As 2011 got underway, I noted that the Vatican was trying to shop around a new meme, the claim that religious freedom is significantly under attack around the world and is the foundational value on which all other values rest. I predicted that this new religious-freedom-trumps-all argument, which supplants the one set in place by John Paul II that the right to life trumps every other value (and so abortion and homosexuality involve "intrinsic evil" and stating this puts all nuanced ethical arguments about these issues to rest), would now become the argument du jour of the Catholic hierarchy and religious right.
I predicted that the religious-freedom-über-alles argument would begin to form the basis of the resistance of the religious right and the Catholic hierarchy as they try to hold the line against progressive changes in the developed sectors of the world including, above all, the extension of human rights to LGBT persons. As it turns out, my prediction seems to have been correct.
And I noted something else as I began tracking the use of the religious freedom argument as an argument designed to shut down all ethical discussion that sees nuance beyond the black and white positions the Vatican and religious right want to impose on all people of faith and, indeed, on all citizens of pluralistic secular democracies. I noted that the argument being pushed by the Vatican and religious right amounts to the following assertion:
Religious freedom for me. But not for thee.
Essentially, the religious freedom argument now promoted by the Vatican, the U.S. Catholic bishops, the American religious right, and the Republican party, on whose behalf this argument was primarily crafted in the U.S. context is an argument which asserts that the religious freedom of leaders of the Catholic church and of other right-wing religious groups must be allowed to prevail over the religious freedom of all other faith communities that hold positions at variance with those of the Catholic church and the religious right:
Religious freedom for me. Not for thee.
And how helpful now to have the USCCB media spokeswoman (and Republican proxy) Sister Mary Ann Walsh, RSM, state this baldly in print: Sister Walsh has just written a posting at the USCCB blog site taking the media to task because the media dare to refer to "non-official" Catholic groups as Catholic.
When those groups have no right to call themselves Catholic, Walsh urges, and, in fact, no right to speak: as she states flatly,
False balance reports are those that appear fair because they have two sides, except that one side reflects neither knowledge nor a right to speak (emphasis added).
The media, you see, make the mistake of imagining that Catholic groups other than the bishops and papacy--to whom the right to speak belongs--are just as Catholic as are the bishops and the papacy. And therefore have a right to speak. As Catholics.
But for Sister Walsh and the USCCB and the Vatican (and the Republican party on whose behalf these dignitaries speak), only the officials of the Catholic church have a right to speak. Qua Catholics. Because the Catholic
corporation church has a right to its "brand."
And if this isn't absolutely a freedom for me, but not for thee, argument, I'll eat my hat. . . . [O]ne side reflects neither knowledge nor a right to speak! And this is being asserted in democratic societies for whom the right of free speech is a foundational human right.
(I'm grateful to Joshua McElwee for bringing Sister Walsh's remarks to readers' attention at National Catholic Reporter.)