March 30, 2015 by Alex Johannigman
Every now and then I get a request to write about a specific subject, usually because it is in the news or it is something that is affecting his or her life personally. Recently I got the following request from a reader:
“I think you should write a blog about the religious freedom bill going on and our role as Catholics in regards to it (I’m seeing many posts from friends on Facebook from my college days in Indiana and I can’t figure out if or how it fits into our catholic teaching). But I do believe we should have the right to express our religious beliefs without persecution which I thought it supported…I feel all I encounter is more hate and division by people that only want nondiscrimination if it means rights and equality for people in same sex relationships but not if you wanna live any other way or don’t support it the same way. It’s so hypocritical to me right now. “Don’t discriminate against me but I’ll discriminate against your beliefs if they are different” bleh”
For those who aren’t yet aware, progressive media outlets have been losing their minds this past week over the passage of SB 101, also known as Indiana’s version of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, a federal law that was passed nearly unanimously in 1993 and signed by President Bill Clinton. Businesses have publicly threatened to pull their business out of Indiana, including my beloved GenCon (which has since backed down on that stance), and political commentators have begun likening Indiana to an anti-gay dystopia.
In reality, this makes Indiana the 20th state to pass such a bill, and one of 31 states that have either passed a similar bill or state court decision. States have been passing these laws since 1997 when it was ruled in City of Boerne v. Flores that RFRA could only be applied federally and not on the state level. I thought this was important background information, since you may think from all of the negative backlash that Indiana is the first state to ever be so bold as to reaffirm the first amendment. In reality, they’re doing this a lot later than a lot of other states, many of whom (like Illinois and Pennsylvania) are traditionally identified as much more liberal than Republican dominated Indiana.
So why is it such a big deal now? My bet is that it has to do with the timing. Most of the other states passed these laws in times when gay “marriage” was not being widely debated, and cases about religious liberty had more to do with the government infringing on Native American rituals, moose hunting for Native Alaskan rituals, and Amish buggies. Those cases have been replaced in recent years by proceedings like:
-The t-shirt company charged with human rights violations for the crime of not printing gay pride shirts.
As well as aggressive public backlash from the left against
-Catholic priests who follow Church law
-Fast food restaurants whose owners haven’t pledged allegiance to their cause
-Christian TV hosts on the Home and Garden Network who believe what the Bible says
–Tech CEOs who donated to legislation protecting traditional marriage
You get the idea.
So the political climate is admittedly different, but was the law any different? I’m not a legal expert so there is little use for my opinion on that matter, so here is an analysis of the differences between Indiana’s bill and the federal RFRA, as well as an article written by a legal scholar who supports gay “marriage” who still argues that passing this law is a good idea. In short: “I should stress–and this point was totally lost in the Indiana debate–that RFRA does not provide immunity. It only allows a defendant to raise a defense, which a finder of fact must consider, like any other defense that can be raised under Title VII or the ADA. RFRA is *not* a blank check to discriminate.”
Here are a few examples of cases involving RFRA in recent history. If you look carefully you’ll note that they aren’t related to white Republican Christians kicking gays out of their stores because they were holding hands.
Essentially, after doing a bit of research and reading what the law actually says, I lost a little bit more faith in what passes for journalism these days. We’re falling more and more victim to “news” that is essentially sensationalizing, exaggerating, and lying about events in ways that will sell more issues and attract more web traffic. *sigh*
Now to get to the actual question: What are we as Catholic supposed to do about it?
One of the reasons I am Catholic and find so much truth and joy in Catholicism is that it is a faith that affirms that every human has value and ought to be loved and respected. Pope St. John Paul II taught in Love and Responsibility that “the only proper and adequate response to the human person is love.” We have an obligation to practice our faith as the Church teaches, but also to love others as ourselves, which can often get complicated.
Sometimes our faith requires us to stand against the views of others. In fact, it seems like in recent years we are more often than not called to stand against what is popular and support what is unpopular. The Church asks us to do that because certain actions, including many which are quite common, do not show love for the human person. We believe that gossip is bad because it hurts feelings and devalues the human that we are gossiping about. We believe that pornography is bad because it objectifies a human being. We believe that lying is bad because it intentionally deceives another person who deserves the truth.
But this issue is specifically about how we are to treat our brothers and sisters who are sexually attracted to people of the same sex. If we are supposed to love all human persons, what does that look like when someone is doing something that we know is wrong?
A distinction has to be drawn between supporting actions and supporting people. As Catholics we have to always support and love people, regardless of the sins that they struggle with. Some sins may be more public than others, such as cohabiting with someone you aren’t married to or entering into a romantic relationship with a same-sex partner, but we all have sins. Most of us gossip from time to time. We’re prideful. We struggle with lust and envy. To refuse to love someone, or do business with them, because of the sins that they struggle with, would be evil. End of story. Don’t do it. Not to mention it would mean you’re going out of business because you won’t find any perfect people to sell your product to.
However, we are also called to not support sinful activities. For example, if a friend says she needs a ride to an abortion clinic, or some money for the procedure, we can’t support that friend’s decision. In fact, it would be unloving to do so, since doing so would be encouraging her to commit a mortal sin and do damage both to herself and to her child. Rather if we do sincerely believe that abortion is harmful to her, the loving response is to tell her so and explain why in a spirit of love and charity rather than a spirit of judgment and condemnation.
A similar response is required when a friend, or a potential business customer, wants your support for something like a gay “wedding” ceremony. We can’t support that action, but we simultaneously ought to love that person, which means if you are going to refuse that business you better have a good explanation for why you feel like you are morally obliged to do so. “Because you’re gay” does not cut it, because you are saying that there is something wrong with that person that makes them unworthy of love because of the attractions they experience. You need to be able to explain why you hold that belief and what you understand marriage to mean, not tell them simply that your church says they are evil for wanting to be together. If you aren’t prepared to do that, you’re probably going to do more harm than good.
There are a lot of ways to support a gay friend/ acquaintance/ customer that don’t involve participating in a ceremony celebrating their union with their partner. I became friends with several chronic alcoholics last year while serving the homeless on the streets, but I would never take them to a bar, even if they asked me to. It wouldn’t be a loving response to them, but I simultaneously wouldn’t refuse to befriend them because of their addiction and harmful habit. I’d probably take them to a baseball game or throw a frisbee with them in the park while asking them about what’s been on their mind or what they’re most excited about right now.
Admittedly, attending a gay “wedding” or supporting it with your business is more of a gray area than going to a bar with an alcoholic friend, especially when a close friend or family member is the one who invited you, and many Christians have made good arguments for why the more loving response may actually be to attend such a ceremony. If you’re wondering how to respond to such an invitation, I’d encourage you to bring it to prayer, consult a spiritual director or someone you know who is familiar with the situation, and follow your conscience.
A country that was founded on the free practice of religion should legally protect the rights of its citizens to practice their religions in all arenas where faith may come into play. But when practicing our religion in the public sphere and faced with difficult decisions we have to always ask ourselves, by taking this action, am I loving God and loving my neighbor?