WASHINGTON, D.C. (Christian Examiner) – Religious conservatives want nothing more than to put their jack boots on the throats of those who do not hold their values, two prominent liberal activists argued in an opinion editorial in the Baltimore Sun June 18.
Jon O'Brien, president of the pro-abortion Catholics for Choice, and Barry Lynn, president of Americans United for Separation of Church and State, claim in the piece that the upcoming campaign of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops called Fortnight for Freedom, which celebrates religious freedom, is not about "the freedom to bear witness" to the gospel, as the bishops claim.
It is instead, they say, about the oppression of those within the Catholic Church who do not hold to the church's views on the family, abortion and same-sex marriage.
According to Baltimore Archbishop William Lori, chair of the USCCB's religious freedom committee, the church has been cast as a group of "cultural warriors" stuck on issues like religious freedom and the defense of marriage, identified by some as "entirely identifiable with a far-right partisan agenda."
Lori said as the conference began discussing its program on religious liberty in November 2014 that "the struggle for the struggle for religious liberty is essential to the Church's teaching on the life and dignity of the human person and is linked directly to the ability of the Church to bring the Gospel to the margins."
"Religious freedom first and foremost inheres in the individual," Lori said. "And so, as pastors of souls, we are concerned with individuals who want to buy health insurance without paying for contraception and abortion and we're concerned for people who run businesses who do not want to become implicated in supporting same sex 'marriages' or be forced to include abortifacient drugs in their employee health insurance plans."
"We worry that state universities decertify Christian associations because they are unwilling to have atheists lead them. We are concerned that individuals' jobs are on the line if they bear witness to their faith a bit too overtly. We think of magistrates and justices of the peace who have been penalized because they refuse to solemnize same sex marriages. The list of violations against the religious freedom of individuals is long," Lori said in 2014.
Those views on religious freedom, however, do not square up with Lynn and O'Brien. They claim the bishops are supported by "a range of other extremist religious business interests" and openly want to oppress others.
"This defense of religious liberty campaign is about as disingenuous an effort as any carnival huckster could conjure. In true Orwellian style, the bishops beg for the freedom to discriminate against others while all the while wrapping their campaign in the language of flag, freedom, religion and country," the two wrote in the Baltimore Sun.
The extremist religious business interests threatening the U.S. public at large? It is composed of Christian-owned businesses like Hobby Lobby, according to O'Brien and Lynn.
Both claim the Christian business wanted to deny the right of contraception to its employees and the Obama administration was complicit in its victory. In Burwell v. Hobby Lobby, the Supreme Court ruled the company could not be required to cover abortion-inducing drugs (abortifacients) in its health plans when the owner of the private company objected on religious grounds.
That was a tragedy, according to the activists.
"It was the Obama administration's failure to stand up to the powerful Catholic/religious business lobby — in an effort to rescue contraceptive coverage in the Affordable Care Act — that gave way to the idea that one exception creates many rules. Those rules have been, and will be, used to discriminate against American citizens. If you have the misfortune of working in a Catholic parochial school, or Catholic-run hospital, university or charity, chances are that in the future, you will not be entitled to exercise the same rights other American citizens," O'Brien and Lynn wrote.
In the editorial, the Catholic Church is described as "mean and nasty" for believing taxpayer money should not be used to distribute condoms or provide abortifacients. O'Brien and Lynn also claim religious organizations with doctrinal beliefs that marriage should only be between one man and one woman are out of touch with American public opinion and should be held accountable by the government for refusing to hire a homosexual whose lifestyle contradicts their religious beliefs.
"And yet, this is the shopping list that extremist religious groups — from the USCCB to World Vision to Rick Warren's Saddleback Church — want to sell you as 'religious liberty.' What we have been arguing, from a Catholic and a secular point of view, is that religion should never be used to discriminate. We can't have freedom of religion without guaranteeing freedom from religion. It must be a two-sided coin."
According to the activists, freedom of religion means "freedom from religion" in all aspects of public life. And they also say Catholics, in general, are not concerned about government coercion so there is no need for the USCCB to discuss it.
At the conclusion of the editorial, O'Brien and Lynn claim the Catholic Church and conservative evangelicals are in the pocket of the Republican Party and worse, they say, big Republican money will be used to support candidates who promise to protect religious liberty if elected to office. Both men say, however, that Americans really do not understand religious liberty or the threat Republican "religious extremists" pose to the country.
"Unless we grab hold of our politicians and shake them firmly in the coming election cycle, a dark cloud of religious discrimination is going to descend upon the very freedoms we hold dear" O'Brien and Lynn claim.