Freedom of religion American style

Freedom of religion American style

Babette Francis

President Obama, during his speech to the Australian Parliament last November, welcomed the rise of a peaceful China while rejecting that country's one-party political system: "History is on the side of the free; prosperity without freedom is another form of poverty."

His statement is ironic because although the US is a democracy the Obama Administration has been attacking religious freedom. And the US situation will become relevant to Australia if same-sex "marriage" is legalised with homosexuals encouraged to pursue anti-discrimination legal actions aided by Equal Opportunity Commissioners, while their hapless targets are left to fend for themselves.

The US Catholic bishops have pointed out that attacks on religious liberty are a serious matter for all Christians as meanwhile the Church in the US continues to expend increasing time and money battling attacks on religious liberty, as the programs the Church runs are sued for not complying with secular and neo-pagan norms. These demand the provision of abortion services and contraception in hospitals and health plans, and the facilitating of homosexual adoptions. Here the Church wins some suits and loses others.

Msgr Charles Pope of the Archdiocese of Washington, DC, writes: "Religious exemptions are taken away or interpreted so narrowly no one can comply. This ... will have a large effect on our ability to evangelise as well as care for the poor, run schools, hospitals and even staff parishes."

Bishops in three Illinois dioceses announced in November that they had dropped their lawsuit against the state and would shut down their adoption and foster care programs, after a civil union law required them to provide their services to homosexual couples: "Laws are making it very difficult for faith-based agencies that believe marriage is between one man and one woman."

The conscience protections of Catholics are under assault, particularly by the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS). In 2008 the American Civil Liberties Union of Massachusetts brought suit against the US Conference of Catholic Bishops to eliminate a grant to programs that aid victims of human trafficking. Because Catholic programs don't refer for abortions, the ACLU alleged that public support amounts to the establishment of religion. The Obama Justice Department defended the grant in court, but in October 2011 HHS abruptly ended the funding.

The main victims of Obama's policies are not bishops but the poor and vulnerable.

USCCB-sponsored anti-trafficking programs provide employment assistance, legal services, child care and medical screening. But because case managers won't refer for abortions, HHS would rather see these programs closed in favour of less effective alternatives. It is now standard procedure by the Obama administration to deny funding to Catholic programs solely because of their pro-life beliefs.

HHS has drawn conscience protections so narrowly that Catholic colleges, universities, hospitals or any Catholic institution that employs and serves non-Catholics will be required to offer health coverage that includes contraception and drugs that cause abortion.

Public square

Msgr Pope comments: "The pro-abortion lobby, the homosexual rights activists and the secularists in general had all marched into town under the banner of tolerance, freedom of conscience, and 'choice.' It is clear they and their advocates in Government have no interest in any of these supposed values, and the lie of their 'tolerance' is on full display.

"The message is: Comply or leave the public square. And if we do not succeed in forcing you to comply the first time, we will continue to sue you and haul you into court with our well funded legal teams, and make you spend all your money and time defending our attacks until you have to leave, from financial exhaustion."

Churches may get exemptions in Australia from having to perform same-sex ceremonies, but what about the "butcher, the baker and candlestick maker"?

An Iowa baker who, because of her Christian values, politely declined to provide a wedding cake for two lesbians may face legal action. Same-sex "marriage" was legalised in Iowa in 2009 by the state Supreme Court.

Victoria Childress said, "I didn't do the cake because of my convictions about their lifestyle ... It's not so much to do with them, as it's to do with me, and my walk with God and what I will answer to Him for. They thanked me for being honest with them. They were very pleasant. I did not belittle them. There were no condescending remarks made, nothing."

However, the couple later released a statement calling Childress a "bigot," and are considering suing.

Christian businesses in America, including reception owners and photographers declining to service homosexual couples, have routinely been targeted for lawsuits and harassment in states that have legalised same-sex "marriage" or civil unions. The complaints are spread through homosexual blogs, with homosexual activists encouraged to keep pressure on the "offenders".

The Maryland Bishops' Catholic Conference document, "The Most Sacred of All Property: Religious Freedom and the People of Maryland", merits study by all those concerned with religious freedom in Australia:

"Religious freedom is not merely a civil right afforded us by our government, but, more fundamentally, it is a natural right due each person because of his or her human dignity. ... Individuals who are free to exercise religious liberty are free to live out their faith in service to others and to build up the common good. ...

"Everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience, and religious belief. No one should be subject to coercion because of those beliefs ... Society as a whole benefits when all citizens in our pluralistic democracy ... remain free to participate in public life and to do so in accordance with their sincerely held beliefs."

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