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Friday, November 13, 2009

We'll Take Your Money But Not Your Catholicism

I really wish I had more time to devote to this today, but I don't, so I'll be quick.

The hysteria, pushed by HuffPo Blogger Alison Kilkenny, over the "threat" by the Catholic Archdiocese charities to terminate services to the poor in D.C., is a typical case of over-simplification and an excuse for Catholic-bashing.

The Catholic charities want to be .... Catholic. Or so they say. I don't know enough about Catholicism to say that the public positions of the Archdiocese are necessary to being Catholic, but the Archdiocese feels it is so. Normally, we let people interpret and apply their own religion.

That is not popular at HuffPo. But there is this little, itty bitty thing called the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. Damn, that thing can be a pain when there is a social agenda at stake:
Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech ....
D.C. is on the verge of passing an ordinance which requires that entities doing business in the city follow laws related to gay rights and gay marriage which the Archdiocese asserts are contrary to Catholicism. Since the Archdiocese enters into contracts with the city to provide services, and receives some payment for the services (although not enough to cover the full cost of the services), the Archdiocese would have to abide by the ordinance.

So the Catholic charities, faced with choice of doing business in the city providing services for the poor or changing its religion, asked for clear cut exceptions to the law, similar to what has been done in states such as New Hampshire, to protect its freedom of religion:
Under the bill, headed for a D.C. Council vote next month, religious organizations would not be required to perform or make space available for same-sex weddings. But they would have to obey city laws prohibiting discrimination against gay men and lesbians. Fearful that they could be forced, among other things, to extend employee benefits to same-sex married couples, church officials said they would have no choice but to abandon their contracts with the city.

"If the city requires this, we can't do it," Susan Gibbs, spokeswoman for the archdiocese, said Wednesday. "The city is saying in order to provide social services, you need to be secular. For us, that's really a problem."
Contrary to reports, the Catholic charities are not threatening to withhold all services to the poor, only those which would be subject to the ordinance.

The D.C. council doesn't want to change the ordinance. Fine. That is a fair and appropriate public policy dispute. Politicians can be politicians, and can set state policies. The problem for the city is that the Archiocese adds value to the contracts, meaning they provide services above and beyond what they get from the city.

But don't then complain that the Catholic charities take their services elsewhere, and don't hold the poor hostage to your politics. Fund those services from government money if you don't like the way Catholic charities do their Catholicism.

The legal issues involved are far from simple, although you wouldn't know it from reading the left-wing blogs which are howling with delight over this controversy:
Linda C. McClain, a law professor at Boston University who is studying the same-sex marriage debate nationwide, said the outcome of the standoff between the District and the Church could have far-reaching implications for other states.

"This case really pits the commitment to religious freedom against the importance of anti-discrimination," McClain said. "The courts have been pretty clear that you can't force a religious organization to express a message it doesn't agree with. . . . But it's a tougher case to say you won't be able to provide services to the poor because of this."
What is simple, is that even people unpopular in left-wing circles get the protection of the First Amendment, and get to provide services to the poor as they please consistent with their own view of their religion. Even Catholics.

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  1. As a Catholic yes they are acting properly Catholic and the left isn't used to this kind of thing.

  2. That's only the preliminary round.

    Remember that Abp. Dolan (when still in Milwaukee), said that he would "shut down" Catholic hospitals if health-care-reform required them to get into abortion, or OTHER Church-banned practices.

    RC hospitals are about 25% of the total in the USA.

  3. I wonder if "separation of Church and State" enters into this equation at all? Something for a Church scholer to expand upon as I don't have the necessary knowledge to do so.

  4. The Archdiocese of San Francisco was faced with a similar dilemma over providing health insurance benefits for domestic partners. They resolved the issue by allowing their employees to designate any adult family member as a beneficiary, not merely a spouse or a domestic partner. City officials accepted that compromise rather than lose the services the Archdiocese provided.

    The other alternative the D.C. Archdiocese has is to use their own internal organizations to provide the services, rather than using D.C.'s.

  5. I wonder if "separation of Church and State" enters into this equation at all?


    First off, the phrase does not exist in the Constitution, as amended. Secondly, the First Amendment remains intact.

  6. All of the money in question is public money. The Roman Catholic Church isn't giving a dime in this case.

  7. @libhom - Then it shouldn't be a problem. The city should run the shelters etc. with its money. But it can't.

  8. It's not all government money. As in most cities, Catholic Charities is one of many contracting agencies that provide a wide variety of programs and services for DC. DC has given these contracts to CC presumably because it found them to be the best agent to use for each purpose. The proportion of DC funding for these activities ranges from 25% to 90%. The District now wants to impose new requirements on CC, namely that it agree to sponsor adoptions to gay couples and offer married gay couples paid benefits that go to other married couples. These are not issues unique to DC. They arose in San Francisco and were worked out in a mutually agreeable way. In Massachusetts, the state declined to modify its requirement about adoption so Catholic agencies stopped taking state money for that purpose.

    What's really going on here is this: the DC Council is out of step with DC residents -- largely African-Americans who oppose gay marriage and would doubtless reject it by a wide marriage if allowed to vote on it (which will not happen, of course). But many Black ministers and other community leaders really resent the Council's action, catering as it does to the liberal sensibilities of the affluent white Northwest Washington set.

    A CC pullout from its many services to poor inner city communities would exacerbate this resentment and make life tougher for Council members who want to deliver gay marriage without getting into trouble with their constituents. So, they are working overtime to spin the totally natural and expected Church position as virtual blackmail of the city by a bunch of intransigent reactionaries in purple robes.

    But it doesn't make trouble for the Council because they have no alternative to CC-run programs. They could shrug and say, fine, we'll give the contracts to someone else. The average black DC resident would then barely notice the gay marriage issue. What they can't stand is the light and heat put on them by the Church objections to gay marriage. It stirs the latent opposition among the DC majority. So they need a way to distract attention from that to a convenient "bad guy" who is being so awfully horrible to the poor and needy.