Friday, December 19, 2008

Threats to Freedom of Conscience

As Paper Clippings notes today: "Right of conscience regulations are going to be a major political battleground in the next few years." In a last minute move, the Bush administration wrote rules to protect health providers from being required by their employment to participate in providing medical assistance and advice which violates their consciences. Preparations to persuade the new administration to reverse it are underway. Also, the Freedom of Choice Act (FOCA), which Barack Obama had pledged to sign during his campaign, would remove any conscience exceptions for health professionals, threatening the continuation of Catholic health facilities (see "Losing the Catholic Vote"). But conscience issues are not only a problem for health care providers.

The recent fight over Proposition 8 in California, a measure which outlawed same-sex marriage, was a conscious effort to protect religious rights. Most of the practical measures that a homosexual couple require, such as the ability to make health decisions for their partner, are already provided for in a civil union (see "Civil Unions Provide 90% of the Loaf. Take It"). As soon as homosexual marriage is recognized as a human "right", then any discrimination based on lifestyle would be a civil rights violation.

Take Boston, for example. There Catholic Charities was forced to begin providing adoptions to same-sex couples; under Cardinal O'Malley's direction the facility closed. It was not even an issue of taking federal money: the agency could no longer make a judgment on the suitability of the parents according to historical Christian and natural law criteria. Other cases show the same trend: Methodists in New Jersey were refused a tax exemption because they wouldn't perform civil unions, and in Iowa the YMCA was forced not only to recognize same-sex couples for purposes of membership but to change their charter to redefine families (Severino).

As quoted in "Banned in Boston", Maggie Gallagher posed the question of a trend toward infringement on conscience to a prominent religious rights attorney:

I PUT THE QUESTION to Anthony Picarello, president and general counsel of the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty. The Becket Fund is widely recognized as one of the best religious liberty law firms and the only one that defends the religious liberty of all faith groups, "from Anglicans to Zoroastrians," as its founder Kevin J.
Hasson likes to say (referring to actual clients the Becket Fund has defended).

Just how serious are the coming conflicts over religious liberty stemming from gay marriage?

"The impact will be severe and pervasive," Picarello says flatly. "This is going to affect every aspect of church-state relations." Recent years, he predicts, will be looked back on as a time of relative peace between church and state, one where people had the luxury of litigating cases about things like the Ten Commandments in courthouses. In times of relative peace, says Picarello, people don't even notice that "the church is surrounded on all sides by the state; that church and state butt up against each other. The boundaries are usually peaceful, so it's easy sometimes to forget they are there. But because marriage affects just about every area of the law, gay marriage is going to create a point of conflict at every point around the perimeter."

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Oh, boy. This is just like what happened over here. Adoption agencies, same-sex couples, big mess.

I'm hoping they have swept the whole thing under the carpet and the agencies can just sidestep all the weird legislation.

There must be some kind of third way round all this stuff. People want to get on with real life, ideologies asside.