Patrick J. Reilly is president and founder of The Cardinal Newman Society, which promotes and defends faithful Catholic education. He also teaches at Aquinas Learning, a classical Catholic homeschool program led by his wife Rosario. They have five children.
Catholics hoped for a reprieve from assaults on religious freedom following the November elections, but a very serious threat looms with so-called SOGI laws.
That’s why 80 Christian leaders—including four leading Catholic bishops and many Catholic education leaders—chose to make a bold statement this week rejecting such efforts as contrary to Christian and American values. I joined them on behalf of The Cardinal Newman Society, convinced that timidity and false compromise will bring ruin to our culture and our freedom to live and teach the Catholic Faith.
(Like the Manhattan Declaration, which has more than half a million signers in support of pro-life and pro-marriage principles, “Preserve Freedom, Reject Coercion” is hosted by The Colson Center for Christian Worldview and invites the public to join the initial 80 signers.)
SOGI stands for “sexual orientation and gender identity,” which are the loaded terms that activists want to be included in federal and state nondiscrimination laws. The Obama administration openly supports that goal, but it has only achieved incremental steps like the Education Department’s interpretation of Title IX to require schools and colleges to make bathrooms and locker rooms open to students who claim a gender different from their birth sex.
That interpretation of Title IX, which is clearly contrary to the original intent of Congress to prevent discrimination against women, will be scrutinized by the Supreme Court this term.
Still, the SOGI threat could worsen if politicians are persuaded by certain Christians who seem, astonishingly, willing to compromise in support of SOGI laws. It’s a serious tactical error to accept legal protections for “sexual orientation” and “gender identity” in exchange for tenuous exemptions for religious organizations.
That’s a bargain that gives up a bedrock principle—not only an article of faith, but a truth of human anthropology—in exchange exceptions that are unlikely to survive if our culture fully embraces what Pope Francis calls the modern “gender ideology.”
A Bad Deal
To be sure, a religious exemption to a SOGI law might protect religious schools, colleges, hospitals, etc. in the short term, and we should strive to include exemptions in any SOGI bill that seems likely to pass against our strong opposition.
But let’s not deceive ourselves! We cannot expect that activists will be content to allow religious “dissent” from their false ideology. Recent experience in California has shown how vicious lawmakers can be against religious colleges that have legitimately claimed religious exemptions to the Obama administration’s interpretation of Title IX.
In addition, the exemptions sought by some SOGI promoters provide no protection for individual Catholics and other Christians who believe as our faith teaches that there are two God-given sexes and marriage is between a man and a woman. It is a mistake for Catholic and other Christian organizations to cut a deal to try to provide themselves with some protection at the expense of leaving individuals at the mercy of runaway bureaucrats and activists. Just ask the bakers and photographers.
Regardless of whatever benefits a religious exemption to SOGI laws might provide some organizations, they are a poor exchange for the devastation that such laws would inflict on our culture. No society built on a false anthropology can long survive.
All of this aside, my greatest concern about accepting SOGI laws with religious exemptions is that it represents a compromise of truth and Christian values that simply cannot be embraced by Catholics and our Christian brethren. Whatever the motivation—and I truly believe that it is tactical and not any intentional betrayal of Christian values—the fact is that actively supporting SOGI laws directly contradicts Christian anthropology and denies truth. From my reading of the Bible and Catholic teaching, that is a line that Christians must not cross.
Thankfully, our bishops see the danger. This week’s statement against SOGI laws is signed by the following four leaders of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops:
- Archbishop Charles Chaput, chairman of the Committee on Laity, Marriage, Family Life and Youth;
- Bishop Frank Dewane, chairman of the Committee on Domestic Justice and Human Development;
- Archbishop William Lori, chairman of the Committee for Religious Liberty; and
- Bishop George Murry, chairman of the Committee on Catholic Education.
Of the 31 leaders of Christian colleges and schools who signed the statement, five are presidents of faithful Catholic colleges: Sister Mary Sarah Galbraith, O.P., of Aquinas College (Tenn.); James Towey of Ave Maria University; Father Sean Sheridan, T.O.R., of Franciscan University of Steubenville; Dr. Derry Connolly of John Paul the Great Catholic University; and Dr. William Fahey of Thomas More College of Liberal Arts.
And other prominent Catholics signed, including Ryan Anderson of The Heritage Foundation, Anthony Esolen of Providence College, Thomas Farr of Georgetown University, Robert George of Princeton University, Alan Sears of the Alliance Defending Freedom and George Weigel of the Ethics and Public Policy Center.
The text of this week’s statement, “Preserve Freedom, Reject Coercion,” is below. To join the statement or to see the full list of original signatures, go to http://www.colsoncenter.org/freedom.
As Americans, we cherish the freedom to peacefully express and live by our religious, philosophical, and political beliefs—not merely to hold them privately. We write on behalf of millions of Americans who are concerned about laws that undermine the public good and diminish this freedom for individuals and organizations alike.
We affirm that every individual is created in the image of God and as such should be treated with love, compassion, and respect. We also affirm that people are created male and female, that this complementarity is the basis for the family centered on the marital union of a man and a woman, and that the family is the wellspring of human flourishing. We believe that it is imperative that our nation preserve the freedoms to speak, teach, and live out these truths in public life without fear of lawsuits or government censorship.
In recent years, there have been efforts to add sexual orientation and gender identity as protected classifications in the law—either legislatively or through executive action. These unnecessary proposals, often referred to as SOGI policies, threaten basic freedoms of religion, conscience, speech, and association; violate privacy rights; and expose citizens to significant legal and financial liability for practicing their beliefs in the public square. In recent years, we have seen in particular how these laws are used by the government in an attempt to compel citizens to sacrifice their deepest convictions on marriage and what it means to be male and female—people who serve everyone, regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity, but who cannot promote messages, engage in expression, or participate in events that contradict their beliefs or their organization’s guiding values.
Creative professionals, wedding chapels, non-profit organizations, ministries serving the needy, adoption agencies, businesses, schools, religious colleges, and even churches have faced threats and legal action under such laws for declining to participate in a same-sex wedding ceremony; for maintaining policies consistent with their guiding principles; and for seeking to protect privacy by ensuring persons of the opposite sex do not share showers, locker rooms, restrooms, and other intimate facilities. Under SOGI laws, people of good will can face personal and professional ruin, fines, and even jail time, and organizations face the loss of accreditation, licensing, grants, contracts, and tax-exemption.
SOGI laws empower the government to use the force of law to silence or punish Americans who seek to exercise their God-given liberty to peacefully live and work consistent with their convictions. They also create special preference in law for categories based on morally significant choices that profoundly affect human relations and treat reasonable religious and philosophical beliefs as discriminatory. We therefore believe that proposed SOGI laws, including those narrowly crafted, threaten fundamental freedoms, and any ostensible protections for religious liberty appended to such laws are inherently inadequate and unstable.
SOGI laws in all these forms, at the federal, state, and local levels, should be rejected. We join together in signing this letter because of the serious threat that SOGI laws pose to fundamental freedoms guaranteed to every person.
America has stood as a beacon of liberty to the world because our Constitution protects people’s freedom to peacefully—and publicly—work and live according to their convictions. We represent diverse efforts to contribute to the flourishing of our neighbors, communities, nation, and world. We remain committed to preserving in law and stewarding in action the foundational freedoms that make possible service of the common good, social harmony, and the flourishing of all.