Intention: For the intercession of the saints to fortify and encourage all those facing religious persecution.
Reflection: Today we celebrate the feast of St. Edith Stein, who was born into a Jewish family in 1891 in what is now Wroclaw, Poland. During her studies in philosophy, she encountered the writings of the great Carmelite mystic, St. Teresa of Avila, who inspired her conversion to Catholicism in 1922. In 1933, she joined the Carmelite Order, taking the name Teresa Benedicta of the Cross.
Edith faced significant adversity during her early years in religious life. Recognizing the risk she presented to her fellow sisters during World War II because of her Jewish background, Edith left for Holland and entered the Carmel of Echt. Edith, however, was captured by Nazis and later taken to Auschwitz, where she died in the gas chambers on August 9, 1942.
St. Edith Stein stands as a profound witness for all who seek to live for the truth. Let us recall her words spoken just a few days before her death: “If I cannot share the lot of my brothers and sisters, my life, in a certain sense, is destroyed.” We pray ardently for the grace to stand courageously in the face of religious persecution.
Did you know? Last year, Pope Benedict XVI told the diplomatic corps that even in today’s time, “In many countries, Christians are deprived of fundamental rights…; in other countries they endure violent attacks against their churches and their homes. At times they are forced to leave the countries they have helped to build because of persistent tensions and policies which frequently relegate them to being second-class spectators of national life.” Read more about current threats to international religious freedom.
- Learn about the Bishops’ Call to Prayer for Life, Marriage, and Religious Liberty
- Sign the pledge to fast on Fridays for life, marriage, and religious liberty
- Join the Call to Prayer Facebook event
But would ministers really be forced to officiate at the “wedding” of two persons of the same sex?
This question is a red herring. In other words, it is a false caricature of the real concerns about religious liberty, and is actually used to distract from the real concerns. It is unlikely in the extreme that the State will force ministers and churches to officiate same-sex “marriage” ceremonies, although it is easily foreseeable that many church ministers and communities could be sued in court over this question. There are, however, other more probable and pervasive concerns.
Red herring (n): something intended to divert attention from the real matter at hand; a misleading clue. (Word buffs would be interested to know that this – literally – colorful phrase received its meaning from the supposed use of smoked fish by fugitives to put bloodhounds off the scent.) In this context, the “red herring” is the assertion that the threat to religious liberty by redefining marriage is that ministers would be forced to officiate at ceremonies contrary to their beliefs about marriage. While laws mandating churches to hold same-sex “weddings” have been passed or proposed in a few countries, so far this threat to religious liberty has not surfaced seriously in the United States. All the same, as the above paragraph states, it is “easily foreseeable” that litigation could commence against churches that continue refusing to host same-sex “weddings.” Only time will tell.
What’s the real threat to religious liberty posed by same-sex “marriage”?
The legal redefinition of marriage can threaten the religious liberty of religious institutions and individuals in potentially numerous ways, involving various forms of government sanction, ranging from court orders compelling action against conscience, to awards of money damages and other financial penalties, to marginalization in public life:
Note the open-ended phrase “potentially numerous” as a descriptor for how changing marriage law could affect religious liberty. Given the pervasiveness of marriage throughout the law (see earlier post), there is no way to know exhaustively exactly what religious liberty conflicts could occur where marriage is redefined.
The following is a categorization of sorts of the various types of religious liberty conflicts that could emerge as a consequence of marriage redefinition laws, with real-life examples.
Compelled Association: the government forces religious institutions to retain as leaders, employees, or members those who obtain legalized same-sex “marriage”; or obligates wedding-related businesses to provide services for same-sex “couples.”
Example: Christian organization in New Jersey found guilty of violating state’s nondiscrimination law for not permitting the civil union ceremony of two women on its property.
Compelled Provision of Special Benefits: the government forces religious institutions to extend any special benefit they afford to actual marriage to same-sex “marriage” as well.
Example: Catholic hospital in New York sued by employee for not providing health benefits to her female “spouse.”
Punishment for Speech: preaching, political action, or conversation reflecting moral opposition to same-sex “marriage” represents actionable “harassment” or “discrimination,” or forbidden “hate speech”.
Example: Consultant for California-based business fired for writing a book in which he argued against redefining marriage.
Exclusion from Accreditation and Licensure: those who adhere to the definition of marriage are excluded from participation in highly regulated professions and quasi-governmental functions, as licenses are revoked and religious institutions lose accredited status.
Exclusion from Government Funding, Religious Accommodations, and Other Benefits: those who adhere to the definition of marriage are excluded from receiving government grants and contracts to provide secular social services, and from various tax exemptions.
Example: Catholic Charities in Illinois, Massachusetts, and Washington, DC have closed their adoption and foster care services because of laws that would require them to place children with same-sex couples.
Finally, Religious Liberty FAQ #6 lists several more examples of threats to religious liberty that have taken place over the last decade or so:
Have any of these threats come to pass?
Yes. Examples include, but are not limited to, the following: the extension of married student housing to same-sex “married” couples (a Catholic college in MA); the extension of spousal employment benefits to same-sex “domestic partners” (Catholic Charities in Portland, ME); the loss of funding and licenses to provide adoptions for refusal to place with same-sex couples (Catholic Charities in Massachusetts, DC, and Illinois); the imposition of tax penalties for preaching about marriage amendments (Montana); and the loss of state tax exempt status for a religiously-affiliated camp (New Jersey). These threats have been manifest in other countries as well, often to an even more persistent and invasive extent.
Regarding the last sentence’s mention of “persistent and invasive” threats to religious liberty in other countries, just one example would be that of Canada. A recent article cited a number of conflicts between Christians and the government related to marriage law. For example, the bishop of Calgary, Alberta, “was threatened with litigation and charged with a human-rights violation after he wrote a letter to local churches outlining standard Catholic teaching on marriage.” As the author of the article summarizes, “What we’ve discovered in Canada is that…once gay marriage becomes law, critics are often silenced by the force of the law.”
Next: Two handouts on marriage and religious liberty
Fortnight for Freedom posts:
- What is religious freedom?
- St. Thomas More, married saint and hero of religious liberty
- Sunday Pope Quote: Fortnight for Freedom edition
- How are marriage and religious liberty connected?
- How could changing the legal definition of marriage have any effect on religious liberty?
Archbishop Silvano Tomasi, the Permanent Observer of the Holy See to the United Nations, addressed the UN Human Rights Council on March 9 regarding a report on “Discriminatory Laws and Practices and Acts of Violence against Individuals based on their Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity.” In his remarks, Archbishop Tomasi emphasized that the Catholic Church rejects violence against any one for any reason. In addition, the Church has repeatedly and specifically condemned violence against persons who experience same-sex attraction, calling such violence “deplorable,” for example, in a 1986 letter sent from the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith to all bishops. As that letter stated, “The intrinsic dignity of each person must always be respected in word, in action, and in law.”
At the same time, Archbishop Tomasi raised a concern that the language of the above-mentioned UN report confused the just protection of persons from treatment antithetical to their dignity with the unjust proposal to redefine or further erode marriage. So while the report asserts that “States are not required, under international law, to allow same-sex couples to marry,” it goes on to say that States have an obligation “to ensure that unmarried same-sex couples are treated in the same way and entitled to the same benefits as unmarried opposite-sex couples.”
Commenting on this passage, Archbishop Tomasi told the Human Rights Council,
In this regard, the Holy See expresses grave concern that, under the guise of “protecting” people from discrimination and violence on the basis of perceived sexual differences, this Council may be running the risk of demeaning the sacred and time-honoured legal institution of marriage between man and woman, between husband and wife, which enjoyed special protection from time immemorial.”
Continuing, the Archbishop reminded those assembled that marriage makes a key and irreplaceable contribution to society:
Marriage contributes to society because it models the way in which women and men live interdependently and commit, for the whole of life, to seek the good of each other. The marital union also provides the best conditions for raising children; namely, the stable, loving relationship of a mother and a father; it is the foundation of the natural family, the basic cell of society.
Marriage’s identity explains the state’s responsibility toward it, explained Archbishop Tomasi: “States confer legal recognition on the marital relationship between husband and wife because it makes a unique and essential contribution to the public good.”
Finally, the Archbishop cautioned against the consequences of redefining marriage:
If marriage were to be re-defined in a way that makes other relationships equivalent to it, as has occurred in some countries and as the High Commissioner seems to be encouraging in her Report, the institution of marriage, and consequently the natural family itself, will be both devalued and weakened.
- Read the entire text of Archbishop Silvano Tomasi’s speech at News.Va: “Holy See addresses UN Human Rights Council on Gender”
- As reported by Catholic News Service: “Recognizing gay unions devalues marriage, official tells UN council“