Binding Charity

Religious freedom doesn’t just have to be defended internationally.  Religious freedom needs to be defended—vigorously—right here at home.  Find out more next on BreakPoint. If I told you that someone’s religious freedom was being violated, you would probably think that I was talking about what’s happening in places like China or Vietnam.  And, while these are among the most egregious examples, these aren’t the only places where religious freedom is being trampled. One such place is, for me, a lot closer to home: Massachusetts. In Massachusetts, adoption agencies must be licensed by the state and adhere to the state’s anti-discrimination laws including laws prohibiting discrimination against gay couples. This puts Catholic Charities in a bind. The Vatican has called gay adoptions “gravely immoral” and said that they do “violence” to children. By “violence” it means taking advantage of the children’s “dependency” to place them “in an environment that is not conducive to their full human development.” At the same time, Catholic Charities wants to help children in need of a home. The simplest and most obvious way out of the dilemma is an exemption from the law, what’s commonly called a “conscience clause.” So, the bishops of Boston, Worcester, Springfield and Fall River hired a law firm to “explore legal and political strategies for opting out of gay adoptions.” Last week, they got the bad news: governor Mitt Romney informed them that “he was not authorized to give such an exemption.” And, State Representative Eugene L. O’Flaherty told them that the legislature was unlikely to enact such an exemption. This leaves the bishops, who, at least nominally, control local branches of Catholic Charities, with two choices: allow gay adoptions or get out of the adoption business altogether. Actually, there’s another option: find ways around the law as the Worcester branch did. It refers prospective gay adopters to other agencies. But even this has prompted state officials to investigate the agency for possibly “flouting” the rules against discrimination. That shouldn’t surprise anyone. What motivate regulations like this one isn’t the interests of children ¾ it’s the interests of adults. Truth be told, Catholic Charities and other faith-based groups care a great deal more about the children than those who enforce these kinds of rules. It also shouldn’t surprise us that the legislators and government officials won’t grant an exemption for religious groups. Legally and culturally, religion is increasingly treated as a purely private affair whose requirements must yield to any so-called public purpose. You’re free to believe whatever you want as long as it doesn’t affect your actions in public decision-making. What’s more, rules like the Massachusetts one embody a cynical calculation: the enforcers are betting that, in the end, that the desire to help these kids will trump the desire to adhere to Church teaching. In other words, it’s a kind of hostage-taking: “do what we say or risk these kids’ well-being.”  While this characterization will probably outrage supporters of the policy, their outrage can’t begin to compare to what Christians should feel at such a cynical ploy. Doing good shouldn’t require doing violence to your conscience. Apparently, officials in Massachusetts have forgotten this, which puts them in bad company when it comes to religious freedom.


Chuck Colson


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