Bishops conference legal officer disputes Civil Liberties Union
is part of an "ongoing effort to force people of faith out of the public square."
Hillary Byrnes, assistant general counsel for the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, in a statement issued to Aleteia, challenged an ACLU official’s characterization of the bishops misusing the 1993 law designed to protect persons acting on their religious beliefs.
op-ed in the Washington Post June 25, Louise Melling, the American Civil Liberties Union deputy legal director, wrote that while the ACLU once supported the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, it is concerned now that the law can be used to trample the rights of others, particularly homosexuals:
Obergefell v. Hodges that states may not deny marriage licenses to same-sex couples. But she predicted that a favorable ruling for same-sex "marriage" would only lead to an increase in the use of RFRA to "discriminate" against gays. She cited several examples for her concern:
- The Supreme Court’s Hobby Lobby decision, which permitted a for-profit business to deny employees insurance coverage for contraception;
- States attempting to enact religious freedom bills that protect businesses and individuals whose religious convictions make it sinful for them to cooperate in same-sex "weddings," such as in baking a cake, renting a hall or providing photograhy services for such an event.
- Organizations that receive government funding using religious grounds to hire or not hire certain individuals.
She specifically cited the US Catholic bishops conference as an example:
Not so, says the bishops conference’s Byrnes:
RFRA provides a balancing test to determine whether the government has substantially burdened someone’s free exercise of religion. Providing access to or referrals for abortion and contraception “services” is not required by law. The Hyde amendment prohibits federal funding of abortions except in limited circumstances, and even in such circumstances, a faith-based entity would not be forced to participate. Further, it is arrogant to suggest any migrant would automatically consider the taking of a life to be "care." Many of the migrants are devoutly religious and grateful to be in the care of someone who will respect their values and not force abortion upon them. The Catholic Church has a long commitment to serving migrants, refugees, and other people on the move, who often seek help from trusted faith-based providers. We simply seek the freedom to continue to serve these vulnerable populations.
It’s clear that the main beneficiaries of RFRA are the Christian right and other religious conservatives. RFRA has given us the Hobby Lobby decision permitting religious employers to decide what kind of birth control, if any, their insurance plans will provide. It’s given us “conscience clauses,” in which medical personnel can refuse to provide women with legal medical services—culminating in the truly absurd case of Sara Hellwege, an anti-choice nurse-midwife who is suing a federally funded family planning clinic in Tampa for religious discrimination because it declined to hire her after she said she would refuse to prescribe “abortifacient contraceptives,” i.e., birth control pills.
The public interest law firm Alliance Defending Freedom denies that RFRA has ever been used to discriminate against homosexuals. Joshua Tijerina, an ADF spokesman, wrote, for example, about
Barronelle Stutzman, a florist who willingly served a gay friend, Rob Ingersoll, and his partner for nearly 10 years: