Religious Liberty Threats: Two Recent Incidents Raise Serious Concern and Show the Road Ahead May be Rocky

101914Two stories recently in the news illustrate that the path for religious liberty is going to get increasingly rocky in the days ahead. Up until now, the main dispute of the Church with the federal government has been over the “HHS Mandate” requiring us to provide contraception and abortion coverage. We have seen some legal victories on this front, but the battle is far from over and the cost in terms of money, time, and other resources has been enormous.

The two new cases involve same-sex attraction. One case centers on certain rights being afforded to “gay” (LGBTQ) citizens and religious objections to this. The second case involves requiring certified Christian ministers to perform same-sex unions.

With these sorts of cases, there are always going to be those who want to argue the subtleties of the particular case and thereby suggest we ought not get too worked up about things because there are just small technical issues at stake. But beware the incremental quality of these sorts of things. Abortion was originally championed only in those rare cases in which the “life or health of the mother was at stake.” The open sale of contraceptives was originally only to be to married couples and surely minors would be prevented from purchasing them. Now things have gone so far that children are not only supplied with contraceptives, but are referred for abortion without parental consent or even in spite of parental objections.

Yes, things begin in small, “restricted,” and subtle ways. Gradually we are desensitized and barely notice that our liberties are being stripped from us. Many think that it will never happen in America, that a minister speaking to his congregation about moral issues would face penalties for it. This is America, after all, and we have constitutional rights to speech and religious liberty!

Well, stay sober, my friend. Liberties of any sort are seldom taken away instantly. Rather, the thing to be more concerned about is their steady erosion.

Let’s look at these two cases. The first is from Houston and the excerpts that follow are from an article in Time magazine. The full article is here: Houston Pastors’ Sermons Subpoenaed

Houston, … in recent days … subpoenaed sermons of several pastors who oppose a recently passed equal rights ordinance for gay and transgender residents. The subpoenas are an attempt by city officials to determine how the preachers instructed their congregants in their push to get the law repealed …

The law, passed into law by Mayor Annise Parker in May, is often derided as a “bathroom bill,” because it allows transgender individuals to choose whether to use a male or female restroom.

… Mayor Parker, meanwhile, has pledged not to enforce the ordinance until there’s a court decision. But the move by the city to subpoena Houston’s pastors, who have been vocal on the issue and have urged their congregants to support a repeal referendum, has drawn national attention …

“The chilling effect of government scrutiny of our pastors is unconstitutional, and unconscionable,” Tony Perkins [of the Family Research Council] said in a statement. “Mayor Parker’s use of her bully pulpit to silence pulpit freedom must be stopped in its tracks.”
Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott also issued a letter saying the city impinged on the pastors’ First Amendment rights and called for the subpoenas’ immediate reversal … “The people of Houston and their religious leaders must be absolutely secure in their knowledge that their religious affairs are beyond the reach of the government.”

… Mayor Parker and City Attorney David Feldman appeared to backtrack on the subpoenas Wednesday, saying they had only recently learned of them and that outside lawyers handled the lawsuit. They argued the city is merely looking for communications from those pastors regarding the petition drive, but that the subpoenas’ language was inappropriate.

“There’s no question the wording was overly broad,” Parker said in a news conference Wednesday. “But I also think there was some deliberate misinterpretation.”

Feldman, the city attorney, called the uproar over the wording “ridiculous,” but also has argued that if a pastor is speaking about political issues from the pulpit, it’s not protected.

Note especially the final line of the quote, wherein our concerns are called “ridiculous,” but even more important, note that the city attorney refers to concerns over the public advancement and legal protection of the LBGTQ agenda as “political.”

Never mind that for some 5,000 years the Judeo-Christian moral tradition has spoken of homosexual acts (as well as heterosexual acts of fornication and adultery) as sinful. That’s right, never mind all that. The city attorney gets to tell us that the concerns that these pastors are raising are simply “political.” Note that it is he who gets to determine that, and that it is the government that will back up his assessment with penalties simply because it is speech that he or other officials determine is “political.”

Many speak in the same way about abortion. Many a Catholic priest who has spoken about abortion from the pulpit has been scolded for “talking about politics” in church. But of course abortion is, first and foremost, a moral issue. Sadly, it is been usurped into the political process, where different parties largely take opposing sides.

To some degree the same thing is happening regarding homosexual acts and whether they should be affirmed or provided special legal protection. But just because this moral issue has been drawn into the political process does not mean that it is no longer a moral issue.

The government does not have an unrestricted right to tell ministers what is a political and what is a moral issue. It will be granted that outright partisan politics from the pulpit is a bridge too far. In churches that have tax-exempt status, the ministers ought not say, “Vote for candidate ‘X’ or “Vote straight party line ticket ‘B’.” But on an issue by issue basis, churches and ministers can and must speak to the moral issues of the day.

Things like theft, murder, lying, illicit sexual activity, greed, and so forth remain moral issues no matter how these things play out in the political process. A government attorney does not get the right to tell a minister that moral  issues, constantly held by the Judeo-Christian tradition extending back 5,000 years into record human history, are now simply “political” issues.  Any person of good will ought to see that this is chilling.

Not only are the government officials saying this, but they are threatening with penalties those whom they say transgress. The word subpoena, as you probably know, means (literally from the Latin) “to be under penalty.” In other words, if compliance is not forthcoming, penalties will follow. SO this is not just a debate over semantics of what is political and what is moral. This is a matter that, had the law gone forth, was going to carry the force of law and involve penalties.

Yes, stay sober, my friends. Although the government officials in Houston walked this back a bit, calling it just a big “misunderstanding,” this is just the first shot across the bow.

The Second Story is even more sobering:

City officials told Donald Knapp that he and his wife Evelyn, both ordained ministers who run Hitching Post Wedding Chapel, are required to perform [same-sex] ceremonies or face months in jail and/or thousands of dollars in fines. The city claims its “non-discrimination” ordinance requires the Knapps to perform same-sex wedding ceremonies now that the courts have overridden Idaho’s voter-approved constitutional amendment that affirmed marriage as the union of a man and a woman.

[A Lawyer for the minsters said] “Many have denied that pastors would ever be forced to perform ceremonies that are completely at odds with their faith, but that’s what is happening here – and it’s happened this quickly. The city is on seriously flawed legal ground, and our lawsuit intends to ensure that this couple’s freedom to adhere to their own faith as pastors is protected just as the First Amendment intended.”

“The government exists to protect and respect our freedoms, not attack them, The city cannot erase these fundamental freedoms and replace them with government coercion and intolerance.”

The Hitching Post Wedding Chapel is across the street from the Kootenai County Clerk’s office, which issues marriage licenses. The Knapps, both in their 60s and who themselves have been married for 47 years, began operating the wedding chapel in 1989 as a ministry. They perform religious wedding ceremonies, which include references to God, the invocation of God’s blessing on the union, brief remarks drawn from the Bible designed to encourage the couple and help them to have a successful marriage, and more. They also provide each couple they marry with a CD that includes two sermons about marriage, and they recommend numerous Christian books on the subject. The Knapps charge a small fee for their services.

[Last] Friday, the Knapps respectfully declined such a ceremony and now face up to 180 days in jail and up to $1,000 in fines for each day they decline to perform that ceremony. (These are excerpts, full story here: Government Threatens Ministers for Not Performing Same-Sex Weddings)

Let me say from the outset that I am not a big fan of this sort of “wedding chapel” ministry. Couples need to spend time to prepare and not rush out from getting a license and go across the street to a “hitching post.” However, the couple has been doing this for over forty years and are “ordained” ministers who do focus their effort in religious themes and settings.

Whatever my personal reserve about their catering to impulsive couples, it is surely though not the place of the government to compel them to perform their religious ceremonies for people whose clear behavior violates the ministers deep-seated religious beliefs.

Yet it would seem that this is exactly what is happening if the facts are reported correctly here. Carterers, photographers, and others are facing the same penalties nationwide.

Now this leads to a very critical point in the religious liberty issue: it is not the Church alone that has religious liberty, but YOU, the American citizens have religious liberty. The State should not be able to compel you to violate deeply held religious beliefs.

It will be granted that a compelling concern could permit the State to overrule a religious practice. For example if a religious group called for child sacrifice, that would create a compelling State interest in preventing the exercise of such a grave violation of natural and civil law. But the ability of a same-sex couple to be able to do as they please in terms of a “wedding” venue is not a compelling State interest.

Further, the religious concern in play here is not some obscure doctrine but one that has been operative for millennia, and only recently abandoned by some.

Yes, be sober, my friends, the steady erosion of religious liberty continues apace in this country. Political correctness, cultural change, intolerance, and expansive government power are becoming the “perfect storm” that is eroding the religious liberty of many. The storm may still seem offshore to many, but its outer bands are already spreading a dark mantle over the land.

Here’s a video that speak of storms that come when we do not resist sin:

36 Replies to “Religious Liberty Threats: Two Recent Incidents Raise Serious Concern and Show the Road Ahead May be Rocky”

  1. I agree with the author of the article. No government should have the right to tell Christian Pastors, priests, deacons, etc…or Jewish Rabbis, or Muslim religious leaders what to preach or how to preach it, period. I found it interesting that only the Christian Pastors were asked to curtail their sermons and turn in written versions of their sermons to their Mayor of Huston, TX but not the Rabbis or the Muslims religious leaders. Orthodox Jewish people and Muslims also believe the same thing we do morally speaking with respect to Homosexuals.

  2. Thank you Msgr. Pope for not only keeping us informed but offering a realistic perspective on this matter. I’m not sure where too many Catholics have fallen into positivism where they assume the Holy Spirit will not allow our government to persecute the Church and I think that’s a serious misunderstanding of what trust in the Holy Spirit is, or at least should be.

      1. Not that I can see. You said it was going to be about requiring ministers to perform same-sex unions, but there don’t seem to be any details about anything except the first case.

          1. Your posts under attack again as followers of darkness intrude and try to conceal some of the light? Reminds me of the hacking, and resultant repairs of such, in the past.

  3. There is also the case in Couer d’ Alene, Idaho where a couple who have been ordained evangelical ministers of the Four Square Gospel Christian Church for decades are being threatened with a 180 day fine and a $1,000 a day fine for each day they decline to marry a same sex couple at their wedding chapel. City officials claim they are violating a non-discrimination statute that includes sexual orientation and gender identity after the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals struck down Idaho’s constitutional amendment defining marriage as a union between a woman and a man. The couple have run this chapel since 1989 and refuse to perform same sex unions based on religious principles. The city claims their wedding chapel is a for profit, public establishment and falls under the city statute guidelines.These backdoor tactics toward forcing all Christian religions into compliance with a secular government agenda is the dissolution of the separation of church and state.

    1. I believe with this couple it is because they are a business. They don’t “own” a church. People go to their Hitching Post and they are a FOR PROFIT company. That is what a lawyer on one of the talk shows mentioned, at least. Still, whatever happened to the “no shirt, no shoes, no service” policy? Could a person not wearing shoes or shirts sue? I feel many of these couples are seeking places out just so they can sue.
      Why else would you want someone to marry you if they don’t believe in the same thing?

      1. Well as I say, beware of the “subtleties” This is just the first shot. Most parishes collect money for weddings, sign contracts with couples etc. This is just the first shot, meant to desensitize, and I suspect you have bought it, hook, line and sinker. They are “ordained” do offer religious services. etc.

        But MORE IMPORTANTLY Mary, how have we gotten to a place in this country where individuals, EVEN IF THEY ARE RUNNING A BUSINESS, lose their religious liberty and are required to do business with anyone who offends or requires them to go against their religious beliefs. Why not require Jewish Deli’s to serve pulled pork sandwiches and serve Ham and cheese while were at it.

        You see, you’ve already been desensitized and think the Govt has a right to compel people to do business who people who offend against deeply held religious beliefs.

  4. Half of the blog post seems to be missing. Only one case is addressed, where’s the second case?

  5. The Church needs a Moral Manifesto…

    Perhaps the Catholic Church should come out with a list of beliefs about morality, in addition to the Decalogue, in a document similar to a Didache, which clearly states what the Church’s unchanging position has been, is, and will continue to be in regard to “acts” which are “intrinsically evil” or “disordered,” to include the potential personal, societal and eternal effects of such “acts” (the “so what” or “why”), and make that our “manifesto.”

    We need a clear Catholic Christian Moral Manifesto which is published – like a symbol or creed – something that can be printed on a pocket card like a prayer card.

    If we don’t, the beliefs about morality get eroded. The 10 commandments are not eroded because they are in a short list, unchangeable, thoroughly understood. We need a Moral Manifesto which is also unchangeable and a good tool for communication and catechesis.

    No, the Catechism is not good enough – it is way too verbose; need a list – a manifesto – a one-pager.

  6. I have been saying for a long time that it is just a matter of time before homosexuals coerce the courts to require churches to perform homosexual “weddings” under the aegis of public accommodation laws, using the fact that clergy sign government marriage licenses as a rationale that a church wedding is, in fact, a public act and not a mere religious ceremony.

    The case in Couer d’ Alene, Idaho is of particular concern and is the way of the future with those who are pushing for homosexual unions. The particular justification for the penalty was the “public accommodation” laws that require that “protected classes” be accommodated. For now, there is a religious exemption, but, as we see in this case, the fact that the Knapps’ are ordained ministers does not protect them (as they were operating a for-profit wedding chapel). How long will it be before the mere fact that a marriage license is signed by the ordained minister renders an actual church wedding a “public act” requiring “public accommodation?”

    Though the case in Houston is more spectacular and got the bulk of the press, the case in Couer d’ Alene is, in my mind, far more dangerous.

    For those who think that I am hyperventilating in regard to the desire to co-opt the Church, let me refer you to this Time Magazine op/ed published over 3 years ago. It as much as declares that they won’t be satisfied until they can have marriages celebrated in St Patrick’s Cathedral in NYC:

    Marriage without a church or temple wedding isn’t the real thing. Why can some people have all the bells and whistles in the church of their choice but not me? Of course, there have been and will be congregations and churches that allow gay men and lesbians to be married in their midst and to bless those unions, recognizing that God loves them just as much as Governor Andrew Cuomo does. But some rich and influential religious institutions are not only free to continue to reject gay men and women as equal beneficiaries of all aspects of faith but will now also rally their congregants to reject politicians who are willing to abide with this extension of secular civil rights — no matter how much acceptance there is of same-sex marriage elsewhere, no matter how many wedding announcements appear in the New York Times.

    Having said that, there is very little new under the sun. Leo XIII indirectly warned about the corruption of marriage by the State all the way back in 1880 when he published his Encylical Arcanum:

    …Yet, owing to the efforts of the archenemy of mankind, there are persons who, thanklessly casting away so many other blessings of redemption, despise also or utterly ignore the restoration of marriage to its original perfection. It is a reproach to some of the ancients that they showed themselves the enemies of marriage in many ways; but in our own age, much more pernicious is the sin of those who would fain pervert utterly the nature of marriage, perfect though it is, and complete in all its details and parts. The chief reason why they act in this way is because very many, imbued with the maxims of a false philosophy and corrupted in morals, judge nothing so unbearable as submission and obedience; and strive with all their might to bring about that not only individual men, but families, also — indeed, human society itself — may in haughty pride despise the sovereignty of God…

    While the specific concern at the time was that civil authorities were going to make divorce available on a widespread basis, his concerns ring even more true in these days.

  7. Thank you Rev.Msgr, for your well worded article .One can sense the angst in your heart , which many of us too need to have !

    Your words about the exemption in the case of the state having to step in, to prevent evil such as child sacrifice seems to highlight what is going on in our midst ,since it is the very state that sanctions , promotes ,even compels those who disagree ( through the HHS mandate ) the very thing you mention here – abortion being a satanic sacrifice , to the god of fear and despair , presumption that anything one chooses to do is o.k with God as well , thus making oneself and the agents one tthus choose to follow , the real gods !

    The heads of our state having bowed down to such gods ( molech ) , what can be expected !

    Thank God The Church is under the Headship of The Lord , in fidelity to Him ; hoping that the Sacramental Churches ( Orthodox with the valid Eucharist but possibly also having gone under illicit ‘camelisation ‘ pacts under Islam ) joining with the Holy Father , would bring forth the miracle , like it did for communism
    and many / most who profess the Christian faith would see where the safe harbor can be, to deal with the dragon , atleast joining The Church and Her teachings at the heart level, shedding all animosity towards Her, repenting of such , in the past as well !

    May the mercy of The Lord deliver many from the grip of the evil one, to see what and where true freedom and joy is !

  8. Thanks for posting the blog post.  For the record, however, you left off some important letters to the lgbt acronym.  Things get complicated fast when you leave God’s plan! 🙂

    LGBTQQIP2SAA – Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender,

    Two Q’s to cover both bases (queer and questioning);
    I for Intersex, people with two sets of genitalia or various chromosomal differences;
    P for Pansexual, people who refuse to be pinned down on the Kinsey scale;
    2S for Two-Spirit, a tradition in many First Nations that considers sexual minorities to have both male and female spirits;
    A for Asexual, people who do not identify with any orientation; and
    A for Allies, recognizing that the community thrives best with loving supporters, although they are not really part of the community itself.

  9. @ John, I must say how sad it is that so much effort is put into defining oneself as a sexual act.

    Regarding the first case, at what point does the religious MAJORITY fight back and try to ban any reference to morality in Political speech. Since politicians don’t seem to understand the concept, it would surely be in the public interest.

    Also, wasn’t there another case where a Christian officer was suspended for refusing to require his officers (or himself) to attend Islamic education classes.

    Jesus is under attack my friends. It’s time to wake up and take a stand.

    1. I’m not sure who your comment is directed towards. All through this onslaught to normalize perverted sexual acts, the advocates of such have been assuring us that it won’t affect believers in true marriage (i.e. between a man and a woman). Well, the two cases here appear to demonstrate that all that was talking through a hat.

  10. Given that our Supreme Court has ruled that corporations are people and thus protected by the First Amendment, I think they would protect religious institutions and their employees in a similar manner. These individual cases do create some noise and are of concern…but I think the chances of a binding legal ruling at Supreme Court level are about 0%.

    1. Jamier,

      You said, Given that our Supreme Court has ruled that corporations are people…

      Keep in mind that the Holy See has a very similar construct in Canon Law, called juridic persons (In fact, the very idea of a corporate personality for the purposes of law was actually created by the Holy See). Frankly, I’m not sure why, because of the lnkage to Canon Law, why the US Church did not come out in favor of Citizens United. But that is tangent.

      Having said that, the position taken by the courts to date is that both natural and juridical persons who offer services to the public are required to comply with public accommodation laws regardless of the religious views of the person. While the Supreme Court has ruled in Hosanna-Tabor that religious organizations (as juridical persons) are entitled to have a “ministerial exception”, that exception referred to the hiring and firing of employees…it did not deal with the services offered to the public.

      We, as Catholics, assume that performing the sacrament of marriage would be similarly protected by the Religion Clause of the First Amendment. I think that this is a particularly dangerous assumption because of the fact that marriage is not simply a sacramental act, but is an act that has implications in civil law.

      20 years ago (or even 10 years ago), which of us could honestly say that homosexual civil marriage would be mandated as a legal, constitutional mandate in 30+ states?

      If Justices Scalia or Thomas cease serving on the bench within the next 2 years, I would say that it will be a foregone conclusion that churches will be ordered to perform weddings for homosexual people. Even if they don’t, I would not rule out SCOTUS ruling in that way (consider the outcome of Windsor).

    2. The whole purpose of incorporation is that the company is treated as a single legal person. That way, it can enter into contracts, sue and be sued, own property, etc. Indeed, the very word “corporation” is from the Latin for “body,” that is, to be treated like a single body, i.e. person. The Church herself is and has for 2000 years been deemed to be a single person.
      People may scoff at the idea today. But before some partisans started objecting after Citizens United, it was a wholly unexceptional idea. That the partisans objected merely showed their ignorance about centuries of law.

      From Blackstone’s Commentaries, Book 1, ch. 18 (1765-69) —
      WE have hitherto considered persons in their natural capacities, and have treated of their rights and duties. But, as all personal rights die with the person ; and, as the necessary forms of investing a series of individuals, one after another, with the same identical rights, would be very inconvenient, if not impracticable ; it has been found necessary, when it is for the advantage of the public to have any particular rights kept on foot and continued, to constitute artificial persons, who may maintain a perpetual succession, and enjoy a kind of legal immortality.

      THESE artificial persons are called bodies politic, bodies corporate, (corpora corporata) or corporations : of which there is a great variety subsisting, for the advancement of religion, of learning, and of commerce ; in order to preserve entire and for ever those rights and immunities, which, if they were grated only to those individuals of which the body corporate is composed, would upon their death be utterly lost and extinct.

    1. The ordained Ministers of God are being controlled to act against the Word of God. Never mind the sodomites,

      they have their own free will to do what they do. The ordained ministers are required to do God’s Will, and

      thats that.

  11. The battle was lost when the majority of Catholics (and other Christians) jumped on the contraception and divorce bandwagon. We married couples cannot truly say Christ and His Church are important to us if we use any means necessary to avoid having the blessings (children) He wants to provide us. Homosexual “marriages” are by nature sterile but then so are most others today by choice. Too late we come to the battle, too late we ask the Lord to be on our side when we need to get on His (Joshua 5:13-14). Faithful priests and bishops have been crying out for generations and few heeded their call and now we face this relentless apostasy.

      1. Msgr, I apologize for sounding so pessimistic. My solution is the biblical one: prayer, fasting, and repentance. Christ could never lose; as my former Baptist pastor used to say “I’ve read the back of The Book- I know who wins!”

  12. In the first story from Houston, ministers are under subpoena because they “are non-profit”. In Idaho, ministers are threatened with penalties because they “are for profit”. So I guess the underlying thread is, they are under scrutiny because they…”are”. Once they “are no longer” or say nothing at all, I assume they’ll be in the clear.

    1. I’ve never cared for this idea that “profit” is somehow this class that allows PC thugs to come in a dictate how you run your business. It’s saying in effect that if you want to make a living, check your conscience at the door.

  13. “The law, passed into law by Mayor Annise Parker in May, is often derided as a “bathroom bill,” because it allows transgender individuals to choose whether to use a male or female restroom.”

    If we can’t stop the freak show then let’s do this:

    Male Restroom, Female Restroom, ?????Restroom.

    Can’t we understand that Transgender people are suffering from mental illnesses?

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