.

    It would be helpful for reporters to explain: an adoption agency can’t place a child unless those folks are first licensed as foster parents, because adoptions are not finalized for a period of months. There are also placements with foster parents paid by the state who are not intending to adopt, which do not involve adoption agencies.

    So – a private adoption agency can’t do its work if the state will not license potential adopting parents.

    From the Tribune article:

    The decision by leaders in the dioceses of Joliet, Springfield and Belleville ends a long partnership between Illinois and the charitable arm of the Roman Catholic Church, which inspired the state to address child welfare in the first place and led to the creation of the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services.

  • Julia

    There has been a change of language recently in some political circles, substituting “freedom of worship” for the usual “freedom of religion”. Looks like the beginnings of an effort to limit religious freedom to attending church/synagogue/mosque. This has been noted in a number of publications recently.

    Recently, both President Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton have been caught using the phrase “freedom of worship” in prominent speeches, rather than the “freedom of religion” the President called for in Cairo.

    If the swap-out occurred only once or twice, one might appropriately conclude it was merely a rhetorical accident. However, both the President and his Secretary of State have now replaced “freedom of religion” with “freedom of worship” too many times to seem inadvertent.

  • Bobby

    Folks, let’s please stick to journalistic issues and questions related to media coverage. This is not the place to argue politics.

  • Jeffrey

    The NYT gets it right. Good journalism requires beIng skeptical of pr spin and questioning the powerful. There’s no reason to cover the Bishops like they are benign, prayerful old men without political motives. They have political goals and a giant budget and bully pulpit. No need for journalIsts to pretend the don’t have deeper motivations.

  • sari

    Not one article addressed the financial aspect. To what extent do Catholic charities rely on taxpayer dollars? Likewise, whom do they employ? How will restrictions on benefits affect their non-Catholic employees, both in the practical sense and within the confines of their personal belief systems?

  • Bobby

    There’s no reason to cover the Bishops like they are benign, prayerful old men without political motives. They have political goals and a giant budget and bully pulpit. No need for journalIsts to pretend the don’t have deeper motivations.

    Thanks for providing the thesis on your proposed editorial. But back to the discussion of news stories ….

  • Peggy R

    Julia offered good information from So-IL, a diocese affected by a gay “civil union law. The NYT, of course is about national issues, but didn’t doesn’t seem to convey (and probably doesn’t understand) why these new laws pose problems for Catholic social service agencies. The NYT didn’t research the bait and switch (my opinion) by IL officials on whether the civil union law would affect adoption/foster care regulations. The Belleville Diocese is cutting loose its Catholic Social Services agency so it may comply with the DCFS decision. (I didn’t see this level of detail in local secular media:

    It’s not just about money, but also about state licensing.

  • Julia

    The two different ways of covering the issue boil down to either

    1) the Church is reacting to recent actions taken by Federal and State governments that change the rules regarding social work that have been in place for nearly a century


    2) the Church has started an aggressive campaign to force its principles on everybody else

    It’s like they aren’t discussing the same set of facts.

  • Bobby


    Or a third option would be to report both sides (or all sides, since it’s usually more complicated than that) of the story.

  • sari


    You said: “It’s like they aren’t discussing the same set of facts.”

    What facts? So much of what’s been printed in each article is opinion masquerading as fact. That, and the omission of the actual facts necessary to bolster each article’s argument.

  • Jeffrey

    Bobby, I’m proposing journlism and not stenography from press releases and official press flacks. I’m susprised a journalist is so afraid of being skeptical of motives from powerful institutions.

    The NYT isn’t a deniminational trade newspaper at the beckon call of the Bishops press office.

  • Rick

    Jeffrey, the bishops are not the only powerful institution involved here–the law making institution and the Health and Human Services are also involved. They, like the bishops, cannot expect the NYT to be at their beck and call. Media should hold both side accountable.

  • Bobby

    OK, Jeffrey. Where are the facts to back up the Times’ lede? Where are the facts to prove that the bishops aren’t genuinely concerned about “religious liberty” (scare quotes courtesy of the Times) but are in fact opening another political front because abortion and same-sex marriage are the hot-button issues they care about? Give me some actual facts, and I’ll make up my own mind on whether they’re playing politics.

    I thought the AP managed to put the relevant facts out there without editorializing. The AP lede:

    BALTIMORE (AP) — U.S. Roman Catholic bishops vowed Monday to defend their religious liberty in the face of growing acceptance of gay marriage and what they called attempts by secularists to marginalize faith.

    Bishop William Lori, leader of a new national religious liberty committee, condemned federal and state policies that he said interfered with the church’s ability to provide social services, from health care to immigrant support to international aid.

    In Illinois, government officials stopped working with Catholic Charities on adoptions and foster-care placements after 40 years because the agency refused to recognize a new civil union law. Illinois bishops had sued the state but on Monday said they would stop the legal fight and no longer provide state-funded services.

    In New York, the bishops, along with Orthodox Jewish leaders and others, have complained that the religious exception in this year’s law allowing gay marriage is too weak to be effective.

    On the federal level, the bishops have been pressing the Health and Human Services Department during its public comment period for a broader religious exception to part of President Barack Obama’s health care overhaul that mandates private insurers pay for contraception.

    After reporting the facts, the Times certainly could enlist an analyst and quote that analyst as saying this is just another front in the political war against abortion and same-sex marriage. But the paper didn’t have the goods to make that statement as a fact in the lede. That’s my point.

  • Jeffrey

    Your AP story pretty much backs up exactly what the NYT said the Bishops were up to. Is it really editorializing to give context to why people are taking an action? It may not be the APs approach, but it is well inside the confines of the American press tradition to give context on motivations.

  • michael

    I find it funny, Jeffrey, that the one “powerful institution” whose motives are apprently beyond suspicion is the New York Times.

    Pardon me if I find that…well…suspicious.

    Whenever someone trots out that old saw about ‘journalism, not stenography’, it is inevitably followed by an apologia for why reporters needn’t bother actually to report.

  • Deacon John M. Bresnahan

    As some have pointed out in comments the ignored issue by the media is the use of the government’s licensing power to enforce the state’s will on non-government entities like churches. Maybe there should be more media in-depth looks at the state’s uses and abuses of the licensing power.
    And the subtle change in some media quarters from “freedom of religion” to “freedom of worship” as pointed out in a comment should be a warning to those concerned about religious liberty. For the old, defunct Soviet Union granted “freedom of worship” to its citizens, but strictly enforced making churches–those few not forcibly closed–into virtual prisons beyond which any kind of religious expression or action became illegal.

  • Julia

    this sentence might be a problem:

    In Illinois, government officials stopped working with Catholic Charities on adoptions and foster-care placements after 40 years because the agency refused to recognize a new civil union law

    Catholic Charities didn’t refuse to recognize the law. CC was not trying to overthrow the law, just arguing for a Constitutional religious exemption. It said we can’t change our long-standing policy of not placing children with unmarried couples; for Constitutional reasons, CC shouldn’t have to violate its sponsor’s ancient religious principles. There are other agencies where unmarried couples can adopt.

  • Martha

    The language in the “Times” story is very militant; “opening up a new front” is what I would expect to read in coverage of what is going on in Afghanistan, not a report about the plenary meeting of the American Catholic bishops.

    There was also no mention, in amongst the description of loss of funding, about the very real suspicion that ideology trumped their own rules at the Department of Health and Human Services; despite coming in second on a review by an independent body (and they only lost marks for not being willing to provide contraceptiona and abortion cover), the Migration and Refugee Services were denied the renewal of the grant by the HHS, even over the objection of the review board and some of their own staff. There are 27 Senators who have written to the Secretary, Kathleen Sebelius, for information on why this was and how the decision was arrived at.

    This seems to me a serious accusation; it would be one thing if the USCCB services were deemed to have failed on an objective measure of service provision (I don’t think anyone would or could object if they came in fourth of four candidates) but they didn’t. They came in second, yet the grants were given to three other organisations, two of which didn’t even make the review board list. Not a word of this in the article.

    Yet the “New York Times” was able to find a liberal Catholic commentator to take a swipe at the bishops?

  • Julia

    Reporters serious about reporting this situation should check out the Maryland Bishop’s Conference document The Most Sacred of All Property: Religious Freedom and the People of Maryland.

    The document begins with a very relevant history lesson setting forth why it was thought necessary for our Constitution to spell out freedom of religion and specify no religious tests:

    In 1634, a mix of Catholic and Protestant settlers arrived at St. Clement’s Island in Southern Maryland from England aboard the Ark and the Dove.
    They had come at the invitation of the Catholic Lord Baltimore, who had been granted Maryland by the Protestant King Charles I of England.
    While Catholics and Protestants were killing each other in Europe, Lord Baltimore imagined Maryland as a society where people of different faiths could live together peacefully.
    This vision was soon codified in Maryland’s 1649 Act Concerning Religion (also called the “Toleration Act”), which was the first law in our nation’s history to protect an individual’s right to freedom of conscience. But Maryland’s early history teaches us that, like any freedom, religious liberty requires constant vigilance and
    protection, or it will disappear.
    Maryland’s experiment in religious toleration ended within a few decades. The colony was placed under royal control and the Church of England became the established religion. Discriminatory laws, including the loss of political rights, were enacted against those who refused to conform. Catholic chapels were closed and Catholics were restricted to practicing their faith in their homes. The Catholic community lived under these conditions until the American Revolution.

  • Stan

    Julia’s comment that “Catholic Charities didn’t refuse to recognize the law. CC was not trying to overthrow the law, just arguing for a Constitutional religious exemption” is disingenuous.

    Catholic Charities said that they would not obey the law not to discriminate against gay couples. (Separate from this issue, but pertinent nevertheless is the fact that the Catholic Church did spend a great deal of money and effort trying to defeat the civil unions bill.) The civil unions bill has a religious exemption: no Church is required to recognize civil unions or to perform them or to allow its facilities to be used for the performance of them.

    What Catholic Charities wanted was for its adoption agency to be funded by the state. The state refused to renew its contracts with Catholic Charities once they made clear that they would not honor the state’s nondiscrimination statute.

  • Daniel

    Why is it that seemingly only people like Bob Dutko point out the double standard used by talking head pundits, such as those seen on programs like “The View?” The cold and hostile liberal environment is not an inviting place for religious discussion, let alone religious tolerance. If the kind of half-baked drivel served up by people like Bill Marr and Whoopy Goldberg were promoted by conservatives or libertarians, it would be laughed out of school or attacked as bigoted or xenophobic. But if liberals do it, it’s OK and it’s applauded.
    Join the crowd, New York Times! Apparently cheer leading is OK and fairness is not. Don’t worry, you don’t even have to get the quote right.

  • Daniel

    Oops, I meant to add to my sentence that progressives are also found on “The View,” as well as liberals. “no Church is required to recognize civil unions or to perform them or to allow its facilities to be used for the performance of them.”
    What does that have to do with granting adoptions to licensed adopters? The Catholic Charities didn’t want to grant adoptions to licensees who have civil unions that the Charities can’t prevent or stop. So only if the situation is changed, and the tax benefit is not reaped by Catholic Charities, can Catholic Charities act in accordance with conscience and charter. Liberal and progressive do-gooders do not seem to regret the cutback in comfortable and secure homes for at-risk youth that this will afford. So then as long as Catholic Charities are chased out of the public square things will be fine!

  • Stan

    Daniel, no youth will fail to get a good home by granting contracts to other social service agencies than Catholic Charities. Catholic Charities was simply performing a service for the state; they were being paid state taxpayer money to do this service. When they announced that they would not obey the state’s law that said that you cannot discriminate against gay and lesbian couples, the state declined to renew their contract.

    Catholic Charities is perfectly free to place at-risk youth (or any other youth) in the homes they think are best, but they cannot expect the state to subsidize their good works if they discriminate on the basis of race or sex or sexual orientation or religion.

    Besides, it isn’t charity when you are using other people’s money to do good works.

    Do your really think the state should fund the Catholic Church?

  • Bobby

    From the Wall Street Journal earlier this year:

    Consider one of the salient modern controversies over religion in social services, the decades-long lawsuit Wilder v. Bernstein. New York City had long leaned heavily on institutions affiliated with major religious groups to provide foster placements for “their” kids—Catholic agencies making arrangements for Catholic kids and so forth. Lawyers from the ACLU sued, saying this perpetuated religious discrimination. In particular, they argued, it was unfair that Catholic and Jewish kids got the assistance of relatively strong agencies backed by long histories of community philanthropy and volunteering, while other kids, notably black Protestants, were left with whatever foster arrangements the city could cobble together.

    In a settlement, the city agreed to scrap the system and cut back religious matching in favor of something more like a first-come-first-served method of assignment, turning the agencies into something closer to interchangeable outposts of a single foster system. Problem solved? No. Outcomes went from unacceptable to even worse as the new rules demoralized and drove away volunteers at the high-performing religious agencies without turning around the others. The city’s foster-care system proceeded to lurch from crisis to crisis through 26 grueling years of litigation.

    It’s easy to make a blanket statement that no youth will fail to get a good home with Catholic Charities removed from the mix in Illinois. But journalists who want to tell the full story would do well to investigate what the real impact will be of losing a major cog in the care of thousands of children in that state. Maybe Stan’s right. But if I’m a reporter there, I’m going to dig a little deeper. Maybe it’s not as black and white as it seems on the surface.

  • Daniel

    Stan: “No youth will fail to get a good home by granting contracts to other social service agencies than Catholic Charities. Catholic Charities was simply performing a service for the state; they were being paid state taxpayer money to do ….”
    But there aren’t enough of these services to absorb the current demand for such services, nor for the displaced children who will now not get high staff to beneficiary ratio. Yes, there are other social service agencies, but they don’t provide enough service to make up the difference. They don’t have enough staff to do so, and they don’t render enough service now. Do research and disprove what I am saying. You appear to be poorly informed. Lots of youths in Illinois will fail to get a good home by granting contracts to other social service agencies than Catholic Charities. The evidence for what I am saying is borne out in California, where the same thing is going on. Foster care is overstretched in New York, in Illinois and in California. Is anybody seriously suggesting solutions, or am I only going to see ideology?

  • Daniel

    The question is slightly off topic for this blog and regarding this article. I was asked: “Do your really think the state should fund the Catholic Church?”
    No, I don’t. But I do think public service agencies sponsored by the church can be a part of the mix rendering services, both government funded and not, to at-risk youth. There is nothing Constitutional, no libertarian concern, to prevent this. The question is tangentially related to the topic. Thorough and honest discussion of this makes good grist for healthy columns. I am not under the illusion that the U.S. will become a theocracy. I do, however, believe that churches and religious people can be good citizens, and that the way to solve problems of at-risk youth is through fairness, not through discrimination against religious people and their charities. It seems the goal is now that the churches should use their independent funding to render services principally to their own membership, and, where possible, to the outside, and then be accused of neglecting the population they have been prevented from reaching.
    The churches are caught in a double bind: drop government funding and fail to be able to dramatically expand their services, and then have people accuse them of being selfish. There is no toleration for you if you are a church.
    These are the results so long as we bow at the idol of statism. As long as we pass laws ousting religion from public life, the churches will continue retreating onto the Reservation, and separate but equal, I mean separate and not equal, will be the order of the day.
    I hope that answers your question.

  • tmatt


    Please take these debates elsewhere.

    What do your comments have to do with the post and with press coverage?

  • Stan

    In response to Daniel’s comment above: I agree that religious folk and institutions can be good citizens, but good citizenship requires following state laws. Why should gay and lesbian citizens pay taxes that are given to institutions that use them to discriminate against them?

  • Peggy R

    Some folks here would do better to follow media outlets from Illinois, as well as some of the special interest sites, both pro-civil union and Catholic, to understand what happened with the civil union law. The legislators and the “Equality IL” movement insisted that adoption/foster care policies would not be affected by the law. The law is in fact silent on them. It says religious groups are not obligated to recognize gay unions–so why should their social service agencies do so? Because of the limiting idea of “freedom of worship” that the Dem party is promoting.

    Quinn et al went for a civil union law so as NOT to equate civil unions with marriage, seemingly a compromise to Catholic and other traditional religious faiths. Legally, civil unions are not marriages, articles in the media have indicated. Frankly, it is all right here on Equality IL’s own site promoting the law.

    The Catholic dioceses are pushing for a legislative fix in this fall veto session. I can’t find an article about it, but our parish has had petitions out for laity to sign.

  • sari

    “The Catholic dioceses are pushing for a legislative fix in this fall veto session. I can’t find an article about it, but our parish has had petitions out for laity to sign.”

    Your statement suggests political involvement by a religious nonprofit, Peggy, a point which should be covered and addressed by the media.

    There’s something else not being covered here, ignored completely by the religious press and only alluded to by the mainstream press, including the NYT. I have spent my entire life as a member of a minority, one which was (and still is) reviled by one religious group or another, so I have a pretty good idea of what persecution and denial of right to practice means. In my childhood, it meant Christian prayer (I’m that old) and indoctrination in public school, not to mention bullying, both subtle and obvious, that was ignored. It meant landlords refusing to rent, sellers refusing to sell, employers refusing to hire, hate speech with no repercussions, and blue laws that made it impossible for us to shop on weekends. It meant blatant discrimination and marginalization. It meant professors issuing zeros rather than allow Jewish students to sit for exams scheduled on our major holidays, and university quotas. It means my daughter’s exclusion from virtually all high school extracurriculars, because sabbath observance is considered unimportant; Sundays are inviolate, although few Christians we know observe it in any way.

    Christians, even nominal Christians, are not marginalized in the same way. And when any effort is made to extend the rights enjoyed by the majority to those who have been marginalized, as is the case with the GLBTQ community or the elimination of Christian prayer from public schools, claims of persecution and the deprivation of the right to practice are heard. Despite the Bishops’ claims, no Catholic is being forced to violate his or her religious beliefs or has been denied the right to practice. Instead, their statements make clear that the RCC seeks to impose its religious law on non-Catholics rather than limiting its influence to Catholics alone.

    Yes, reporters should investigate how the changes will affect people who currently receive services from religious non-profits, but they should also investigate whether the monies can or will be diverted to secular institutions which serve the same function. It should address the financial aspects of the arrangements between religious charities and the state and determine whether or not non-adherents’ rights have been violated in the process. The political activities (or not) of religious institutions should be brought to light, buttressed by fact, not conjecture.

  • Peggy R


    I can’t speak to your general situation, but I’d say that the legislative fix that the IL Catholic dioceses are pursuing would benefit any religious social service agency that objected to placing children in homosexual homes. That would certainly include Jewish, Muslim or even Hindu organizations that adhere to (western) traditional views of marriage and family. And those agencies that are willing to place children with homosexuals are free to do so. They have been free to do so. Catholic agencies were heretofore permitted to refer unmarrieds or homosexuals to DCFS or other agencies if they wanted to adopt in IL. No more benefit of the doubt here. My huz and I did NOT qualify to adopt children via our Catholic Charities agency and used a secular agency. We got what we needed and so did the Church, as did our children.

  • Stan

    Peggy writes: “The legislators and the “Equality IL” movement insisted that adoption/foster care policies would not be affected by the law. The law is in fact silent on them. It says religious groups are not obligated to recognize gay unions—so why should their social service agencies do so?”

    The Roman Catholic Church is perfectly free to set up social service agencies that discriminate against gays, Jews, Protestants, Hindus, and whoever they want to discriminate against. What they cannot do is get a contract from the state to fund their social service agencies and discriminate against others. The issue is not whether the Catholic Church can discriminate, but whether the state can discriminate by using taxpayer dollars to fund discriminatory agencies.

  • Peggy R


    They won’t have a license to do so either. The state DCFS requires allowing homosexual adoptions and foster placements.

  • sari

    I’m speaking to media coverage, not to the rightness of any given course of action. Of all the links provided to articles, the only one that seemed really impartial was the one posted by Julia.

    The article is short, touches most of the bases, and stays to the point without editorializing. The Catholic publications and the NYT lack impartiality; each knows its audience and seeks to inform its readers by a very selective presentation of “facts”.

    My point was that the majority takes a lot for granted and that much of what’s considered persecution boils down to rescinding privilege to ensure that everyone follows the same set of rules. People who belong to privileged groups often find it hard to understand the implications and consequences of marginalization. That perspective, too, should be addressed by the media. I doubt that many straight people know what it’s like to live as a person who is GLBTQ. I certainly don’t. Growing up non-Christian in the Bible Belt held its own horrors, which gives me an inkling but not the whole story. This is less about adoption and more about having separate rules for different groups of people, about using taxpayer monies to discriminate against groups with whom one disagrees, and about the role religious institutions play in the public square. Why should *any* group have the right to impose its beliefs on non-believers?

    Stan correctly points out that self-funding would allow the Catholic Church to pursue its own objectives. The BND article notes that 72% of the profiled social service agency came from the state, not Catholic coffers. The sum is not trivial.

  • Stan

    Peggy wrote: “The state DCFS requires allowing homosexual adoptions and foster placements.” Yes, but that has absolutely nothing to do with the civil unions bill.

  • Peggy R

    Tell that to DCFS and the rest of the state government.

  • Bobby

    Folks, we’ve drifted. Either comment on journalism or don’t comment. Thanks.

  • Daniel

    I advocate for objectivity. At least I hope that the few traces of objectivity in American journalism can be preserved. I’ll follow your rules, but I think you’ll find if you read most of my posts my dream that advocacy can decrease and objectivity can increase permeates and affects all my comments. For contrast, look at
    Read the post carefully. Do we realy want the majority of articles to advocate and the minority of articles to report?
    At tmatt: “What do your comments have to do with the post and with press coverage?”
    I’m answering your question here. Objective journalism holds the view that there is an objective reality to report. Advocacy journalism believes that the views of the reporter supercede whatever supposed objective reality is. I tend to agree with George Conger on this. If admitting so makes it less likely that what I dream of will ever happen, so be it!
    I’ll have to be content with being in the minority.
    But I’m one who wishes American journalism would stay rational, scientific, and make assertions which it could be agreed are testable.
    In other words, I am not a full-on relativist.
    Please forgive me for unintentionaly allowing, or being the proximate cause of, a drift away from journalism. I thought, and still think, that I was defending journalism.