Archbishop rejects claim religious liberty used as excuse to discriminate


(CNS) — Archbishop William E. Lori of Baltimore sharply criticized comments
made by Martin Castro, chairman of the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights, that
the phrases “religious liberty” and “religious freedom” were “code words” used to

painting those who support religious freedom with the broad brush of bigotry
are reckless and reveal a profound disregard for the religious foundations of
his own work,” said Archbishop Lori of Castro in a Sept. 13 statement.

Lori, chairman of the U.S. bishops’ Ad Hoc Committee for Religious Liberty,
said the notion that people of faith are “comparable to fringe segregationists
from the civil rights era” is a “shocking suggestion.”

made the statements as part of the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights’ 306-page
report, “Peaceful Coexistence: Reconciling Nondiscrimination Principles With
Civil Liberties.” Originally scheduled for issuance in 2013, its release was
delayed until Sept. 8 — and even then, two on the seven-member commission
dissented from its findings.

In his
statement, Castro said, “The phrases ‘religious liberty’ and ‘religious freedom’
will stand for nothing except hypocrisy so long as they remain code words for
discrimination, intolerance, racism, sexism, homophobia, Islamophobia,
Christian supremacy or any form of intolerance.”

in his statement, Castro said, “Religious liberty was never intended to give
one religion dominion over other religions, or a veto power over the civil
rights and civil liberties of others. However, today, as in the past, religion
is being used as both a weapon and a shield by those seeking to deny others

It was
those two statements with which Archbishop Lori took greatest issue in his own
statement, which never mentioned Castro by name.

of faith have often been the ones to carry the full promise of America to the
most forgotten peripheries when other segments of society judged it too costly.
Men and women of faith were many in number during the most powerful marches of
the civil rights era,” he said.

record is not perfect. We could have
always done more,” Archbishop Lori added. But “the idea of equality, which the (civil
right commission) chairman treats as a kind of talisman, is incomprehensible
apart from the very faith that he seeks to cut off from mainstream society.”

Lori said, “The vast majority of those who speak up for religious liberty are
merely asking for the freedom to serve others as our faith asks of us. We ask
that the work of our institutions be carried out by people who believe in our
mission and respect a Christian witness.

is no different,” he continued, “from a tobacco control organization not
wishing to hire an advocate for smoking or a civil rights organization not
wanting to hire someone with a history of racism or an animal rights group
wishing to hire only vegetarians.”

“Today, Catholic priests,
religious and laity can be found walking the neighborhood streets of our most
struggling communities in places abandoned by a ‘throwaway culture,'” Archbishop Lori.

In a rebuttal to Castro in the “Peaceful Coexistence” report, Commissioner
Peter Kirsanow noted that prominent religious leaders were “in the forefront of
the civil rights movement.” He also said he found it “especially puzzling” that
the commissioner singled out Christianity.

“At first I thought he surely
meant to identify for opprobrium religions in addition to Christianity,” wrote
Kirsanow. “But, as it happens, his venom is directed against American
Christians past and present. … In criticizing Christianity in regard to Islam
and slavery, the chairman fails to recognize that Islam’s ties to slavery are
at least as deep as those of Christianity.”

One of
the five recommendations the commission made to President Barack Obama said
that “overly broad religious exemptions unduly burden nondiscrimination laws
and policies. Federal and state courts, lawmakers, and policymakers at every
level must tailor religious exceptions to civil liberties and civil rights
protections as narrowly as applicable law requires.”

The other four
recommendations dealt with tailoring and clarification of the 1993 Religious
Freedom Restoration Act, two of them to ensure that they “do not unduly burden
civil liberties and civil rights protections against status-based

Commissioner Gail Heriot dissented from Castro’s statement and the report itself saying that RFRA sets a “very tough
standard, tougher than many would have liked. But it is the course Congress has taken.”

RFRA prohibits
the federal government from substantially restricting a person’s religious
freedom, except when it can demonstrate “a compelling government
interest” and that the government’s action is “the least restrictive
means” of furthering that interest.

“Under it, federal
laws and other actions — including anti-discrimination laws — are to be interpreted to bend over
backward to protect religious liberty, not lean in the direction of minimizing the scope of religious
liberty exemptions,” Heriot said.

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Editor’s Note: The full U.S. Commission on Civil Rights report can be found at

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