Missouri bishop: ‘Ominous’ city anti-discrimination bill would impose state-enforced ‘secular religion’
In a hard-hitting letter, a Missouri Catholic bishop has denounced proposed legislation in his city intended to prevent discrimination based on “gender identity” and “sexual orientation,” saying it would in fact have the effect of imposing a state-enforced “secular religion” on religious believers.
“Do the people of Springfield really want to make criminals out of persons who are merely trying to live their faith?” Bishop Johnston, of the Diocese of Springfield-Cape Girardeau, asked in his September 30 letter, published on the diocese’s website.
“Does the government have a compelling interest in forcing every member of our society to participate in the celebration of same-sex relationships?”
Springfield is scheduled to vote on amending the City’s non-discrimination ordinance at its October 13 meeting to add sexual orientation and gender identity to the list of protected classes. The ordinance currently includes race, color, creed, religion, national origin, ancestry, disability and sex, according to the Springfield News-Leader.
But the bishop warned that his legal counsel has advised him that because the legislation lacks any relgious protections, it would require Catholic schools and parishes that allow outside groups to use their facilities to rent buildings and rooms on Church property for receptions, or even celebrations, of same-sex unions.
It could also criminalize requiring employees at diocesan schools to live according to Church teaching, with pastors and school principals able to be fined or jailed for up to six months, he said.
“Can the law treat with respect and dignity persons with same-sex attraction without prosecuting those with sincere conscience objections?” asked Bishop Johnston in his letter.
Bishop Johnston said he hoped his statement, Protecting Human Dignity and Religious Freedom, would assist Catholics and others of good will in forming their conscience in these issues.
“I also write with the hope and intention of reaching out with respect and honesty to those in the community who describe themselves as LGBT (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgendered),” he said.
Bishop Johnston explained that it is because the Church believes in the “inherent dignity” of human beings that it upholds even unpopular teachings on issues like abortion, euthanasia, and sexuality.
The world’s rejection of this dignity often comes with, or results from, a worldview that replaces faith in God with faith in “progress,” “history,” or “a blind faith in human technological power to recreate the world according to one’s own desires,” he said.
“Our cultural elites claim that, even in the context of marriage and parenthood, men and women, husbands and wives, mothers and fathers, are interchangeable—even though our basic biology makes obvious that this is not the case in forming a family or bringing new life into the world,” Bishop Johnston said.
He lamented that some judges, politicians, and activists now suggest that accepting a new “government-supported secular religion” is the price one must pay for membership in the American political community.
“Already some persons, who refuse to pledge full allegiance to this new creed, have lost their jobs, been driven out of business, or fined for living their convictions, what they believe,” said Bishop Johnston. “Something many of us never thought would happen in America.”
He stated that the proposed amendments are inadequate to protect the legitimate rights of religious institutions and individuals, and that given the area’s religiosity, plus anti-religious statements made before the City Council and in the media, omission of religious protections in the legislation was both “peculiar” and “somewhat ominous.”
“Our Constitutional right to freedom of religion is being reduced to freedom of worship,” Bishop Johnston warned. “We can believe as we wish inside our churches, mosques, and synagogues, but not live it in the rest of our lives.”
The Springfield City council will have two versions of the bill before it October 13, the News-Leader reports. One would apply to housing, employment and public accommodations, and the other would apply only to housing and call for a second Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity Task Force, the first being formed by the City in 2012.
Bishop Johnston urged the Springfield City Council to find a way to respect the conscience rights and civil rights of all its citizens.