Thursday, December 29, 2011

Unclear on the concept: part LVXII

Apparently the Illinois Catholic Charities organization is closing down rather than having to help gay couples adopt children. They are protesting an Illinois requirement that they can't accept state money unless they stop discriminating against same sex couples.

First of all, it is not clear to me why they would stop performing charitable work simply because they don't want to help certain people: Whatever happened to the the injunction of "hating the sin but not the sinner"? They certainly could follow the standard conservative principle of refusing to take "government money," yet continue their good works using their own funds.

Instead, keeping with an equally long tradition of militant right-wingers, they would rather try to pull an end-run around policies put into place through democratic means by a majority of their fellow citizens.

OK -- so far nothing unusual: just standard religious exceptionalism. However, Anthony R. Picarello, general council for the militant Conference of Catholic Bishops (CCB), offers this analysis:

"It's true that the church doesn't have a First Amendment right to have a government contract, but it does have a First Amendment right not to be excluded from a contract based on its religious beliefs."

No, Mr. Picarello. The church was not excluded from this contract because of its beliefs, it was excluded from the contract because it wouldn't comply with the terms of the contract, which clearly state that contractors may not discriminate. They can believe anything they want, and announce their beliefs in pulpits and street corners as much as they like. To make a simple analogy, if a building contract requires foundations to be poured with concrete, and you believe that Elmer's glue will suffice, you can state that belief as much as you want, but you can't expect to get that contract.

Lots of fundamentalist churches used to believe -- and a few still believe -- that "mixing of the races" is wrong. They used the same argument that Mr. Picarello is now dredging up to try to show that anti-discrimination laws were somehow oppressing them. But it didn't work then and it shouldn't work now. This is a democracy, and we try to treat all law-abiding citizens fairly. If that violates the opinions of some religious group that wants to treat some law-abiding citizens unfairly, well then they can't expect taxpayers' money -- some of which was contributed by the very people they want to shortchange -- to support their efforts to do so. Would the Catholic Bishops use the same logic to support groups that refuse to place children with Catholic or Mormon or Jewish or left-handed families, say?

What part of democracy does Mr. Picarello and his clients not understand?

(Which brings me to our "cave"-man President. Will he now let religious groups refuse to cover contraception in their healthcare plans, in violation of current statutes? Why isn't this a no-brainer for him?)

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