“The Religion then of every man must be left to the conviction and conscience of every man: and it is the right of every man to exercise it as these may dictate.” — James Madison, 1785
In the lead-up to the Fourth of July holiday, Catholics in the U.S. celebrate Religious Freedom Week. We give thanks for our great country, whose founding fathers established in law our ability to practice our faith according to our consciences, not subject to governmental decree. Today, this freedom we celebrate is under attack in California.
On Trinity Sunday, Archbishop José H. Gomez asked all parishioners in the Archdiocese of Los Angeles to join efforts to oppose Senate Bill 360, a bill that would require clergy to report allegations of child abuse to the police even if the information is received through the sacrament of confession. The California legislation seeks to undermine our First Amendment rights and fundamentally change the way we live our Catholic faith.
The call to action stirred the hearts of tens of thousands of parishioners who that day signed letters of opposition for their Assembly members.
Signed letters are now headed to the Assembly Public Safety Committee, which will vote on the bill July 9. We are asking for a “No” vote on SB 360, unless it is amended to secure religious freedom for all people.
SB 360 seeks to provide greater protection against child abuse, a goal we adamantly share. Throughout the legislative process, Catholic leaders have worked with the bill’s author and other legislators to strengthen and clarify language around mandatory reporting requirements.
All priests, Catholic educators, and many other lay staff members in our parishes and schools are already mandated reporters for cases of child abuse.
For priests, there is only one instance in which everything told to them is kept private: the sacrament of confession. In this sacrament, we confess our sins to the mercy of God, through the person of the priest, who stands in the place of Jesus. The communication between the priest and the penitent is no one’s business but God’s. No person has claim to those words.
SB 360 would, through legislative decree, tell Catholics how they are able to practice their faith. The bill calls for an exception — that the right to a private confession between the penitent and the priest is only reserved for some Catholics but not for others.
The language of the bill, particular in scope, has ramifications for all people of faith across our country. Until this time, our First Amendment right to practice our faith free from government interference has been inviolable. And it should remain so. SB 360 is an aggressive overstep of political power.
This government intrusion may also immediately affect our brothers and sisters in the Orthodox and Episcopalian churches and members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, all of whom have private penitential communications.
Further, if SB 360 is allowed to stand, it sets a dangerous precedent for further violations of religious liberty.
Earlier in June, Archbishop Gomez celebrated the Mass of Cultures at the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels in Los Angeles. This annual tradition brings together people from every culture and the more than 40 languages we serve in the archdiocese. Many of those celebrating arrived in the U.S. from countries suffering terrible religious persecution.
Archbishop Gomez shared these words:
“We have all come to this city from every part of the earth to live and worship as one people. And in this moment, I think we all have a new responsibility to work for the unity of the Church.
“One of my dreams for the Church in Los Angeles is that we can keep going deeper in our communion, our unity, our sense that we are one people with a common identity and a common mission.”
Our world is becoming increasingly hostile to people of faith, whose consciences often prompt them to be countercultural on both the left and the right sides of issues. SB 360 goes one step further and is a direct attack on the practice of religion itself.
This is the moment for unity.
We ask our brothers and sisters of every faith to lend your voices to this effort to protect religious liberty for all people. An attack on religious freedom for one is an attack on religious freedom for all.
We ask all Catholics to invite friends and family members of different faiths and religious traditions to unite in defense of the freedoms upon which our great country was founded.
We ask our elected officials to reconsider SB 360 and amend it to respect the religious freedom our founding fathers guaranteed for all.
SB 360 is set for hearing in the CA Assembly Public Safety Committee on July 9. Assembly members will have the benefit of phone calls, emails and tens of thousands of signed letters from concerned Californians when deliberating on the bill. If you have not yet voiced your opposition to SB 360, and your call for religious freedom for all, please visit KeepTheSeal.com.
Kathleen Buckley Domingo is the senior director of the Archdiocese of Los Angeles’ Office of Life, Justice and Peace.
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