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Briefing shows ACLU has abandoned religious freedom for ‘culture wars,’ critic says

By Kevin Jones for CNA

Sister Loraine Marie Maguire, mother provincial of the Denver-based Little Sisters of the Poor, speaks to the media outside the U.S. Supreme Court in Washington March 23, 2016, after attending oral arguments in the Zubik v. Burwell contraceptive mandate case. (CNS photo/Joshua Roberts, Reuters)

Denver Newsroom, May 26, 2020 / 05:45 pm (CNA).- Longtime critics of religious freedom protections, among them the American Civil Liberties Union, have formed a partnership to oppose the Trump administration policies and actions that aim to protect several Catholic institutions.

But for Matthew Franck, a Princeton University politics lecturer and senior fellow at the Witherspoon Institute, this course will advance conflict and coercion, not freedom.

“The American Civil Liberties Union used to take an active interest in protecting everyone’s religious freedom, as well as the other protections of the Bill of Rights. But no longer,” Franck told CNA May 26. “In the culture wars generated by the sexual revolution, the ACLU now ranges itself against the constitutional right of religious freedom and on the side of coercion.”

Franck said the ACLU is supporting claims to civil rights not grounded in the U.S. Constitution. When those claims come into conflict with the religious freedom of individuals, religious associations, religious schools and religious charities, he suggested, the result is sometimes government coercion.

Those claims include “women seeking employer-provided contraceptives and abortifacients, or same-sex couples that want to compel church-sponsored adoption agencies to place children with them, or gay teachers who marry their partners and want to keep on working for Catholic schools that consider their teachers bound by the Church’s moral teachings, or same-sex couples who want a Christian baker to make them a custom wedding cake,” Franck said.

The American Civil Liberties Union and the Center for American Progress have launched a joint project, with material titled “Connecting the Dots.” The ACLU produced a legal briefing while the Center for American Progress released a short video May 19 linking to the briefing.

The advocacy is the product of a partnership between the two groups and the Movement Advancement Project, a strategic communications and development organization in LGBT advocacy founded by the influential millionaire Tim Gill.

“Freedom of religion is a fundamental American value—but that freedom does not give institutions or individuals the right to harm others,” the Center for American Progress said May 19. “Since President Donald Trump’s inauguration, his administration has expanded religious exemptions in an attempt to gut civil rights protections and codify discrimination against people of minority faiths, women, and people who are LGBTQ.”

The ACLU’s May 2020 briefing paper “Connecting the Dots,” argued that the Trump administration was working to “create a license to discriminate across the country.”

“In the name of religious liberty, Trump and his allies have pursued a strategy to legalize discrimination based on religion and sex — including sexual orientation and gender identity — and other personal characteristics,” the briefing said.

“Freedom of religion is a fundamental American value, so fundamental that it is protected by the First Amendment to our nation’s Constitution. But that freedom does not give institutions or individuals the right to harm others, including by discriminating and especially with taxpayer dollars,” it continued.

The ACLU said that the Trump administration authorized or expanded religious exemptions “that enable institutions, businesses, and individuals to refuse to comply with laws they assert interfere with their religious beliefs.” Such laws, in the legal group’s view, include non-discrimination laws, health care laws, and adoption and foster care laws.

For his part, Franck rejected the legal group’s claims.

“What the ACLU calls ’discrimination’ is not, under federal statutes as currently interpreted, unlawful,” Franck told CNA. “That may change if the Supreme Court willfully misreads Title VII in two pending cases. But whatever happens in these cases, the fact that the ACLU and the Center for American Progress call the defense of personal and institutional conscience an ’abuse’ of the religious freedom protected by the First Amendment says more about those organizations’ abandonment of the traditions of American freedom than it does about the Trump administration.”

“The Obama administration, sadly, ’normalized’ all these attacks on religious freedom as administration policies. The Trump administration deserves credit for working to reverse such policies,” Franck said.

Several topics in the ACLU briefing concern cases where Catholic institutions are involved.

The legal group opposed accommodations for employers with religious or moral objections to providing health care plans that cover contraception, including drugs that can cause abortion. The Little Sisters of the Poor, a Catholic religious congregation that provides care for the indigent elderly, are still tied up in court over the coverage mandate, which dates back to the middle of the Obama administration.

The briefing objected to the Trump administration’s September 2019 statement of interest in a fired high school teacher’s lawsuit filed against the Archdiocese of Indianapolis. The archdiocese had ruled that the teacher violated archdiocesan policy and Catholic teaching by contracting a same-sex civil marriage and said that the Catholic high school must terminate his job to maintain its Catholic affiliation.

The ACLU characterized the Trump administration’s action as “arguing against employees who are fired for being gay.”

Regarding a California legal case against a Sacramento-area Catholic hospital, the ACLU briefing claims its client, Evan Minton, was “turned away from a religious hospital for being transgender.”

Minton, who presents as a transgender man, filed a lawsuit against the Dignity Health Catholic health system after a Catholic hospital refused to perform a planned elective hysterectomy. Health system officials arranged for Minton to be transferred to a hospital not affiliated with Catholicism. In September 2019, a California court allowed Minton’s lawsuit to proceed, overturning a lower court’s decision that the transfer of Milton was sufficient to avoid charges under state anti-discrimination law.

“Catholic hospitals do not perform sterilizing procedures such as hysterectomies for any patient regardless of their gender identity, unless there is a serious threat to the life or health of the patient,” Dignity Health said in September 2019.

A 2016 letter to the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services signed by the general counsel for the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, together with other groups, affirmed that the denial of surgery to someone seeking to change their gender would not be discriminatory. The letter rejected claims that it is discriminatory to decline to perform a mastectomy or a hysterectomy on a healthy woman who is “seeking to have the appearance of a man.”

The ACLU’s briefing criticized the creation of the Conscience and Religious Freedom Division at the Department of Health and Human Services, and objected that this new division is better funded than divisions related to information privacy and civil rights.

The legal group objected to religious freedom protections for prospective foster and adoptive parents and for adoption agencies that receive federal funds. Several Catholic and other Christian adoption agencies have been forced to close by law or by denial of funds because they could not in good conscience place children with same-sex couples.

The ACLU also objected to the Trump administration’s amicus brief in the Masterpiece Cakeshop Supreme Court case. The case concerned a Colorado bakery that declined to make a wedding cake for a same-sex ceremony on the grounds of religious objections. The briefing charged that the Trump administration argued “on behalf of a business’ right to discriminate.”

The briefing claimed the Trump administration required departments and agencies to implement “a distorted interpretation of religious liberty” that in the ACLU’s view excessively favors religious claims. It criticized then-Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ creation of a Religious Liberty Task Force to implement federal guidance, claiming this could “open the door to widespread discrimination in employment and government-funded services.” The ACLU said the government has denied requests seeking to determine who is on the task force.

The May 2019 action of the Housing and Urban Development on gender identity also drew criticism from the ACLU. The group said this action this allows shelters “to exclude transgender and gender nonconforming people from appropriate shelters, including on the basis of the shelter’s religious beliefs.” The group said that self-identified transgender women should be able to have shelter that “conforms with their gender identity.”

The Department of Labor’s rules allowing religious associations to obtain federal contracts also drew criticism, as did a May 2018 executive order allowing faith-based and community organizations to receive federal funds in grants, contracts and program funding “to the fullest opportunity permitted by law.”

The ACLU, the Center for American Progress, and the Movement Advancement Project are part of a multi-million dollar social and political change advocacy network aiming to limit religious freedom protections. Major funders of this network include the Ford Foundation, the Proteus Fund, and the Arcus Foundation. The Arcus Foundation, founded by billionaire Jon Stryker, also funds Christian groups which reject traditional Christian teaching on LGBT issues and abortion.

The Center for American Progress was founded by John Podesta, a former chief-of-staff for President Bill Clinton and campaign manager for Hillary Clinton’s unsuccessful 2016 presidential run. In 2016, Podesta drew attention after leaked emails implied he had backed several political Catholic groups for a “Catholic Spring” revolt against the bishops.

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  1. There was time, when the ACLU, was somewhat honorable. But they signed with the BIG BROTHER MOVEMENT, was injected by the anti God and Catholic, cancer. Sadly, in too many instances, since the 60’s we, Catholic’s and “believers in God” have started as a trickle, now a tsunami, TO SLIDE OVER TO THE DARK SIDE and to look the other way and bury their heads in the sands of secular-humanist Culture of Satan driven evil and vitriolic anti-Catholic hate and fear. Sadly in too many ways, many of us have only to look in the mirror to see the real supporters of the new age ACLU AND OTHER HATE DRIVEN GROUPS WHICH, WERE ONCE, STARCH DEFENDERS OF LIFE, LIBERTY AND RELIGIOUS FREEDOM. Sadly, we have become our own worst enemies and by default spit in God’s eye. What goes around comes around, if not on the minuscule blue and green dot in God’s cosmos, most surly, as we stand before the Throne of God in Final Judgement. Perhaps, It’s time for a serious conversation with our minds, hearts and souls, to review and decide, which side of God’s team we are on, before it is to late. Peace, Bob Fallon

    • “There was time, when the ACLU, was somewhat honorable.”

      Nope. There was a time when ACLU had to hide their true colors because people were not brainwashed enough to buy leftardedness hook, line, and sinker.

      That was then…

  2. As an alternative to Prof Matthew Franck’s excellent response to the ACLU argument for a secularist Liberty as countermeasure to religious freedom, a legal posture that actually inhibits freedom – the following, hopefully not too far afield addresses what is at the heart of religious freedom. Both ACLU Liberty and religious freedom are reasoned premises. As culture drifts toward a secularist pragmatism the underlying spiritual dimension becomes increasingly blurred and irrelevant. As presented in Echeverria’s essay Wojtyla’s Athenian Catechesis I demonstrated that “The truth that is Christ is the Rule to which reason acquiesces by faith”. That is why faith, from which true religion stems is that faith acknowledgment that precedes reasoned comprehension and apologetics. And the reason is that God whose essence is Love is identical with his Existence. The revelation of the Father in his Son is primarily and by essence determined by that good we call love. Exhibited in word and deed [primarily the Passion and Crucifixion]. Love has no ulterior justification, although reasoned justification of that revelation has immense value, because divine Love is its own justification and ultimate truth. Again the ultimate truth to which reason acquiesces. It is not essentially emotive rather it evokes emotive response in Man. Reason will do well during the course of our current cultural dilemma. Although the only, singular resolution for our culture and nation is the rebirth in the faithful of that fiery Love poured upon the Church at Pentecost.

  3. Right? Wrong? Man? Woman? Freedom of Religion? What do these concepts mean?

    Weighing the spiritual and cultural collapse of the West, Solzhenitsyn warned in a New York City speech back in 1975: “We are approaching a major turning point in world history, in the history of civilization. . . . It is a juncture at which settled concepts suddenly become hazy, lose their precise contours, at which our familiar and commonly used words lose their meaning, become empty shells. . . .”

    And, appearing before a judge finally for a felony sentencing, a younger generation guinea pig was asked: “Didn’t anyone ever teach you right from wrong?” His wide-eyed answer: “no.” (Warning to the West (1976),

    • But the line dividing good and evil cuts through the heart of every human being. And who is willing to destroy a piece of his own heart? (Solzhenitsyn Gulag Arch). He saw in 73 the moral crevice polarizing Mankind. We’re a dwindling minority in a world culture distancing from Christ and in consequence from Right Reason. Rationale dialogue seems hopeless when spoken English has lost its mutual coherence. Alexsandr Solzhenitsyn nevertheless understood the moral dividing line between good and evil inherent to human nature, the bedrock of conscience. Causes why reason alone as I allude above is insufficient. Prayer and willingness to sacrifice is what draws grace, that fire which alone changes hearts.

  4. “The ACLU, the Center for American Progress, and the Movement Advancement Project are part of a multi-million dollar social and political change advocacy network aiming to limit religious freedom protections. Major funders of this network include the Ford Foundation, the Proteus Fund, and the Arcus Foundation. The Arcus Foundation, founded by billionaire Jon Stryker, also funds Christian groups which reject traditional Christian teaching on LGBT issues and abortion.”


    You can add the Human Rights Campaign to this list also. Sadly many large companies & employers support it, lending it legitimacy.

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