As part of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) “Fortnight For Freedom” campaign, the USCCB has enumerated a number of threats to Americans’ religious liberty. Besides the on-going battle with the Obama Administration regarding the HHS mandate and the gutting of funding to Catholic programs that fight human trafficking, the bishops want us to be aware of these perils to religious liberty:
- Catholic foster care and adoption services. Boston, San Francisco, the District of Columbia, and the State of Illinois have driven local Catholic Charities out of the business of providing adoption or foster care services—by revoking their licenses, by ending their government contracts, or both—because those Charities refused to place children with same-sex couples or unmarried opposite-sex couples who cohabit.
- State immigration laws. Several states have recently passed laws that forbid what they deem as “harboring” of undocumented immigrants—and what the Church deems Christian charity and pastoral care to these immigrants.
- Discrimination against small church congregations. New York City adopted a policy that barred the Bronx Household of Faith and other churches from renting public schools on weekends for worship services, even though non-religious groups could rent the same schools for many other uses. Litigation in this case continues.
- Christian students on campus. In its over-100-year history, the University of California Hastings College of Law has denied student organization status to only one group, the Christian Legal Society, because it required its leaders to be Christian and to abstain from sexual activity outside of marriage.
- Forcing religious groups to host same-sex “marriage” or civil union ceremonies. A New Jersey judge recently found that a Methodist ministry violated state law when the ministry declined to allow two women to hold a “civil union” ceremony on its private property. Further, a civil rights complaint has been filed against the Catholic Church in Hawaii by a person requesting to use a chapel to hold a same-sex “marriage” ceremony.
In January, 2013, the Barna Group published a survey of Americans’ thoughts regarding the threat to religious freedom. Some of their findings:
Slightly more than half of adults say they are very (29%) or somewhat (22%) concerned that religious freedom in the U.S. will become more restricted in the next five years. As might be expected, those who are religious are more concerned than those who aren’t—particularly Christians more so than those adherents to other faiths. Practicing Protestants (46% very concerned) are more worried about this prospect than others; yet, 30% of practicing Catholics are also concerned. Barna-defined evangelicals, who meet a series of nine theological criteria, are among the most likely to be concerned about such restrictions (71%). Not only are most Americans worried about the future of religious freedom, many feel the restraints have already started. One-third of adults believe religious freedoms have grown worse in the last decade.
G.K. Chesterton once said, “Religious liberty might be supposed to mean that everybody is free to discuss religion. In practice it means that hardly anybody is allowed to mention it.” Let us hope it doesn’t actually come to that.