The bishops are overreacting

The U. S. Conference of Catholic Bishops has launched its Fortnight of Freedom. The campaign was inspired the bishops' opposition to the contraception mandate in the Affordable Care Act, but has morphed into something that is either grander or more grandiose, depending on one's point of view.

The Los Angeles Times thinks the bishops have greatly exaggerated the threat to our liberties.

The bishops are free to argue, including in court, that the contraceptive mandate is a violation of the church's rights under the 1st Amendment and a 1993 federal law known as the Religious Freedom Restoration Act. (This page disagrees.) But some of the church's rhetoric has been shrill and simplistic. One bishop compared Obama to Hitler and Stalin, who, "at their better moments, would just barely tolerate some churches remaining open but would not tolerate any competition with the state in education, social services and healthcare."

Equally excessive was the church's response to the rejection Tuesday by North Dakota voters of a proposed Religious Freedom Amendment to the state Constitution. The measure would have allowed believers to disregard laws that offended their religious beliefs unless a "compelling government interest" were involved and the state used the least restrictive means possible to further that interest. It's true that the amendment was modeled on the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, which was approved overwhelmingly by Congress and signed by President Clinton. It also was subjected to farfetched attacks, such as the argument that it would allow parents who beat their children to escape punishment because they were employing "biblical discipline."

But in reacting to the amendment's defeat, the North Dakota Catholic Conference said, "We will not rest until religious freedom in North Dakota is protected in the law as a fundamental human right." Robust religious freedom — including an exemption for churches and religious schools from some generally applicable laws — is already protected in North Dakota and throughout the country by the 1st Amendment and Supreme Court decisions. Like the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, the North Dakota amendment would have provided protection for religion over and above what the Constitution guarantees.

The bishops and other critics can cry foul about the Obama administration's policies, but they shouldn't cry wolf.

The Christian Century finds the bishops' arguments wanting:

Under the First Amendment, religious believers have often been granted exemptions from general laws, such as laws requiring service in the military, or school attendance, or children’s vaccinations. But the logic of accommodation on religious grounds has never meant that the law in question—requiring military service, say, or vaccinations—is itself a violation of religious liberty and must be repealed. That is the argument that the bishops are trying to make, but it is muddled and unconvincing. As we wrote several months ago: the claims of religious consciences must be respected, but they are not a trump card that wins every argument in public policy.

One can agree, I think, with the bishops' argument against the Obama administration's policy as it now stands and still find this campaign excessive. What troubles me most about it is the bishops' ongoing attempt to cast themselves as victims. They are well-educated, well-fed, well-housed, and when they disagree with something that their government does, they are in a position to make an exceedingly loud noise in Congress and in the media. Yet they persist in a narrative of oppression. This suggests that the bishops are infected with a virulent strain of the self-absorption they deplore in the rest of the culture.

Comments (11)

At first I thought this headline was referring to the House of Bishops of the Episcopal Church with respect to the interwebs, twittering, etc. : )

Neil, would that it were only the bishops.

I am glad I am not the only one who thinks they are overreacting.

When the RC Church down the street put out signs for Fortnight of Freedom, I went to their website.

It really is just about them and their freedom.

I think it makes the Church look too self serving.

Rev. Kurt Huber
St. Peter's, Monroe CT

I absolutely agree. FWIW, I wrote an article for a local paper on this exact question a few weeks ago.

"The bishops are overreacting"

Jim, I think you're underreacting. ;-/

JC Fisher

I keep wondering what is to come of the rest of us who do not share their beliefs? What about OUR first amendment rights and our faith?

One has to laugh at the irony. How is their demand, to be free from obeying laws that religious offend them, any different from the Islamic press for localized sharia?

Moreover there is nothing to keep any church from providing services from its own pocket, but it is not the responsibility of the government to give them money to spread their particular brand of faith. Any church can run schools, hospitals and other social services without needing a dime of Federal money. What they want is the money and to propagate their brand of Christianity.

I suppose soon they will claim that shielding their pederasts is a religiously protected right too. The US Conference has long lost its moral capital.

Their reaction as victims is very much in keeping with the RCC’s episcopate. They have fostered that mindset in their church for generations here in the USA, and it has been very effective for them.

As long as they can portray their church and its members as an oppressed class of people, they can maintain the Catholic-ghetto mentality and keep control over their laity. This technique goes back even further than Pius IX and the 1864 Syllabus of Errors, which specifically cites Modern Liberalism (aka, constitutional democracy) as “reprobate and condemned”. An “attack” on the RCC is an attack upon the community, and therefore must be opposed, if not outright defeated.

And we cannot ignore the notion that the RCC episcopate screams bloody murder to divert laity’s attention away from its past crimes and dissolution of its credibility as a moral authority. They are still playing the victim card.

Kevin McGrane

Soon after I moved to the US in the 70's a co-worker commented, re my vocabulary, "I thought only people in Jane Austen said 'fortnight'". My experience since then has been that where US usage is concerned, she was right. Pretty pretentious of the bishops, or their PR gurus, to exhume it, isn't it?

"A Senight of Sanctity" coming soon?

Dear Fortnight of Freedom Folks,

The Good News is the First Amendment protects your right to be as bigoted, homophobic and/or sexist as you want to in the privacy of your own religion. The Better News is the First Amendment protects US from the bigotry, homophobia and/or sexism of your religion. Seriously, people! Get off the "attack on religion" high horse and read the freakin' Bill of Rights!

Susan Russell
All Saints Church, Pasadena

Apparently, employees organizing for health benefits and job security is also an affront to the religious freedom of the Church. Somewhere, Dorothy Day is revolving in her grave.

Susan Forsburg

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