Saturday, October 13, 2012

Archbishop's Misplaced Charge: Gay Marriage is a Threat to Freedom of Religion

My October 5 blog post for The Objective Standard concerns a New Jersey Archbishop's seemingly senseless assertion that "the legalization of gay marriage would threaten religious freedom." This was easy to debunk, and that's what my post does. Please read Archbishop's Claim that Gay Marriage Threatens Religious Freedom is a Threat to Religious Freedom.

There is an interesting sidebar to this story, however. This is an educated man, Archbishop John J. Myers, that made this claim. What was his thinking? The article I cited for the TOS blog post didn't give Myers' reasons for his claim, so I decided to do some digging. I looked for the text of Myers' official statement, which I couldn't find. Fortunately, fellow TOS blogger Ari Armstrong did, and in the text, Myers gives his reasons.

On page 15 of his Pastoral Statement, Myers states:

If our society enshrines a “civil” right to “marry” someone of one’s own sex, then any persons or groups that believe otherwise will be seriously disadvantaged in law and in fact.

What is the nature of these “serious disadvantages” Myers offers as proof of his contention that gay marriage threatens religious freedom? Let us examine them, point by point.

“Already we hear public officials and news organizations refer to those of us who hold the conjugal view of marriage as ‘bigots.’”

Do I detect a bit of defensiveness here? Or does Myers view the Church as above the free speech rights of others? Those who hold this “conjugal view of marriage” have the same free speech rights as their critics, and can use those rights to counter the charges and defend their viewpoint. What’s wrong with a little healthy public debate? Perhaps Myers senses--on some level--that the critics are, “in fact,” right. In any event, the right to freedom of speech and expression in no way conflicts with freedom of religion. In regard to gay marriage, this is a non-issue.

“States like Illinois and Massachusetts have made it impossible for Catholic Charities to provide adoption services.”

On this subject, the New York Times reports:

Roman Catholic bishops in Illinois have shuttered most of the Catholic Charities affiliates in the state rather than comply with a new requirement that says they must consider same-sex couples as potential foster-care and adoptive parents if they want to receive state money.

The bishops have followed colleagues in Washington, D.C., and Massachusetts who had jettisoned their adoption services rather than comply with nondiscrimination laws.

The government’s proper role here is to provide the legal framework that protects the rights of all parties, including the children, not to provide the funding. The culprit is government funding, which gives it direct control of the process by setting conditions for that funding. But, the impropriety of state funding aside, as long as the Church takes government money, it must abide by its conditions--conditions it presumably could have escaped by providing its own funding. (One can also argue that opponents of same-sex marriage are taxpayers too, which means their rights are being violated by being forced to support gay parenthood in contradiction to their beliefs. But these conflicts are inherent in the nature of taxpayer funding of anything.)

“Hotel managers, photographers, owners of reception halls, etc who hold to the view of marriage as a conjugal partnership have had legal or civil actions taken against them.”

The problem here are laws such as Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act, which ban “discrimination” in the private sector. Anti-discrimination laws related to proper governmental functions is appropriate, but the government must be neutral in regard to private associations. Owners of private establishments and businesses have a right to contract--or not--with whom they please, whatever the reason, just as people have a right to patronize--or not--whichever businesses they please. The right to freedom of association, like freedom of speech or religion, is absolute, so long as no one's rights are violated. The government has no right to dictate who you must associate with, just that you can freely choose your associations.

“How long would the state permit churches, schools or parents to teach their children that homosexual activity is contrary to the natural law if homosexual marriage were a civil right?  Already in Canada and other democratic nations “hate speech” laws have been used to harass or even arrest clerics who preach the Biblical message of marriage.”

It’s a bizarre stretch to believe that the American government would attack churches in this manner, given this country’s separation of church and state doctrine that forbids taxpayer funding of religion. Private schools that receive some form of government funding--ex., government vouchers--would undoubtedly have to comply with the strings attached. Public schools are, well, government schools. When we allowed tax-funded, government run public schools--or taxpayer subsidization of education in any form--we allowed government to determine what is taught. Will that intrusion into children’s education eventually extend right into the home? With government’s near monopoly on education, homosexual issues are the least of our worries.

All of Myers’ alleged religious freedom infringements are no such thing. The Church is a victim of government funding and private sector anti-”discrimination” and “hate speech” laws, which violate the rights to property, freedom of association, and freedom of speech, respectively. There is no fundamental conflict between the right to religious freedom and the right to gay marriage. These conflicts of rights only arise when government improperly intrudes in private affairs, and it is those rights-violating government policies, not gay marriage, against which the Church should be fighting.

These government intrusions do not excuse Myers’ assault on gay marriage, as two wrongs—or three or four—don’t make a right.

My conclusion, as I stated in my TOS blog post:

Freedom of religion means freedom not only to practice religion but also to be free from the imposition of others’ religious beliefs. The Catholic Church’s fight to keep gay marriage illegal violates this principle and the First Amendment’s Establishment and Free Exercise Clauses by attempting to impose its religious dogma on everyone else.

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