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Conscience, courts, and the coercion of “equality”

With the support of media and many politicians, LGBTQ activists occupy the high ground in the long term.

(Image: Leighann Renee |

Last month in Philadelphia a federal appeals court did its bit for efforts to make conscience knuckle under to the LGBTQ agenda. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the 3rd Circuit held the city was within its rights in barring Catholic Social Services of the Archdiocese of Philadelphia and an agency called Bethany Christian Services from making foster care placements because they won’t place children with same-sex couples.

Up to then, Catholic Social Services had served an average of 120 children in 100 foster homes daily. The agency’s attorney said the ruling meant the city now was free to “place politics above the needs of kids and the rights of parents.”

Perhaps so. But Philadelphia isn’t alone. In recent years, religiously sponsored social services have been forced out of adoption and foster care in similar circumstances in places that include Massachusetts, Illinois, California and the District of Columbia.

Nor are these isolated incidents, limited to adoption and foster care. They are skirmishes in a broader, ongoing fight, pressed by groups like the American Civil Liberties Union and the Human Rights Campaign, to advance the ideology of “sexual orientation” and “gender identity” at the expense of religious groups, private institutions, and individuals who object in conscience.

The steamroller appeared to inch ahead in April in the Supreme Court when the justices agreed to consider three cases–two involving homosexual men and one a transgender woman–which seek to add sexual orientation and gender identity to the understanding of “sex” among categories covered by the Civil Rights Act of 1964. The cases will be argued next fall, with a decision likely early next year.

Human Rights Campaign legal director Sarah Warbelow welcomed the court’s action in accepting the cases. At the same time, however, she urged Congress to move ahead on legislation called the Equality Act which would confer preferred status on LGBTQ not only in the Civil Rights Act but under a wide range of federal laws and programs involving employment, housing, public accommodations, education, federal funding, credit, and the jury system.

Some 20 states already have such laws, which have been used, for example, against florists and bakers who refuse for reasons of conscience to provide services for same-sex weddings. The legislation traces its origins back to the 1970s, when an earlier version was sponsored by Reps. Bella Abzug (D-NY) and Ed Koch (D-NY). In its present form it has extensive corporate backing, including support from such as Apple, Twitter, Amazon, Google, and Facebook.

But it also has opposition, including from feminists and women athletes who say letting transgender women with the bodies of men compete in women’s events would be the death of women’s sports.

Five bishops who chair committees of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops expressed regret at the May 17 passage of the legislation in the House of Representatives by a vote of 236-173, with all Democrats joined by eight Republicans voting in favor. The bishops said it would “negatively impact” the unborn, health care, schools, religious liberty, and parental rights.

The Equality Act now goes to the Senate, where it is not expected to pass. But, face it, with the support of media and many politicians, LGBTQ activists occupy the high ground in the long term, not least because it’s hard to fight coercion that shelters under the banner of “equality.” One is reminded of a famous line in George Orwell’s savage parody of communism, Animal Farm: “All animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others.”

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About Russell Shaw 294 Articles
Russell Shaw was secretary for public affairs of the National Conference of Catholic Bishops/United States Catholic Conference from 1969 to 1987. He is the author of 20 books, including Nothing to Hide, American Church: The Remarkable Rise, Meteoric Fall, and Uncertain Future of Catholicism in America, Eight Popes and the Crisis of Modernity, and, most recently, The Life of Jesus Christ (Our Sunday Visitor, 2021).


  1. Shaw reminds us of Orwell’s Animal Farm where “All animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others.” Two centuries earlier, the original archbishop of such “equality,” the political philosopher Jean Jacques Rousseau, proposed a General Will under which any dissidents would be “forced to be free.” As in today’s litigation.

    Such fantasizing inspired the Reign of Terror (as well as later Socialism and Communism). In the 18th century the cutting edge of Rousseau’s thinking was the guillotine—-needed to equalize all who might be a head too tall. Trumpeting such fraternal (aanti-paternal) equality, daddy Rousseau even cut himself off from his own five illegitimate children—-they were spirited off to orphanages (to his credit, at least, he later regretted such irresponsibility).

    Thus, the current campaign for cookie-cutter equality is inter-century as well as inter-generational. With the radical-feminist denigration of fatherhood, coupled (!) with modern Technocracy, today the transformer-toy mentality morphs into plastic gender theory and transgender ideology. We are what we do.

    Psychologist Paul Vitz has researched such nihilists as Friedrich Nietzsche and even our modern evolutionary biologist prophet and atheist, Richard Dawkins. In neither case “do we find a strong, beloved father with a close relationship with his son or daughter.” Even Sigmund Freud confided that psychoanalysis “daily demonstrates to us how youthful persons lose their religious belief [and much else!] as soon as the authority of the father breaks down.” (Vitz, Faith of our Fathers, 1999).

  2. Yes, Rousseau’s General Will forcing freedom on all remains as tyrannical today as it did in the late 18th Century, and we know what terrific event happened at the end of that Siecle des Lumieres? The Revolution invoked Rousseau perhaps wrongly, but still it seems one can say the he had a deficient understanding of Man’s natural state, which really finds its perfection in the Grace of a loving God. The Common Good can never be forced, but only encouraged by God’s Revelation by way of Man’s free will. Otherwise, a society is ruled by brute power, which remains Man’s default unenlightened state, of which we have plenty of today, as was the case during the Reign of Terror, where surely “you will not die” and “your eyes will be opened.”

  3. My husband and I are parents of two adopted young men.
    We adopted our children when they were babies from
    Baltimore Catholic Charities. The logical conclusion and firegone logic of the left will eventually conclude that all Catholic families will be denied the ability to adopt because of their professed faith. Blatant religious discrimination and anti constitution.

  4. We trace paradigmatic change in moral perspective to the Royal Charter imposed by the British Crown on the Colonies to subdue NE theocracy. The Charter contained Church tradition, reasoned principles, natural law tradition contained within The Common Law of England known today simply as the Common Law. Most States retained that Common law as their modal for jurisprudence. Knowledge of right and wrong good and evil was the general basis for forming conscience. Con scientia meaning to Act with Knowledge. Now much of what the Common Law held is natural to Man in the sense of what Aquinas called the Natural Law Within, that universal knowledge inherent to Man. We know good in evil on a natural level intuitively meaning as apprehended by the Intellect. We scrutinize its validity when it conforms with commonly held moral principles [natural law]. That’s been lost thru the years with the distancing from religious practice to wit loss of faith. What many call conscience today is merely opinion based on personal preference often in contradistinction to what their true conscience speaks to them. Jurisprudence today follows a presumed right to impose false presumptions such as LGBT due to the concept of unprincipled Liberty made famous by SC jurist Anthony Kennedy. Many are aware of this dynamic although convincing the very many who are relativists seems impossible. It seems reason alone will not convince, turn the tide of so grievous an error. Prayer and sacrifice are needed along with knowledgeable intelligent response. Unless a hopeful general conversion miraculously occurs the faithful are destined to suffer a far worse fate than citizens of the former NE theocracies.

  5. If the courts and LGBT threaten the conscientious rights of faithful Catholics, more injurious does what emanates from Rome threaten the Catholic conscience. On that score the conscience of high ranking prelates now compel direct fearless questioning of Pope Francis on moral issues that adversely affect the belabored conscience of Laity. “Cardinal Gerhard Müller asked Pope Francis to respond to the April 30 Open Letter to the Church’s bishops accusing Pope Francis of heretical teachings, as well as to clarify some of the ‘re-formulations of the Church’s teachings’ as they are to be found in Amoris Laetitia. Cardinal Willem Eijk has repeatedly asked Pope Francis to clarify Amoris Laetitia, as well as his permitting the German bishops to allow Communion for Protestant spouses. And Bishop Athanasius Schneider has called upon Pope Francis publicly and authoritatively to correct the February 4, 2019 Abu Dhabi declaration, which flatly states that the ‘diversity of religions’ is ‘willed by God'” (Maike Hickson LifeSite). This request to respond to Emeritus Pope Benedict’s Open Letter from the ever respectful Cardinal Müller is astounding. The Great Storm is building and our Captains Courageous [finally] are rushing to the helm.

    • I correct my mistake that the Open Letter addressed to the bishops was actually that authored by a group of Laity and clergy.

  6. As long as the bishops continue to “express regret” and leave it at that, evil will continue to march forward. Precisely what would be evil enough for them to rise from their comfortable, cushioned chairs and pronounce some excommunications and anathemas? It may sound medievel but it get some needed attention.

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