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Transition in religious freedom from beliefs to hatred

2011-NOV: American Civil Liberties Union
criticizes Catholic Church for using religion to
discriminate. ACLU has campaign opposing
the use of religion to discriminate.

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A number of gay-positive groups have reprinted the following news release by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) circa 2011-NOV-18:

We have been unable to find the original posting on the ACLU of the first two articles which formed part of a news release.

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From Louise Melling, deputy legal director of the ACLU:

"Earlier this week, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops launched a campaign calling for a right to use religion to discriminate. They want us to think that religious liberty is in jeopardy and that they are the victims. Let's be clear: religious liberty is not at risk, the guarantee that everyone is treated fairly and can live their lives free from discrimination is what is at stake here.

We all have a right to our religious beliefs, but it does not give us, including the Catholic bishops, the right to use our religious beliefs to ignore the law and to put other people's health and lives in jeopardy or to treat people unfairly.

Unfortunately, this is part of a growing trend. We see with increasing frequency institutions and individuals claiming a right to discriminate in the name of religion"

  • We see students training to be school counselors refusing to treat teens because they are gay;

  • We see agencies that receive public funding withholding adoption licenses from same sex couples and

  • We see the bishops calling upon Catholic hospitals to refuse to provide emergency abortion care.
In each case, religion is being invoked as a license to discriminate.

We've seen this before. In the 1960s, we saw institutions object to laws requiring integration in restaurants because of sincerely held beliefs that God wanted the races to be separate. We saw religiously affiliated universities receiving public funding refuse to admit students who believed in interracial dating. In those cases, we recognized that requiring integration was not about violating religious liberty. We recognized that religious liberty does not mean imposing your views — however heartfelt — on others.

The bishop's campaign is no different. The bishops are a wealthy and powerful lobbying organization with political actors in every capitol across the country. We know that they don't represent the views of the average Catholic. Catholics overwhelmingly use contraception, have sex before marriage, and support gay rights, including legal recognition for same-sex couples and adoption by gays and lesbians." 1

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From Daniel Mach, director of the ACLU Program on Freedom of Religion and Belief:

"The ACLU is a strong advocate for religious freedom; for nearly a century we have defended the rights of all religious believers — from majority and minority faiths alike — to practice their religion. We've defended the rights of students to wear Catholic rosaries to school and to hang the Ten Commandments on their lockers; we've represented Christian street preachers, picketers, and prisoners to worship according to their faith; and we've brought cases on behalf of churches, synagogues and mosques seeking permits to build houses of worship.

But the right of religious exercise is not absolute. Once organizations like the Bishops agree to perform vital social services on behalf of the government — with taxpayer funds -- they have to play by the rules, and ensure fair, nondiscriminatory access to those services.

Regulations like the HHS guidelines requiring insurance coverage for contraception already include an exemption for core religious institutions, including the Catholic Church, while ensuring that other organizations that have broader public mandates and functions who employ and serve diverse populations do not deny basic coverage for their employees, many of whom do not share their religious beliefs or views on contraception.

There's no reason for the administration to expand the exception and allow employers like hospitals and universities to discriminate by denying their employees and their families contraception coverage. Virtually all sexually active women use birth control -- no matter their religion. These guidelines are tremendous for women. It's critically important they stay intact.

The fundamental promise of religious liberty in this country doesn't create a blanket right to ignore civil rights laws, promote particular religious viewpoints and impose religious restrictions with taxpayer dollars, or deny critical health care to others." 1

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From: Robyn Shepherd, writing on the ACLU Blog of Writes: "ACLU Lens: Using Religion as an Excuse for Discrimination."

"This week, the U.S. Conference on Catholic Bishops is holding its annual meeting in Baltimore. The bishops are the lobbying arm of the Catholic church, and they hold substantial sway over lawmakers. But instead of focusing on issues like poverty or the economy, the bishops are instead complaining loudly that recent laws broadening women’s access to contraception and granting same-sex couples the freedom to marry amount to an assault on their religion.

However, as this Media Matters piece attests, this is hardly the case.

The bishops complained of anti-Catholic bias when the Obama administration declined to award them a contract to administer a program assisting victims of sex trafficking because the bishops refused to allow program funds to be used for abortion and contraception services and referrals. HHS instead gave grants to organizations that enable these women to get the care they need (legal aside: the ACLU has an ongoing case challenging that initial grant, and will continue litigating to ensure that government money is never used to impose any set of beliefs on vulnerable victims). Media Matters dissects the bishops’ arguments as articulated in a recent Washington Post piece by Michael Gerson.

The Gerson piece attempts to gloss over the fact that trafficking victims are often sexually abused, which is why it is critical that they have access to a full range of reproductive health care. Media Matters points to a British study that found that 95 percent of trafficking victims in Europe report being sexually assaulted.

Additionally, Media Matters shows that the bishops do not speak for the overwhelming majority of American Catholics, 78 percent of whom believe that rape victims should have access to abortion care and 63 percent of whom believe that insurance should cover contraception.

With facts like these, it is a matter of good sense, not animus, that the administration gave the contract to groups that will allow victims access to critical reproductive health services.

There’s no question that the Constitution allows everyone to practice their religion as they see fit. However, the Constitution does NOT allow one particular group to impose its beliefs on everyone else with federal money. That is exactly what the bishops are seeking to do. Nobody’s religious liberty is in jeopardy here. It is the right of others to live free from discrimination that is in danger.

And it’s not just the bishops. We’re seeing cases in which students training to be guidance counselors refuse to help teenagers in crisis because they are gay. We are seeing adoption agencies that use government funds refuse to adopt to same-sex couples. We are hearing of hospitals facing censure for providing a critically ill woman with an abortion in order to save her life. The bishops are not the victims here.

Our government’s top priority should be to ensure that everyone is treated fairly and respectfully, in accordance with our constitutional values. Allowing one particular faith to dictate how others should live does nothing to achieve this."

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The ACLU's campaign to "End the Use of Religion to Discriminate:"

ACLU anti-discrimination banner

The American Civil Liberties Union has launched a campaign to end the use of religion to discriminate. On their web site, they state:

"With increasing frequency, we are seeing individuals and institutions claiming a right to discriminate – by refusing to provide services to women and LGBT people – based on religious objections.  The discrimination takes many forms, including:

  • Religiously affiliated schools firing women because they became pregnant while not married;

  • Business owners refusing to provide insurance coverage for contraception for their employees;

  • Graduate students, training to be social workers, refusing to counsel gay people;

  • Pharmacies turning away women seeking to fill birth control prescriptions;

  • Bridal salons, photo studios, and reception halls closing their doors to same-sex couples planning their weddings.

While the situations may differ, one thing remains the same: religion is being used as an excuse to discriminate against and harm others."

You can subscribe to their monthly newsletter by writing an eMail to LibertyNewsletter@aclu.org. You can unsubscribe by eMailing the same address. 3 

See also a 2012-JUN letter by Laura Murphy, director of the ACLU's Washington legislative office

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References used:

The following information sources were used to prepare and update the above essay. The hyperlinks are not necessarily still active today.

  1. "ACLU on the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops and using religion to discriminate," Windy City Media Group, 2011-NOV-19, at: http://www.windycitymediagroup.com
  2. Robyn Shepherd, "ACLU Lens: Using Religion as an Excuse for Discrimination, ACLU Blog of Rights, 2011-NOV-17. at: http://www.aclu.org/
  3. "Using Religion to Discriminate," ACLU, at: http://www.aclu.org/using-religion-discriminate
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