July 24, 2015

Archbishop Lori reflects on religious liberty challenges

Baltimore Archbishop William E. Lori gives a homily during a July 18 Mass at a Knights of Columbus hall in New Albany during a celebration with some of his classmates of the 50th anniversary of their graduation from the eighth grade at Our Lady of Perpetual Help School, also in New Albany. Prior to the Mass, Archbishop Lori, who is chairman of the U.S. bishops’ Ad Hoc Committee for Religious Liberty, spoke with The Criterion about recent changes in the religious liberty landscape in America. (Photo by Sean Gallagher)

Baltimore Archbishop William E. Lori gives a homily during a July 18 Mass at a Knights of Columbus hall in New Albany during a celebration with some of his classmates of the 50th anniversary of their graduation from the eighth grade at Our Lady of Perpetual Help School, also in New Albany. Prior to the Mass, Archbishop Lori, who is chairman of the U.S. bishops’ Ad Hoc Committee for Religious Liberty, spoke with The Criterion about recent changes in the religious liberty landscape in America. (Photo by Sean Gallagher)

By Sean Gallagher

NEW ALBANY—Three weeks after the Supreme Court ruled 5-4 in Obergefell v. Hodges that couples of the same sex have the right to marry in the United States, Baltimore Archbishop William E. Lori reflected on July 18 in a wide-ranging interview with The Criterion on the possible religious liberty implications of the ruling.

The archbishop, who serves as chairman of the U.S. bishops’ Ad Hoc Committee for Religious Liberty, visited his hometown of New Albany for a celebration with his classmates of the 50th anniversary of their graduation from the eighth grade at Our Lady of Perpetual Help School.

Archbishop Lori said Obergefell will likely have broad effects across the legal system.

“Marriage, as understood between one man and one woman, is embedded throughout the law,” he said, “so to upend that is to produce a sea change in our legal system.”

Archbishop Lori noted that past court rulings at the state level against Christian business owners opposed to marriage redefinition suggest challenges in the wake of Obergefell.

“It has certainly already begun to affect individuals who want to bring their Christian principles to their work,” he said. “We certainly think of the bakers, photographers and county clerks with marriage licenses.

“On a day-to-day basis, it will certainly affect almost everyone, because every day we bump up against the institution of marriage, either because we’re part of it or because we deal with it.”

In reflecting on the possible effects of Obergefell on churches and church organizations, Archbishop Lori noted with concern how Justice Anthony Kennedy, who authored the ruling’s majority opinion, said that religious groups retained their right to teach and advocate for opposing views on marriage. He did not, however, include the right to apply those teachings as an exercise of religious liberty.

“We’ve already been driven out of adoption in many places,” Archbishop Lori said. “Hiring for mission may become a problem. So, if you don’t want to hire a teacher who is living in a marriage that the Church can’t recognize because you’re trying to give a good example to the students, that would become problematic.”

He said such hiring practices could be legally questioned even in light of the Supreme Court’s 2012 Hosanna-Tabor v. EEOC ruling, which stated that federal anti-discrimination laws do not apply to a religious employer’s hiring practices.

“It depends how widely we can cast the ministerial mantle, so to speak,” Archbishop Lori said.

“The trouble with all of this is that it keeps pushing the Church within the four walls,” he added. “It makes it less a force in the shaping of culture and of people’s minds and hearts.”

Nonetheless, Archbishop Lori found hope in an Associated Press poll released earlier the same day that reported that support for religious liberty and opposition to marriage redefinition had increased in the wake of Obergefell.

“That kind of gives us a sense that we have a fighting chance,” he said. “There are plenty of people who see the problem, and plenty of people who don’t like it. So, I don’t think that we should give up the ghost.”

Archbishop Lori particularly encouraged supporters of religious liberty to back the First Amendment Defense Act (FADA), a bill being debated in Congress which, if it became law, would prohibit federal agencies from taking punitive actions, such as revoking a tax exempt status, against religious organizations that teach that marriage is a union between one man and one woman.

“I think it has a great chance in the House of Representatives, but heavy going in the Senate,” he said. “I think we should let our senators know that the rights of everyone need to be protected, especially as we look toward the visit of the Holy Father [Pope Francis coming to the United States in September].

“It would be awfully nice if FADA got passed by both houses of Congress in time for the Holy Father’s arrival.”

In addition to tests of religious liberty related to the Supreme Court’s marriage ruling, Archbishop Lori also spoke about ongoing challenges to the federal Health and Human Services Administration’s abortifacient, sterilization and contraceptive mandate.

The federal agency issued an “accommodation” for religious organizations opposed to the mandate whereby they were required to fill out a form stating their objections, which would establish a third-party payment system for medicines and services required by the mandate.

“Although many people will deny it, the objecting religious organizations are not just signing a form,” Archbishop Lori said. “The form has an effect. The form sets in motion the very thing you are objecting to. Otherwise, you wouldn’t have to send a form in. You wouldn’t have to notify the government.

“I think if you read the way it is written, if you read the accommodation language itself, you see that the benefits plan of the objecting religious organizations is instrumentalized in bringing about the services. That’s a real problem.”

He also noted that religious organizations that oppose the mandate are doing much to serve the common good.

“They’re the ones that serve the poor kids in the inner city,” Archbishop Lori said. “They’re the ones that are serving in Catholic charities and Catholic social service organizations. They’re the ones bringing the Gospel to the margins.

“So, any suggestion that defending religious liberty is somehow at odds with serving the poor is really poorly construed and really needs to be rethought.”

Speaking more broadly about the challenge to defending religious liberty in the contemporary cultural context, Archbishop Lori said the often fierce public debate in Indiana earlier this year regarding the state’s Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA), and similar debates that took place in other states, “are kind of an object lesson. I think they show us what the headwinds are going to be like.”

“I think our message is a very simple one,” he said. “We’re not out to discriminate against anyone. We recognize America as a place that has always been pluralistic where a variety of points of view have been in the marketplace.

“We’re simply asking that those of us who take our faith seriously and who want to bring it out into that marketplace have the right to do so and not be discriminated against ourselves. I think it’s that simple.”

Despite the legal and political wrangling related to defending religious liberty, Archbishop Lori said that it is “ultimately an evangelization issue.”

“If 75 percent of Catholics went to Mass on Sunday, we wouldn’t be having these problems,” he said. “In an age when 20 or 25 percent go, these problems are really quite possible.”

He expressed thanks for the many Catholics—clergy, religious and lay people—who have stood up for religious freedom.

“If we’re willing to stand up for our faith in public, I think people who are on the margins of the faith might be willing to take another look and say, ‘Wow. If it’s so important to folks like the Little Sisters of the Poor, maybe I ought to take another look.’ ”

In the face of growing challenges to religious liberty in the courts, government agencies and society as whole, Archbishop Lori said that Catholics can still find hope in “the same place where we’ve always found it, and that is in the Lord who promised to be with us until the end of the age.

“And we find the Lord in the Church,” he said. “So, if ever there was a moment for us to come together as a community and to try to be cohesive, united, prayerful, serene, but determined, this must be it.”

He even sees opportunities for the Church to grow in strength in the face of such challenges.

“I think the Church flourishes in times of persecution,” Archbishop Lori said. “It seems to me that that is one of the rules of Church history. In fact, when the Church won widespread acceptance in our culture was when some of our greatest problems began to take root in our midst.

“The Lord always told us it would be like this. We shouldn’t be surprised.” †

 

Related story: Baltimore archbishop celebrates class reunion in New Albany

Local site Links:

Like this story? Then share it!