“My freedom, your slavery” was how Interfaith Alliance President Rev. Dr. C. Welton Gaddy described the conflict between individual conservative religious liberty and increasingly strident liberal social demands. Speaking at the leftwing Center for American Progress (CAP) on December 12, 2013, Gaddy and his fellow panelists displayed modern American liberalism’s skewed quasi-Orwellian understanding of religious rights and personal behavior.
Gaddy addressed CAP’s event “Religious Liberty for Some or Religious Liberty for All: How the Conservative Campaign for ‘Religious Liberty’ Undermines Fairness and Liberty for All.” An eponymous CAP paper available to the audience set the panel’s tone. While a “core American value,” religious liberty served a “conservative backlash” as “cover to…turn back the clock” on “marriage equality or…women’s reproductive rights.” Supposedly “losing on the merits of the issues,” the “opponents of progress” are “weaponizing” religious liberty.
Yet “religious liberty for everyone…includes the freedom from having the theological doctrines of your boss or those of business owners in your community being forced upon you.” Otherwise a “monopoly on religious liberty” would “play favorites with certain theological beliefs.” Thus the paper criticized “pharmacists refusing to stock or fill prescriptions for contraception or hospitals refusing to perform life-saving abortions,” thereby weakening a “constitutionally protected right.” In an earlier CAP article cited by the paper, CAP Faith & Progressive Policy Initiative Director Sally Steenland condemned the denial of same-sex “wedding” services by a “host of…commercial establishments.” These included “bakers, caterers, jewelers, photographers, wedding-dress shop owners, [and] tuxedo-rental owners.”
“Progressive values are mainstream American values,” the paper meanwhile asserted. Stating that the “vast majority of Catholics disagree with the bishops” over contraception and that “most major religions view…family planning as a moral good,” the paper swept over a wide range of birth control controversies. Any abortion reservations also received similar dismissal in the statement that “most Americans…agree” that to “believe that a zygote equals a human being…should be a matter of faith and not law.” Supposedly a “majority of Americans back marriage equality” as well “and even more” oppose “legalizing discrimination” of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgendered (LGBT) individuals.
“American values and simple fairness dictate that a person or institution cannot simply pick and choose which laws they want to follow,” the paper concluded. This entailed the “need to negotiate concerns about religious liberty in a pluralistic democracy.” According to CAP’s cited polling data, though, a “majority of the public believes that our existing laws strike the right balance” on religious liberty, although other polls strongly suggest the opposite.
Panelists and audience members further elaborated in their discussions the paper’s arguments. Sarah Warbelow, the pro-homosexual Human Rights Campaign’s state legislative director, for example, asserted that most “lay Catholics” support “marriage equality.” Audience member Sara Hutchinson, domestic program director from the abortion-supporting (and, like CAP, George Soros-funded) Catholics for Choice, also stated that the “bishops do not speak for the lay people of the church” on abortion. “Lots of people in the hierarchy are just as frustrated” and feel that traditional mores are “hurting us and our religion,” Gaddy added in discussing the Catholic Church. Thus audience member James Salt, director of the leftist (and also George Soros-funded) Catholics United asked the panel about how to “better accommodate” in the Catholic Church the panel’s values. NARAL Pro-Choice America Deputy Policy Director and General Counsel Lissy Moskowitz, meanwhile, considered it “crazy” during the panel that “birth control is up for debate in the 21st century.”
In contrast to the “victimization…strategy of the religious right,” Gaddy and other panelists worried about businesses refusing to support same-sex “weddings.” Calling upon all to recognize the “freedom of someone they don’t like,” Gaddy described how this refusal reminded him of past racial segregation “signs in the marketplace.” Steenland also evoked this well-worn analogy of the homosexual with the civil rights movement as well and wondered about this rejection being a “particularly American thing to do.” In this context, homosexual couples experienced a “little bit of trepidation” in entering wedding businesses, Warbelow said.
Warbelow likewise mentioned the possibility of religious objections preventing the filling of a hormonal prescription for a transgendered person. Religious objections could block homosexual adoptions and LGBT participation in university groups despite “all comers” policies. In school regulations Warbelow decried “license to bully provisions” allowing for moral and religious objections to LGBT behavior.
Religious opposition to abortion also met with the panel’s disfavor. American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) lawyer Eunice Rho criticized how pro-life religious exemptions for medical personnel violated “proper standards of care.” Rho discussed thereby the recent ACLU lawsuit against the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) because a Catholic Michigan hospital had followed a USCCB health care directive prohibiting abortion.
The ACLU charged the hospital with inflicting suffering upon a woman by refusing even to mention abortion as a response to a complicated and ultimately miscarried pregnancy. “Where was the right of conscience” for medical personnel wanting to perform an abortion in this case, Gaddy asked. He was “proud of the ACLU because they are taking on the Catholic bishops.” Moskowitz, meanwhile, rather unconvincingly speculated about other religious denials of medical services such as blood transfusions.
Rho thus warned that legal religious exemptions would “affect all our interests” and criticized in particular various versions of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA). As enacted or under consideration in numerous states, RFRA could prohibit “any burden” of religious belief absent a compelling public interest under judicial interpretation standards of strict scrutiny. Warbelow similarly worried that RFRAs would make LGBT provisions “very difficult to enforce.”
The panelists in particular rejected any legal religious objections by corporations that, the CAP paper argued, “are not human beings—they have neither bodies nor souls and were never intended in existing law, the Constitution, or common sense, to possess religious liberty.” CAP Action Fund president and CEO Tom Perriello introduced the panel joking about “whether corporations can go to heaven” and discussing the “incorrect legal theory” of the current Hobby Lobby lawsuit against the Obamacare contraception mandate. As discussed by Steenland at the panel, the CAP paper additionally speculated about “free exercise of religion” claims used “simply for the purpose of gaining a competitive or financial advantage.” At any rate Moskowitz did not understand the objection of businesses like Hobby Lobby that “do not provide directly” contraception but rather merely through an insurance company.
“History and the law,” according to the CAP paper, “recognize religious-freedom protections only for individuals and nonprofit, religious entities.” Such analysis raises the question why the religious freedom of profit and nonprofit entities along with their individual participants depends upon differences in corporate characteristics. Many of CAP’s leftist allies, for example, have criticized hospital mergers with Catholic healthcare systems for eliminating abortion and contraception services. This analysis also calls into question longstanding judicial recognition of corporations as legal personalities, something understood even by opponents of this recognition.
Conservatives only want “religious liberty for themselves,” Gaddy concluded in light of religious objections to LGBT agendas, contraception, and abortion. “We did not want separation of church and state” anymore, Gaddy added in discussing his own rejection of the “fundamentalist” ascendancy in the Southern Baptist Convention. Asked by an audience member from the Washington Area Secular Humanists about conservatives demanding a “Christian privilege” equivalent to “male” or “white privilege,” Gaddy considered this analogy “exactly right.”
Given that the United States is “not a theocracy” but a democracy in which the “Constitution is our guide,” Gaddy argued, this required that “you have to live with diversity.” Thus Gaddy wanted “to get us back to what the foundation of religious liberty has been all the time” and demanded therefore to “restore the importance of civics in our schools.” “Religious liberty is a great term, but it’s amorphous,” Steenland added.
The threat to religious liberty expressed by Steenland and others at CAP, however, is all too concrete and widespread, given, for example, her lengthy list of businesses servicing weddings. Under CAP’s constitution explicated by Gaddy, corporal practices like abortion, contraception, and homosexuality are all apparently beneficent inalienable human rights, however recent (or temporary) their societal acceptance. Those supposedly few recalcitrant religious believers who support various traditionally-respected principles with appeals, among others, to an absolute authority must “negotiate” away freedom of conscience. Liberty defined by CAP accepts only all-encompassing active acquiescence in, and not abstinence from, other individuals’ actions lest anyone accommodate a moral objection. The conscientious individual following God may not dissent from the state collective will as approved by CAP. Christians and other believers must act and pray so that CAP’s views do not prevail.