November 23, 2009
Recently, the Catholic Archdiocese of Washington warned the District of Columbia that its proposal to legalize same-sex "marriage" could "adversely impact" many of its poorest citizens.
The archbishop is Donald Wuerl, a long-time friend of mine and a courageous and wise leader. For its trouble, the Archdiocese was called "childish"—an all-too-typical reaction to claims of religious freedom.
The Archdiocese's specific concerns are over the status of Catholic Charities. D.C. prohibits discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation in employment. Combine this law with legalizing same-sex "marriage" and you create the possibility that Catholic Charities might have to "extend employee benefits to same-sex married couples" and other actions that violate Catholic teaching.
As a spokeswoman for the Archdiocese put it, "The city is saying in order to provide social services, you need to be secular. For us, that's really a problem."
It's a problem for more than the Archdiocese. Catholic Charities "serves 68,000 people in the city, including...one-third of Washington's homeless people."
The Archdiocese's concerns aren't theoretical. Less sweeping laws in Massachusetts drove Catholic Charities out of the adoption field.
None of this mattered to councilman David Catania, who minimized the importance of Catholic Charities social services to the District. Another council member, Mary Cheh, called the Archdiocese "childish."
The Washington Post editorialized, however, that "the city can ill afford to lose Catholic Charities' services at homeless shelters and in health care."
Still, the Post, making clear that it "[favors] the legalization of same-sex marriage," and opposes "discrimination," insists that "people of goodwill" could arrive at a satisfactory compromise.
Well, the Post means well, but it is missing the point. What is happening in DC isn't the failure of political give-and-take. It's a declining regard for the most important of human rights: religious liberty.
This is one of three concerns addressed in the Manhattan Declaration, a truly historic call to Christian conscience, signed by me and other Christian leaders—evangelical, Catholic, and Orthodox, including Archbishop Wuerl. In the Declaration, we note the irony that those who accuse Christians of being "intolerant" are often the ones who "trample upon the freedom of others to express their religious and moral commitments."
A good example is the "effort to weaken or eliminate conscience clauses," thus compelling pro-life individuals and institutions to refer for abortions and perhaps even participate in abortions.
Another example is the use of "anti-discrimination statutes to force religious institutions, businesses, and service providers" to sanction "activities they judge to be deeply immoral or go out of business."
The victims of this legally sanctioned intolerance aren't only Christians—it's all of us. These institutions are an "essential buffer" between ordinary people and "the overweening authority of the state."
The alternative to religious liberty isn't "tolerance," it's what Alexis de Tocqueville called "soft despotism"—government by rules and regulations.
Today I urge you to stand for religious liberty. Go to ColsonCenter.org, read the Manhattan Declaration, sign it, and ask your friends to do so as well.
Chuck Colson's daily BreakPoint commentary airs each weekday on more than one thousand outlets with an estimated listening audience of one million people. BreakPoint provides a Christian perspective on today's news and trends via radio, interactive media, and print.