Following the Supreme Court's Hobby Lobby ruling, many prominent anti-religious liberty groups that support redefining marriage withdrew their support of the misleadingly-named Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA). President Obama said he is writing an executive order on ENDA and many religious groups and leaders have called on him to include in it conscience protections.
Writing for the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, Archbishop Salvatore J. Cordileone, Archbishop William Lori, Archbishop Thomas Wenski and Bishop Richard J. Malone responded to these developments:
The Washington Post reported July 8 that the American Civil Liberties Union and other advocacy groups were no longer supporting the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA). The reason, said the executive director of one of the lead organizations: the Hobby Lobby decision opens the door for private companies to determine that “LGBT people are not equal…and fire them.”
But the Hobby Lobby decision does no such thing. The decision by the U.S. Supreme Court was an application of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA), which requires that, if the federal government wants to impose a “substantial burden” on the religious exercise of its citizens, it must prove that the burden serves a “compelling government interest” and does so by the means “least restrictive” of religious exercise.
The decision was the Court’s recognition that in the case of the HHS contraceptive mandate the government failed to use the “least restrictive means” of providing coverage for certain contraceptives. The Court deliberately said nothing about whether the government had a “compelling interest” in requiring that coverage. In any event, the current debate about ENDA does not focus on its interplay with RFRA, but instead on whether ENDA itself should have any exemption for religious employers – as all prior versions have – and if so, how broad it should be.
So what is really the matter with ENDA according to these groups?
They argue that ENDA in its current form would leave religious employers free to “discriminate” based on their religious convictions. They argue that religious people cannot “impose” their morality on others. This ignores the fact that these advocates themselves seek to impose their morality on religious people and runs directly counter to the religious diversity that modern societies aspire to.
As Pope Francis wrote: “A healthy pluralism… does not entail privatizing religions in an attempt to reduce them to the quiet obscurity of the individual’s conscience or to relegate them to the enclosed precincts of churches, synagogues or mosques. This would represent, in effect, a new form of discrimination and authoritarianism” (Evangelii Gaudium no. 255).
To dismiss concerns about religious freedom in a misguided attempt to address unjust discrimination in the workplace is not to advance justice and tolerance. Instead, it stands as an affront to basic human rights and the importance of religion in society.
The U.S. legacy of religious freedom has enabled the Catholic Church and other faith communities to exercise their religious and moral convictions freely and thus contribute to the good of all in society. No good can come from removing this witness from our social life.
Bravo to the USCCB for issuing such a beautiful statement outlining the fundamental freedoms that are at stake!