Baltimore Archbishop Blasts “Reckless” Language in Govt. Religious Liberty Report

Photo credit: American Life League via Flickr, CC BY-NC 2.0

Responding to the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights’ (USCCR) recent report “Peaceful Coexistence,” Archbishop William E. Lori rebuked the notion that claims for religious liberty were “code words” to allow for discrimination.

In a statement released yesterday, Lori, who is archbishop of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Baltimore, reminded the USCCR’s chairman, Martin Castro, that “[m]en and women of faith were many in number during the most powerful marches of the civil rights era,” referring to the contributions of prominent religious leaders such as Rev. Martin Luther King. Lori also called Castro to account for his “reckless” statements which the archbishop said “reveal a profound disregard for the religious foundations of his own work.”

Lori did not limit his criticism to a Christian perspective, either, but included the concerns of orthodox Jews and Muslim communities as well, saying that Castro was equating these faith communities en masse “to fringe segregationists from the civil rights era.” And with later references to Dr. King, as well as Fr. Theodore Hesburgh and Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel, the archbishop reminded the USCCR that Americans motivated by religious beliefs have made leading contributions during some of the most important periods of United States history.

Finally, Archbishop Lori hit the nail on the head as he blasted Castro’s claim that religion is being used solely to obtain exemptions from nondiscrimination laws, “such as the right to marry”:

The vast majority of those who speak up for religious liberty are merely asking for the freedom to serve others as our faith asks of us.

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New Government Civil Rights Report Shows Little Respect for Religious Freedom

Photo credit: American Life League via Flickr, CC BY-NC 2.0)

“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.” US Constitution, Bill of Rights, Amendment I, first line. There was a time when most Americans could agree that protecting the free exercise of religion was of the utmost importance. Now, the US Commission on Civil Rights is trying to make sure that religious liberty is limited “as narrowly as applicable law requires.”

The Commission, chaired by Martin Castro (an appointee of President Obama), found that “[r]eligious exemptions to the protections of civil rights based upon classifications such as race, color, national origin, sex, disability status, sexual orientation, and gender identity, when they are permissible, significantly infringe upon these rights. Although the First Amendment’s Free Exercise Clause and the Religious Freedom Restoration Act limit the ability of government actors to impede individuals from practicing their religious beliefs, religious exemptions from non-discrimination laws and policies must be weighed carefully and defined narrowly on a fact-specific basis.”

Careful to avoid the words “freedom of worship,” the Commission nevertheless attempts to justify amending the First Amendment’s interpretation so as to severely limit what is understood as “free exercise [of religion].” For example, page 26 of the Commission’s report endorses the view that the First Amendment’s free exercise clause protects “beliefs” but not “conduct” and that such a distinction is “fairer and easier to apply” than the law as it stands under RFRA.

The Commission is clear in their malicious intent: all laws must be written to prioritize the protection of other civil rights that supersede freedom of religion. Continue Reading