Americans must be free to practice their faith in the public square — including business decisions — without being viewed as discriminatory, urged four U.S. bishops. “Churches, businesses, and individuals should not be punished in any way for living by their religious and moral convictions concerning sexual activity,” the bishops wrote in a July 17 blog post for the U.S. bishops’ conference. “Eliminating truly unjust discrimination — based on personal characteristics, not sexual behavior — and protecting religious freedom are goals that we all should share,” the bishops emphasized. “The current political climate makes it very difficult to maintain a reasonable dialogue on these contentious issues, but we must keep trying.” The blog post was authored by Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone of San Francisco, who chairs the bishops’ Subcommittee for the Promotion and Defense of Marriage; Archbishop William Lori of Baltimore, who heads the bishops’ religious liberty committee; Archbishop Thomas Wenski of Miami, chair of the Committee on Domestic Justice and Human Development; and Bishop Richard Malone, head of the marriage and family life committee. The bishops responded to claims in the wake of the Supreme Court’s Hobby Lobby ruling that religious employers are now free to “discriminate” against LGBT employees. The criticisms are misguided, the bishops wrote, because the attempt to banish workplace discrimination ends up discriminating against the religious beliefs of some employers, forcing them to condone behavior they believe to be immoral. “They argue that religious people cannot ‘impose’ their morality on others. This ignores the fact that these advocates themselves seek to impose their morality on religious people and runs directly counter to the religious diversity that modern societies aspire to,” they said. At the heart of the debate is the proposed Employment Non-Discrimination Act, designed to ban employer discrimination against people who identify as gay or transgender. After the act stalled in the House of Representatives, reports arose that an executive order is being drafted that would apply the provisions of the act to federal contractors. The bishops have stressed that they “oppose unjust discrimination on any grounds, including those related to homosexual inclination or sexual identity.” However, they have voiced concerns that the proposed act fails to acknowledge cases in which consideration of sexual orientation and gender identity may be “neither unjust nor inappropriate,” such as in a school setting. They have also warned that the bill does not differentiate between same-sex attraction and same-sex conduct, posing a problem to faith groups such as Catholics that affirm the dignity of homosexual persons but oppose homosexual actions. “The current proposed ENDA legislation is not about protecting persons, but behavior,” the bishops wrote. A diverse group of religious leaders have called for a robust religious exemption in order to protect faith groups from being required to affirm same-sex relationships or legal “marriages.” Some Catholic institutions have already lost government grants or had to drop spousal coverage because of various states’ recognition of same-sex relationships as marriage or requirements that Catholic social programs include access to abortions. The four bishops alluded to these religious liberty concerns in their blog post. “To dismiss concerns about religious freedom in a misguided attempt to address unjust discrimination in the workplace is not to advance justice and tolerance. Instead, it stands as an affront to basic human rights and the importance of religion in society,” they stated.
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