The House of Representatives has just endorsed an especially pernicious anti-religious freedom component of President Biden’s agenda, and accordingly we write you again about how ill-advised it would be to for Notre Dame to invite him to be Commencement speaker.
Before describing this development, we review briefly what we’ve said so far.
Two weeks ago, having learned that Notre Dame’s president, Father John Jenkins, is considering inviting President Biden to speak at Commencement and receive an honorary degree, we circulated an Open Letter urging him not to do so.
We cited the instruction of the nation’s bishops that
Catholic institutions should not honor those who act in defiance of our fundamental moral principles,
and we described why Biden “is such a person writ large”:
He rejects Church teachings on abortion, marriage, sex and gender and is hostile to religious liberty. He embraces the most pro-abortion and anti-religious liberty public policy agenda in history.
We refer you to our detailed description of the many actions Biden has taken and plans to take “in defiance of” the Catholic Church’s “fundamental moral principles,” and we invite those who have not yet joined our Open Letter to add your name.
We hope you will also circulate the Letter to others you believe might be interested.
We write now about the passage by the House of Representatives on February 25 of the “Equality Act” at the urging of President Biden “to swiftly pass this historic legislation.”
Biden’s continued championing of this legislation, which he called a “top legislative priority” during his campaign, should seal the already formidable case against honoring him, for the Equality Act is an extraordinary and unprecedented legislative assault on religious liberty. It is explicitly designed to force Catholics and other Christians to act contrary to their consciences in a host of situations involving sex, marriage, gender and abortion.
It does this in two steps:
First, by including sexual orientation and gender identity as protected categories in the array of federal anti-discrimination laws respecting employment, housing, credit, education, public spaces and services, and federally funded programs, and
Second, and most importantly, by barring religious liberty objections under the Religious Liberty Restoration Act — for the first time in any federal statute.
Thus, Biden and his Congressional allies take direct aim at the Catholic Church and Catholics as well as those of other faith traditions who share the Church’s teachings on sex, marriage, gender, and abortion.
It is accordingly unsurprising that, upon its introduction, the bill was strongly condemned by Cardinal Timothy Dolan, the chairman of the USCCB Committee on Religious Liberty, and four other bishops chairing USCCB committees on Pro-Life, Education, Marriage, and Domestic Justice.
The USCCB representatives opened their letters to all Senators and Congressmen by emphasizing the Church’s teaching that “every person is made in the image of God and should be treated with respect and compassion. ” Accordingly, they wrote, “[W]e need to honor every person’s right to gainful employment free of unjust discrimination or harassment, and to the basic goods that they need to live and thrive.”
But the Equality Act, they declared, “represents the imposition by Congress of novel and divisive viewpoints regarding ‘gender’ on individuals and organizations.” This includes, they continued, “dismissing sexual difference and falsely presenting ‘gender’ as only a social construct.” And “tragically,” they pointed out, “the Act can also be construed to include an abortion mandate, a violation of precious rights to life and conscience.”
The bishops then identified with particularity some of the malign consequences should this bill become law. “This legislation would,” they wrote,
- punish faith-based charities such as shelters and foster care agencies, and in turn their thousands of beneficiaries, simply because of their beliefs on marriage and sexuality (§§ 3, 6);
- force both people and organizations in many everyday life and work settings to speak or act in support of “gender transitions,” including health care workers and licensed counselors, even when it’s against their professional judgment (§§ 3, 6, 7);
- risk mandating taxpayers to pay for abortions, and health care workers with conscience objections to perform them, ultimately ending more human lives (§§ 3, 6, 9);
- force girls and women to compete against boys and men for limited opportunities in school sports, and to share locker rooms and shower spaces with biological males who claim to identify as women (§§ 6, 9);
- expand the government’s definition of public places into numerous settings, even forcing religiously operated spaces, such as some church halls and equivalent facilities owned by synagogues or mosques, to either host functions that violate their beliefs or close their doors to their broader communities (§ 3);
- exclude people from the careers and livelihoods that they love, just for maintaining the truth of their beliefs on marriage and sexuality (§ 3); and
- discriminate against individuals and religious organizations based on their different beliefs by partially repealing the bipartisan Religious Freedom Restoration Act, an unprecedented departure from that law and one of America’s founding principles (§ 9).
Each year the Catholic Church, as the largest non-governmental provider of human services in the United States, helps millions of people in need through its parishes, schools, hospitals, shelters, legal clinics, food banks, and other charities. The same core beliefs about the human person–made with inherent dignity and in the image of God–motivate both our positions on life, marriage, and sexuality, and also our call to serve the most vulnerable and the common good. We oppose this legislation.
While this bill may fail in the Senate, Biden’s encouragement of its passage by the Senate underscores his resolve to subvert the teachings of the Church that are implicated and to force his fellow Catholics and others of like mind and Catholic organizations to act in violation of their consciences.
It is bad enough that Notre Dame in 2016 awarded Biden the Laetare Medal, Notre Dame’s highest tribute to a Catholic whose contributions have “illustrated the ideals of the Church.” To honor him again would be to dishonor Notre Dame as a Catholic institution.
For more detailed descriptions of the breathtaking reach of the Equality Act see, e.g., the analyses by the USCCB and the Charlotte Lozier Institute (headed by Sycamore Trust vice president Charles Donovan), together with an account of the Act’s hostility to women by Mary Rice Hasson, the director of the Catholic Women’s Forum of the Ethics and Public Policy Center (and Sycamore Trust board member.
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