Friday, February 25, 2011

U.S. Catholic Bishops' Response to DOMA Decision: Continued Demands for the "Right" to Discriminate

Yesterday, I noted that the immediate response of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops to the Obama administration's announcement that the Defense of Marriage Act is unconstitutional and the administration cannot defend DOMA was this: the bishops argued that their religious freedom is curtailed by this decision.  Though the USCCB statement (which was made by the USCCB general counsel Anthony R. Picarello, Jr.) professes to decry discrimination, it precisely and explicitly rejects the definition of gay citizens as a group of citizens subject to systemic and unjust discrimination, who are therefore covered by the equal protection clause of the U.S. constitution.  

To qualify as what is called a "suspect class" under that clause, a group must meet the following criteria:

1. It must have a history of having been discriminated against purposefully by others intent on discrimination solely because the members of the group share a certain characteristic.

2. It must have demonstrated that it is relatively powerless in political terms to defend itself against this discrimination.

3. The basis for the discrimination must be an immutable trait of the group experiencing discrimination, a trait that, on the face of it, does not warrant the stigmatizing discrimination to which the group is being subjected (as with pigmentation or gender).

4. And, finally, the ongoing, systemic, legally codified treatment of the group by those with political power must be grossly unfair.  

The Obama administration's decision not to defend DOMA implies that this law does, in fact, subject gay and lesbian citizens to a kind of unwarranted discrimination that falls under the purview of the equal protection clause.

So, though their statement about the DOMA decision professes to deplore anti-gay discrimination, what the U.S. Catholic bishops are continuing to ask for in their response to the decision is actually this: the bishops are asking for the "right" of Catholics to continue discriminating against LGBT persons in the name of religious freedom.  This is that argument I've been analyzing since the start of the new year, in which Catholic officials insist that the right of religious freedom trumps all other rights, and that this right trumps, in particular, the "alleged" human rights of gay and lesbian persons. 

This is the same argument that Austen Ivereigh uses in his two recent America postings (and here) about the proposed change in how the United Kingdom will handle civil unions and religious marriages.  As I have noted, Ivereigh actually encourages the Catholic bishops of the U.K. to be bold, as they "stand up against equality laws which had the effect of diminishing religious freedom."

Mr. Ivereigh is encouraging a group of Catholic bishops to stand up against equality!  And to call this anti-equality stand a bold and praiseworthy move among followers of Christ.  Take his argument apart and see what he is actually asking the bishops to do, and it comes down to this: the bishops are being encouraged to argue that their religious freedom is impeded by the decision of other faith communities to bless same-sex unions.  

Mr. Ivereigh is arguing that the religious freedom of Catholics and others opposed to same-sex marriage in the U.K. should trump the rights of any faith community--e.g., the Quakers--that has decided that it can no longer support the discrimination inherent in the two-tiered system of unions-marriages in the U.K., and which wishes to celebrate gay unions or marriages.  This is hardly an argument for freedom: it is, in fact, an argument for the precise opposite.  It is an argument for the right of one faith group to impede the freedom of other faith communities and of the public at large, by insisting that the faith group's understanding of marriage control civil law.

As I noted last Labor Day, in August 2010, the U.S. Catholic bishops joined other leaders of the religious right to send a letter to send a public letter to Congress demanding that the U.S. government continue to respect their "right" to practice religiously based discrimination in hiring and firing decisions.  One of the key issues of concern to those sending this letter to Congress is the question of the rights of workers to be protected from discrimination on grounds of sexual orientation.  The bishops are arguing--explicitly so--for the "right" to continue discriminating against LGBT employees in Catholic institutions, as they see fit.

The Catholic bishops of the U.S. continue to argue for the "right" of Catholics and Catholic institutions to practice-faith-based discrimination against those who are gay and lesbian.  This bogus argument about religious freedom and the right of religious freedom to trump the "alleged" human rights of those who are gay and lesbian is at the heart of the bishops' response to the decision of the Obama administration that DOMA is unconstitutional and indefensible.

And here's the interesting observation that a reader named Peter Stockton makes to National Catholic Reporter's summary of the USCCB response to this DOMA decision:

The General Counsel of the USCCB, in a statement that has inexplicably disappeared after only one day on this website, wrote that disciminating against homosexuals was a matter of religious liberty. He argues that the Church and its institutions (such as Catholic Charities), and its affiliated institutions (such as Catholic hospitals and universities) should be allowed to discriminate against homosexuals (in such matters as health benefits, visitation rights, survivor's benefits, etc.) while at the same time receiving tens of millions of dollars from US taxpayers in the form of Medicare, Medicaid, social service grants, student loans, research grants, Homeland Security grants, etc., money taxed from all Americans, Catholic, Protestant, Muslim, Buddhist, Hindu, Jew, atheist, etc. and including the taxes of homosexuals and legally married homosexuals. This he calls "religious liberty." If the bishops' lawyer imagines such an egregiously self-serving argument would pass muster in the federal courts, then the USCCB should get a new lawyer.

Catholics who keep dropping your dollars into the collection baskets at Sunday Mass: please be warned.  This is what you are helping to fund: gross, institutionalized, religion-based discrimination against a vulnerable minority group, which uses your dollars to try to remove or block the right of civil marriage for gay and lesbian persons throughout the U.S., to support video productions and media campaigns that depict gay and lesbian human beings in ugly prejudicial terms, to send letters to Congress demanding that the bishops have the "right" to discriminate against gay and lesbian persons in manifold ways in Catholic institutions.

As I stated when I dealt with Mr. Ivereigh's argument for the "right" of Catholics in the U.K. to block any faith community which wishes to celebrate gay unions or marriages within the context of the faith community--the right to stand up boldly against equality!--there will come a day, and it won't be far down the road, when people of moral acumen will look back at this point in history and shake their heads as they ask, What did Catholic leaders ever imagine they were doing, when they stood against equality for a persecuted minority?

And tried to convince us this was a noble and Christlike action?

No comments: