Thursday, April 2, 2015

Religious Freedom Law

I try as best as possible to stay out of politics per se on this blog.

The main reasons, as I've said before, are twofold:

1.  Political disputes tend to shut people out.  I do not want that on this blog.  I want it to be a place where we can have a free flow of ideas.

2.  My political convictions are strong, but they should never be mistaken for my religious convictions.  I will go to the cross over the defense of unborn life, but I will not die for my position on what the income tax rate should be.

But because there is a lot of talk and a good deal of confusion on this new law that has come out of Indiana, I thought I should take a crack at shedding some light.

I am a complete amateur when it comes to reading legislation.  I am happy to take any correction on what is written here by those of you who are more learned than I.

First, let us begin with the text of the law.  I wonder how many people have read it.  And I wonder how many people had to read it multiple times (like myself) because it is written in legalese.

The main thrust of the law is in section 8:

Sec. 8. (a) Except as provided in subsection (b), a governmental entity may not substantially burden a person's exercise of religion, even if the burden results from a rule of general applicability. (b) A governmental entity may substantially burden a person's exercise of religion only if the governmental entity demonstrates that application of the burden to the person: (1) is in furtherance of a compelling governmental interest; and (2) is the least restrictive means of furthering that compelling governmental interest.

So let us take a look at the different sides.


The main purpose of the law is to prevent the government from forcing any person or business to act in a way that violates their religious conscience.


The main issues is the fear of discrimination, particularly against homosexual persons.  Could a restaurant refuse service to a gay person if the owner's religion tells them that homosexuality is wrong?  Doesn't that sound like the kind of thing black people endured during the Civil Rights movement?

A violation of civil rights occurs when someone is discriminated against unfairly because of who they are.  If this law takes away basic rights of homosexual persons, it is must be an unjust law.


But it must be remembered that the rights of religious groups have already been violated by the state.  The most famous example was Catholic Charities in Massacheusetts.  The Archdiocese of Boston was told that they would have to begin allowing same sex couples to adopt children through Catholic Charities.  Rather than violate Church teaching, the bishops shut down the adoption program.

Now, the situation was slightly more complicated because Catholic Charities accepted state funds.  And it is difficult to simply render unto Caesar when Caesar is bankrolling you.

But in addition to this we had the contraceptive mandates in Obamacare that forced all people, regardless of their religious conscience, to pay for contraceptives and abortafacients.  The Indiana law, and others like it, are meant to prevent the individual states from enacting similar legislation.


"Gay Marriage" has been legal in Indiana for less than a year.  But under state law, it is full recognized with all the rights of marriage.

The main thrust of the controversy seems to hover around compelling business to participate in "gay marriage."  

Again, a violation of civil rights occurs if a person is unfairly discriminated against because of who they are.  Refusing service to someone simply because they are homosexual would appear to be a violation of civil rights.  If a homosexual person hired a photographer to take pictures of a graduation and the photographer refused because of the person's orientation, then this would be a violation of the homosexual person's civil rights.

But we have a different case if the homosexual person hires the photographer to take pictures of a "gay marriage."  Here, the issue is not the person, but the activity.  

If a straight person asked a Muslim photographer to take pictures of a Koran burning party, I believe it would be rational for the Muslim person to refuse.  If a Jewish photographer was asked to take pictures for the cover of a book that was about how circumcision is wrong, I believe it would be rational for the Jewish person to refuse.  And if a Christian person is asked to take pictures for a "wedding" that is in violation of God's plan of marital love, then I believe it is rational for that Christian to refuse.

Remember, when someone is hired for a wedding, they are required to celebrate.  By this I do not mean that they are required to feel enjoyment.  "Celebrate" in this case means to affirm and advocate.  This is not simply a matter of recording the proceedings dispassionately for posterity like a reporter or historian.  The photographer, the florist, the baker, and all the rest involved are there engaging and celebrating the event.


The crux seems to be around "gay marriage" because it is not in keeping with the Gospel truth of human life.  But according to Jesus and the Catholic Church, neither is serial monogamy without the benefit of annulment.

If a couple came to a Catholic photographer and made clear that both were divorced without benefit of annulment, wouldn't that Catholic photographer have to place that marriage in the same area of conscience violation as a homosexual couple?

Logically, the answer would have to be yes.  If that Catholic photographer turned away a homosexual couple, but not this divorced and unannuled straight couple, then it would be a clear violation of civil rights.  That is because the only reason the one was denied service and not the other was because of who they are (homosexual orientation) and not the activity in which they are engaged ("gay marriage").


In the movie "A Man for All Seasons," St. Thomas More was being compelled by the state to sign a document that declared King Henry VIII's divorce and remarriage to be legal and acceptable.  When told of the document, Thomas' response was: "If I can sign the document, I will."

Thomas may have had many misgivings about the king's marriage.  But he was also a good Englishman and wanted to serve his king faithfully.  If there was any way he could sign the document without it violating his conscience, if the document simply said that he should remain silent on the matter or not speak out against the king, he would.

St. Alfonsus Ligori said that if you have a choice between a more burdensome and less burdensome choice in your conscience, you have the right to choose the least burdensome.  

If you are a religiously devout photographer and man and woman ask you photograph their wedding without disclosing their previous marital status, then you can be free in your conscience to act hire yourself out.  They may be in violation of God's plan for marriage or they may not.  Since you are ignorant, you may (but do not have to) err on the side of assuming virtue.  Just as when someone comes up to receive communion, the Eucharistic Minister does not try to evaluate the state of each soul, but gives Christ's Body and Blood and lets the propriety of that fall on the communicant.  (Although public, defiant sin is a separate case).

The problem with that same situation if a same-sex couple comes to the Catholic photographer, that Catholic photographer cannot claim ignorance.  There is no question as to whether or not this marriage is valid in God's eyes.


It would seem to me that it would be wrong for the state to force an individual to violate their religious conscience unless there is a compelling reason such as the violation of civil right.  It would also seem to me that this is what the Indiana law does that in its text.

But as I said, I am no expert.  If anything I have written here is illogical, if my terms are unclear, my premises untrue, or my logic invalid, I would ask you to do me the kindness of showing me the error of my ways.  Perhaps this law is too broad and too subject to gross violation.  Perhaps not.  We must support or oppose this law based on what our conscience dictates.

Above all, we must pray that God guides us to recognize the dignity and humanity of all on either side of this issue and pray that He leads all of us to His justice.


  1. I thank you for your very well reasoned argument. I am a practicing Roman Catholic. My husband and I have worked for the church for many years. We are also parents of a lesbian daughter. We are in the midst of a dilemma of faith. We have seen different facets of this debate in that our other daughter recently got married. The photographer they hired told them that she was gay and they were going to be the last hetero couple she was going to work with. Their state had just approved gay marriage so she was making a business decision to concentrate on gay only couples. Tables turned. Now my lesbian daughter would like very much to get married some day. I would suggest to her that she look for a photographer who would be comfortable with that. The whole point is celebrating without strife. As a Catholic, I know the church teaching and it was much easier to accept before my daughter came out to us. If I ask myself WWJD, I cannot fathom not loving or rejecting this child who is so dear to me. So, you see, I am on the other end of the spectrum. The alternative is to behave in a manner so rigid as to make every event a confrontational exercise in activism which it seems a certain portion of the people involved in this argument are wont to do. I agree more with common sense, avoiding conflict, and respecting each other.

    1. Susan,
      Thank you for your comment. Your love for your daughters comes forth powerfully and eloquently in your post.
      I am very sad to hear about your dilemma of faith. It would be horribly arrogant of me to give you any kind of advice in your very personal difficulties, save this: remember that the Lord is with you and He knows the turmoil of your heart.
      I will keep you and your family in my prayers. I will pray that the Lord will shower his blessings upon you and give all of you the peace, love, and joy that only He can give.
      God Bless.

  2. I'm sorry I missed your reply. Thank you for your reply and your prayers. I've thought of talking with a priest, but what can they say. My husband and I have talked about this many times. He feels more conflicted than me about our daughter marrying her girlfriend in the future. He is less sure of attending, but I think he will in the end. I'm still conflicted, but I think I have God's own love for my daughter. My husband does too. My guestion is this, how can a person who is good, loving, and only brings love to others be condemned to a life of loneliness and struggle in the case of forced celibacy and condemned to hell from the moment of birth. I think it is easier to answer those questions with absolute law if you don't have to face them. And many people, Catholic or not, are so relieved they don't have to deal with them because of the stigma. So that is the status quo for now. The one thing I'm sure of is Jesus' love for our daughter and our family. Thank you again for the prayers.

    1. Susan,
      I am continuing to keep you in my prayers. I am sure that you will follow your conscience and that God will guide you.
      I would like to attempt an answer to your question. I am sorry if it is clumsy or poorly worded, but I will do my best and I pray that you find it helpful. But, to paraphrase CS Lewis, the smallest ounce of God's grace is better than a great deal of knowledge.
      You wrote: "how can a person who is good, loving, and only brings love to others be condemned to a life of loneliness and struggle in the case of forced celibacy and condemned to hell from the moment of birth[?]" I would like to take the second part first:
      -having a homosexual orientation is not a sin. I do not know if someone is born with an attraction to the same sex, but I am open to the idea and I will concede that point here for the sake of argument. But having a desire for something not in God's plan does not mean that this person is condemned. All of us are in this situation. All of us are born with Original Sin. All of us desire things which are not in accord with God's designs. The question is not if I have the desire. The question is how I act upon it. And that is completely my choice. My choice, not my birth, determine my eternal destiny.
      -Celibacy does not have to be a condemnation to loneliness. If that is true than Jesus was condemned to loneliness. St. Paul was condemned to loneliness. Pope St. John Paul the Great was condemned to loneliness. St. Francis of Assisi was condemned to a life of loneliness. But when I read their lives, I do not see loneliness. Yes, I see people who take up the cross, but they found in that joy. There are those who find celibacy a burden. There are those who find celibacy a freedom. There are those who find marriage a burden. There are those who find marriage a freedom. It depends upon the calling of God. I can tell you that I wanted celibacy because for a long time I had planned to go to seminary and become a celibate priest. But God called me to marriage. I resisted for a while because I had not prepared myself for many of the material concerns that St. Paul warns about in 1 Corinthians. But I listened to God and found my true happiness. I believe that if God was calling me to celibacy that I would have found my true happiness. If God calls people to celibacy it is not condemn them, but to give them their true happiness. One of the happiest people I know is on the way to take her final vows in the convent. She does not view her celibacy as a condemnation but a joyful gift. She is now free to love everyone in equal measure.
      -I think you are correct that we it is much easier to speak of abstract moral principles than living concrete moral situations, just as it is easier to profess my faith in Christ than it is to live that faith. But if God is God and He is Love and Wisdom Itself, then His will for our lives will be more loving and wiser than our own plans.
      -You are also correct to be sure of Christ's love for your daughter and family. His love is unconditional and never ending.
      I will continue to keep you and your family in my prayers.