USCCB issues statement with multiple examples of how religious liberty is “under attack”

The USCCB’s ad hoc committee on religious liberty issued a statement yesterday. It’s worth reading in its entirety.  Of note, the statement makes a point of including “concrete examples” of “religious liberty under attack” that are in addition to the HHS mandate. The following are quotes in ital from the Catholic News Service report on the statement. Following the quotes are my criticisms against the claims.

— Immigration laws in Alabama and other states that "forbid what the government deems 'harboring' of undocumented immigrants — and what the church deems Christian charity and pastoral care to those immigrants."

Perhaps this is a nod to the “social justice Catholics” (or, as I like to call them, “Catholics”) in an attempt to get them on the Religious Liberty Bandwagon. But I’m willing to concede that my cynicism has gotten in the way and the bishops are genuinely concerned about such immigration laws getting in the way of our right to practice our faith. However, as a co-worker correctly pointed out when we were discussing these “concrete examples,” these laws seem less of an attack on religious liberty and more of an attack on human rights.

— Discrimination against Christian students on college campuses.

The bishops are referring to the situations at Vanderbilt University and University of California, where the groups that refuse to comply with the schools’ non-discrimination policies are being refused student organization status. Not one argument made in favor of these groups’ noncompliance has been successful in demonstrating how they are being attacked. Neither university is forcing the organizations to do anything but allow applications for leadership. Additionally, are these two incidents enough to warrant the claim of widespread attacks on religious liberty?

— Government actions in Boston, San Francisco, the District of Columbia and the state of Illinois that have "driven local Catholic Charities out of the business of providing adoption or foster care services" because the agencies would not place children with same-sex or unmarried heterosexual couples.

In other words, the state is trying to determine how state money is used for programs funded by the state. Again, this isn’t something I consider an attack on religious liberty. Catholic agencies can continue to provide adoption and foster care services, but they won’t receive the state contracts. And, just like with the claim regarding Christian students on college campuses, it’s pretty hard to see how non-compliance with a non-discrimination policy counts as practicing religious freedom, while not getting to enjoy the privileges that come with compliance counts as an attack.

— Changes in federal contracts for human trafficking grants that require Catholic agencies "to refer for contraceptive and abortion services in violation of Catholic teaching."

See my above comment. Plus, a judge already ruled that it was a First Amendment violation for the government to allow the church to dictate the terms of how the federal trafficking programs were run, not the other way around. However, as Religion Dispatch’s Sarah Posner writes, “[T]he decisions of the courts are not respected by the Bishops, but rather dismissed out of hand as further evidence of discrimination against them.” (Sarah Posner’s been one of the few lucid voices criticizing the religious liberty claims. I recommend her RD post on the new religious liberty document.)

Obviously, I’m finding it hard to buy that the Catholic Church is under attack in the United States. Additionally, I’m troubled that any criticism for the bishops’ campaign (which does seem to line up rather neatly with the 2012 election season) is interpreted as being anti-Catholic, as it’s absolutely not a matter of faith and morals to interpret the HHS mandate (or any of the “examples” above) as an attack on religious liberty.

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Meghan Murphy-Gill

Meghan Murphy-Gill is a writer living in Chicago. Read more from her at