Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Dolan attempts Re-defining “Religious Liberty” for America.

I live in a heavily Jewish neighborhood in Los Angeles. Every Friday I see many of my neighbors walking (it is not permitted to drive on the Sabbath) with their families. Some of them wear clothing that would have been used in nineteenth century Eastern Europe. Some men simply wear conservative suits and yamaka their wives dressed in black or dark blue ankle length dresses.

My next-door neighbor is an Evangelical Protestant. Every Sunday, he and his wife, dutifully climb into their SUV and drive to their church for worship. The Buddhists down the block own a Thai restaurant and have a neatly manicured lawn. There is a gay couple a few doors down the street, one is an agnostic and the other is an atheist. There is a Church of Religious Science located at the end of our street. The Minister and his partner (a Roman Catholic) came to dinner a few weeks ago.

When I think of “Religious liberty” I think of my neighborhood in LA. Religious Liberty for me, and many Americans, means that you are free to follow your own conscience on matters of belief. That no one, no institution and most certainly not the government have the right or the power to dictate to you what you may or may not believe, or what dietary or adult consensual sexual practices you may or may not engage in predicated on those beliefs.

The Buddhist couple, although they are vegetarians, serve meat dishes to their customers who wish to purchase and eat meat. The local supermarket stocks and sells both kosher foods and bacon. When the city repaved our street, the Religious Science Church down the block offered its parking lot to local residents, so that they had a place to park their cars. They did not require us to convert to Religious Science for that convenience. Occasionally Jehovah Witnesses ring the doorbell, I am polite but have absolutely no desire or intention of joining their religion. The Hasidic Jews have not threatened to burn down the Religious Science Church because the Minster is gay and has a male partner.

I would be offended and vocal, if any of my neighbors were attacked or maligned because of their beliefs, or if some entity attempted to force them to change their beliefs. I hope my neighbors would also stand by me, if I were attacked or maligned due to my beliefs, or some entity attempted to forcibly change my beliefs. That is my understanding of “Religious Liberty.” However, Archbishop Dolan of New York City, the current president of the National Conference of Catholic Bishops [NCCB] has a radically different understanding of “Religious Liberty.”

“Citing the famous preamble to the Declaration of Independence, Dolan wrote that the rights of "life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness" are now "increasingly and in unprecedented ways under assault in America" because of administration policies.”

He goes on to list six items he believes impinge on “Religious Liberty.” These include:

1. Proposed regulations that requires private health insurers to cover contraceptives for patients who wish to use contraceptives.

2. Proposed requirements those religious aid groups, who accept federal money, to include condoms in their HIV prevention campaigns.

3. Dolan claims that “the religious conscience exemptions” in the proposals from the Department of Human Services “are not broad enough.”

4. Dolan also cites the administration's challenge to the "ministerial exception" rule, which will be argued Wednesday (Oct. 5) at the U.S. Supreme Court, which could determine whether churches have to conform to employment discrimination laws for workers who are not clergy.

5. Dolan also blasted the White House's decision not to defend the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), which defines marriage as the union of one man and one woman.

6. Dolan voiced frustration that neither he nor the previous USCCB president, Cardinal Francis George of Chicago, received responses to private letters sent to Obama. Dolan said that's partly why he decided to take the feud public.

Essentially, Dolan wants,

1. For your health insurance NOT to cover the cost of contraceptives that you chose to use.

2. To use your tax dollars as he wishes, without requirements attached for the use of public funds.

3. To be able to invoke “religious conscience exemptions” at will and at his personal discretion.

4. To apply “ministerial exception” not only to clergy, but also to secretaries, gardeners, custodians, bookkeepers, choir directors, musicians, housekeepers, accountants, security guards, and any other person employed by the Church. That means these employees, as a condition of their continued employment, had better agree with the NCCB.

5. The NCCB not elected representatives, to decide policy decision and civil law.

6. The President of the United States (and all other elected officials and Judges) to “consult” privately with the NCCB in the formation/implementation of laws.

Where did the Roman Catholic Hierarchy get the idea that they have the right and the power to do all of this stuff? The Emperor Constantine and fifteen centuries of dictating moral laws in Europe and Catholic colonies. Oh, and that little exercise of over ruling the California State Supreme Court on Prop 8 (with a huge check written by the Mormon Church's leadership in Salt Lake City).

Thankfully, President Obama and the Federal government are choosing to follow the example of most Roman Catholics (and many Catholic theologians/priests) and simply ignore Archbishop Dolan, the NCCB and the Vatican. True Religious Liberty grants religious entities the freedom to make the laws of their religion, which may be voluntarily followed by their believers, but it does not grant them the power to dictate the law of the land, so far.


Anonymous said...

Your neighborhood ¨street where you live¨ description made me homesick...we may have even lived on the same street in Los Angeles (I lived in a great old California duplex on 4th street for over a decade almost accross the street from the Religious Science Church on La Cienega corner)- my old neighborhood was a wonderful place and I NEVER felt unwelcome in the respectful relgious/people mixture but always exactly at home, appreciated even in the thick of my own ¨Gay¨ drunk to sober reality that nutured me back to emotional and spiritual good health in the hood (thanks to ¨Cedars¨ too)...true, just me and everyone else being the authentic people that God created us to be walking around...doesn´t get better than that...and I moved away in 1986!

Leonard Clark

Tal said...

Fr. Geoff, I love the description of your neighborhood. And I couldn't agree more.

If you read Benjamin Franklin's writings on diversity of religion and thought, Thomas Jefferson's written assurances to the Ursuline Sisters following the Louisiana Purchase, James Madison's theoretical arguments for religious liberty (not to mention the First Amendment, which he authored), and the other tracts and statements of our Founders, it's clear that Dolan and the theocratic right's attempts to convert dogma into legislation is entirely alien to the historic, legal and philosophical underpinnings of the United States.

Dolan might like the poetic vagaries of the Declaration of Independence, but it's of no legal relevance. He should try reading the actual law, including the First Amendment's requirement that government "make no law respecting the establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof[.]" (He should also read the 1797 Treaty of Tripoli: "the Government of the United States of America is not, in any sense, founded on the Christian religion" and that "no pretext arising from religious opinions shall ever produce an interruption of the harmony" between the U.S. and Tripoli. How radical these sentiments seem 214 years later.)

Jefferson's "wall of separation" is self evident in the bones of the Bill of Rights. And it applies not only to religion, but is part of the Constitution's much broader separation of public and private interests. As ultimately inculcated in the 5th and 14th Amendments, the power to discriminate is private, not public. Under our Constitution, majorities and elites are denied their tyranny.

Dolan and the theocratic right appear to have no understanding of these precepts. Rather, they would use and pervert the language of liberty to destroy it.

(Dolan makes this objective abundantly clear, because in addition to what you list, he also stated his intention to use government to prohibit "adultery" and "divorce." Advocate (Sept. 28, 2011). Needless to say, Jews, Muslims, Buddhists and many mainline Protestant denominations might have some objection to that.)

I would usually think Dolan's efforts farcical, expect so many politicians in highly influential positions appear to have no qualms about misappropriating government funds--obtained through general levies--to fund their churches, or about abusing legislative function to add police power to dogma.

Dolan seems to forget that he is a citizen of the United States, not the Prince-Bishop New York. I sincerely hope that his and the theocratic right's efforts to promote the Panzer Pope's authoritarian agenda meet with the sober, republican disdain they deserve.

Anonymous said...

As an ex-priest from St. Louis (which is where Dolan is from) I can honestly say he is not a vicious, evil man. He is incredibly kind.

His fault, as is the fault of almost all of the hierarchy, is that he buys into all that the Vatican says and refuses to use his considerable influence to counteract.

I am waiting for the day when the Vatican issues some sort of nonsensical directive and a bishop simply says: "BULLSH*T"

And I know for a fact that many of the bishops say those things privately among themselves. They just feel so constrained to adhere to Vatican policy. It's just going to take a number of them to stand up and say: "No, this is just idiotic".

Renshaw said...

I find this quote from the late Steve Jobs to be very true and very inspiring. I am also an ex priest - from the Diocese of Rochester. I have less than a charitable view of our bishops who have no backbone nor courage to stand up to the Vatican or the pope. They are mostly sycophants. Those that aren't are going to retire soon and are tired of trying to make even the most minute changes and finding monumental obstacles placed all around them. Benedict and all his men throughout the world are dismantling Vatican II brick by brick. If you liked the 50's, you're going to love the next decade or two!

"Don’t be trapped by dogma — which is living with the results of other people’s thinking. Don’t let the noise of others’ opinions drown out your own inner voice. And most important, have the courage to follow your heart and intuition. They somehow already know what you truly want to become. Everything else is secondary.” -- Steve Jobs


Anonymous said...

What a pathetic fate for the American Catholic intellect to be forced to pay attention to such thuggery.