The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) has issued a new Statement on Religious Liberty, which complains that the Catholic Church should have a right to impose its values on fellow citizens “for the common good.” The long, wordy statement includes a list of “concrete examples” of how “religious liberty” has supposedly been compromised that includes when university campus groups are not allowed to discriminate against gay students and when Catholic Charities isn’t allowed to discriminate against same-sex couples. It then reiterates an oft-heard threat that the Catholic Church should be able to impose its public services however it pleases or it won’t at all:
Religious liberty is not only about our ability to go to Mass on Sunday or pray the Rosary at home. It is about whether we can make our contribution to the common good of all Americans. Can we do the good works our faith calls us to do, without having to compromise that very same faith? Without religious liberty properly understood, all Americans suffer, deprived of the essential contribution in education, health care, feeding the hungry, civil rights, and social services that religious Americans make every day, both here at home and overseas.
What is at stake is whether America will continue to have a free, creative, and robust civil society—or whether the state alone will determine who gets to contribute to the common good, and how they get to do it. Religious believers are part of American civil society, which includes neighbors helping each other, community associations, fraternal service clubs, sports leagues, and youth groups. All these Americans make their contribution to our common life, and they do not need the permission of the government to do so. Restrictions on religious liberty are an attack on civil society and the American genius for voluntary associations.
The statement also has the gall to invoke Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.’s “Letter from a Birmingham Jail,” suggesting that any restrictions on the Church’s free reign over society are “unjust” laws. Claiming not to ask “for special treatment,” the statement nevertheless encourages Catholics to intentionally disobey any laws that prevent the Church from imposing its will. Given its will so often includes policies that discriminate against women and the LGBT community, this is a complete bastardization of King’s intent. King, in fact, was challenging moderate Christian leaders that they had to do more to support equality for all and push back against laws that were unjust to others. The Catholic hierarchy has repeatedly demonstrated that it only cares about its own dominance over society, a perspective anathema to addressing “injustice anywhere.”