Evolving on Religious Freedom

Some say evolution is slow but inevitable. I am not so sure, but nevertheless I am glad to see that the National Catholic Reporter’s Michael Sean Winters is changing his tune, albeit only slightly, on the Obama administration’s attack on religious believers in business.

Heretofore Winters has insisted that only non-profit church institutions have any claim to conscience against immoral government mandates. This week, however, he praised a court order protecting a Bible publishing company.

Winters is right to this extent, but still has some progressing to do. He is wise to reject his own unworkable distinction allowing non-profits conscience claims and denying them to other groups. A group’s non-profit status is nearly irrelevant to its claim of conscience. Planned Parenthood is a greedy, manipulating non-profit. Tyndale House Publishers is a thoroughly religious ordinary corporation.

Winters continues to be short-sighted in denying other fellow Christians any claim to conscience, for two reasons I will mention here. Winters asserts, smugly, that “making tacos” is not an activity in which one can claim to object to immoral government coercion. But Winters has no way, either in theory or in actual practice, to write an exception to the abortifacient/contraception mandate that includes Tyndale but excludes companies like Hobby Lobby, whose judge denied it an injunction. There’s just no way to write Winters’ distinction, which is why no one has tried. Case in point: Hobby Lobby’s owners also run a chain of Christian bookstores, against which the court also ruled. How religious does a believer’s activities have to be, and who decides who qualifies?

Winters’ second and more fundamental problem is that he continues to dissent from Pope Benedict and the Church when they say that it is a rejection of the “transforming power of the Gospel” for Christians to “profess our beliefs in church on Sunday, and then during the week to promote business practices or medical procedures contrary to those beliefs.” The Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace similarly declared obvious Christian truth when it said Christians in business must “integrate the gifts of the spiritual life, the virtues and ethical social principles into their life and work.” And Vatican II itself unmistakably declares that the laity are the Church and possess her inviolable religious freedom not subject to “limits” from a coercive state–they have the “right to live in society in accordance with the precepts of the Christian faith.”

Winters still rejects all of this, and still mockingly says Catholics in business have no conscience to speak of, much less one that can claim protection against immoral government mandates. This is a willful blindness among the Catholic left that has been created by their partisan commitment to President Obama. It actually threatens the Catholic left’s own emphasis on the need for capitalism to submit to vitrue. If “making tacos” has nothing to do with following Church teaching, don’t expect them to treat workers or the environment with any reverence, or to give a fig what bishops’ subcommittees say about the need to do so. One can only hope Winters and the Obama bandwagon will let the full light of Catholic Social Teaching pierce their politcal veil.



  • Greg B.

    This is not about religious freedom. It’s about the sense entitlement that so many religious Americans have. They believe that their rights and freedoms should be given preference over the rights of those who hold a different worldview, even when giving preference to their rights over another’s results in a greater infringement of the other’s liberty. For some examples, the Catholic Church insists that:

    – the right of a small business owner to not subsidize the premium of a health plan that covers contraception should supersede the right of a woman to have the cost of contraception, a common and legal medical practice, covered by her health insurance (for which she likely pays a significant portion of the premium).

    – the right of a bakery owner to not bake a cake for a same-sex wedding should supersede the right of a couple to access civil marriage and the important legal rights, benefits and protections that it provides.

    It should be clear that in the above examples the woman and the couple have far more to lose with respect to their freedoms than business owners. But the religious right has taken the First Amendment’s guarantee that the government cannot infringe on a citizen’s free exercise of religion and stretched it to absurd extremes in attempting to have the law mirror their religious dogma, and have their rights – or perceived rights – take precedence over the rights of those with whom they disagree. NOM has made an industry out of creating “victims” involved on situations like the one in the second example. Under the guise of First Amendment protections, and without the slightest sense of irony, they are attempting to exploit and make a mockery of its very principles.

  • Me and Folly

    The HHS Mandate media coverage was focused on the Church for election reasons, so it is unsurprising that some followed the shiny objects to the point of making moral arguments along similar lines as the media in the summer. Alas, we are too often products of our surroundings.

    Related: http://meandfolly.blogspot.com/2012/11/the-great-eye-is-watching.html

  • Duke

    Hey Matt, isn’t this one of your co-workers at the Alliance Defense Fund? Fine group of Christians you are indeed.

    Lisa Biron, a lawyer associated with the virulently anti-gay Alliance Defense Fund, is facing felony charges related to child pornography after being caught in New Hampshire:

    A Manchester lawyer took a teenage girl to Canada, had her engage in sexual activity and convinced her to let it be filmed, according to federal indictments.

    FBI agents swiftly arrested Lisa Biron yesterday morning as she awaited a hearing on child pornography charges at Manchester’s district court. About 9 a.m. FBI agents entered the courtroom, told Biron to leave her belongings and took her into an adjoining conference room where she remained for several minutes before coming out in handcuffs.

    Outside, Biron ducked her head below the backseat window of a white vehicle as it was driven away from the courthouse.

    A few hours later in U.S. District Court in Concord, Biron, who is associated with a national coalition of Christian lawyers, was formally told of the federal charges against her: transportation with intent to engage in criminal sexual activity, possession of child pornography and five counts of sexual exploitation of children.

    • Duke

      Duke, why would anyone here defend that?

      • Randall

        I don’t know. I’m sure ADF attorneys will be claiming some sort of defense. Maybe freedom of religion.

        • Randall

          I did not write that comment. Knock it off, filthy vermin impostor lib.

  • http://twitter.com/LetPeepsVote Let Peeps Vote

    The Catholic Church said that we should be able to vote on whether gay people should be able to get a government license for marriage. The people decided to vote on your right to refuse medical care to women. You lost.

    Voting on rights isn’t as much fun when it’s your rights that are up to a vote. Huh?

    • Duke

      The Church never said such a thing.

      • Randall

        Yes they did.

  • http://twitter.com/nomLIES NOM lies

    Do you believe that people that believe that black people are inferior should also have religious freedom in how they operate their businesses? Should they be able to refuse to cover medical care for their black workers, or should they be able to refuse to even hire those workers?

    What about people that believe that being a Catholic is immoral? Should those companies be allowed to refuse to service people that are Catholic? Can they pay their protestant workers more than they pay their Catholic workers?

    Unless you say “yes” to all the scenarios above, then you don’t believe in religious freedom. You believe in freedom for you, and only you.

    • Randall

      LOL libtard, read it slowly so you can understand it: “black people” isn’t a religion. And yes, religious organizations have the right to discriminate in hiring/pay/treatment of workers based on religion. Catholic colleges (not fake ones like the Jesuits) do it all the time. Lots of places make you sign a pledge as part of your employment that you will uphold the morals of the Catholic Church. If someone holds an anti-Catholic view, they can and should be fired from that place. And the organization has every right to do so. At least until Obozo tries to take it away.

      • Duke

        Get off this board Randall. You give Catholic’s a bad name.

        • Guest

          And you give yourself a bad name with your atrocious grammar and syntax. Randall could eat your lunch.

        • Randall

          Duke, I have read some of the vile filth you have spewed all over this website: trashing Catholicism up and down, defying God, supporting gays in their perverted lifestyle, and generally being a horrible person. Being criticized by you is only a vindication that I am, in fact, completely in the right.

  • Greg Popcak

    Hello Matt,

    One of my many hats is that of an adjunt prof in the Dept of Grad Theology for a prominent Catholic university where I teach a course in Pastoral and Spiritual Direction.

    From the perspective of pastoral theology, the problem with Winters objection to the “Taco-Bell Exemption” is that it typifies a flawed understanding of “ministry” in the Christian life. Winters thinks of ministry in functionalist terms, as in, “He DOES ministry (because he works in/for the Church), but she DOESN’T do ministry (b/c she works in the private sector).

    What he is missing is that Catholic Social Teaching tells us that ministry is not something Christians do. It is something that we ARE. If we love Christ, we must do everything we do as a “ministry.” For the Christian, ministry isn’t Church-work (or isn’t just) it is the way I talk to my friends, the way I live my marriage and family life, and the way I work or run my business. EVERYTHING I do MUST BE PROPHETIC and the prophetic way I live my life is, according to the Church, the authentic Christian understanding of the term “ministry.”

    For instance, say what you will about them, but when you walk past a Chick-fil-A on a Sunday and find the storefront shuttered, that’s prophetic. They are “doing ministry work” in their witness by calling the culture to recognize the value of the Lord’s Day and family life. Their actions say something very powerful to the passers-by. That’s ministry.

    As Christians, ministry isn’t a job, it simply IS. For the business person committed to the social gospel, the way I provide service, do my billing, keep my public restroom, pursue collections, advertise, pay my employees (incld. benefits), and hire and fire are all examples of ministry, which is best defined as “the people of God living and acting in prophetic ways in the world-at-large.” The way I conduct my affairs in the public sector–including the way I sell Taco’s–is supposed to be a proclamation of the social gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ and his Holy Church.

    Winter’s problem is that he’s bought into an institutional, functionalist model of ministry that is completely contrary to the authentic Christian vision of ministry. We would all do well to take this opportunity to clarify what ministry truly is–i.e., simply the living out of our prophetic, priestly, and royal mission in our everyday lives. This right must not/cannot be impeded, and if we let it, we cease to be Christian in any meaningful sense.

    I hope that helps to clarify the issue.

    God Bless



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