Conference of Catholic Bishops leaves Leadership Conference on Civil Rights, opposes ENDA

by on May 26, 2010  •  In Congress, ENDA, Religion

Last week the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) terminated its membership in the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights (LCCR), a coalition of more than 200 organizations that is the more-or-less official voice of civil rights in Washington. The Bishops Conference stated that its primary reason for leaving was LCCR's endorsement of Elena Kagan's nomination to the Supreme Court; Kagan supports abortion rights.

At the same time, the Bishops Conference sent a letter to members of Congress announcing that it would oppose the enactment of ENDA. In previous years, the Bishops had neither opposed nor supported ENDA. The Conference explained its about face as follows:

The USCCB continues to oppose “unjust discrimination” against people with a homosexual inclination, but we cannot support a bill – such as ENDA in its current form – that would legally affirm and specially protect any sexual conduct outside of marriage.

Moreover, because the passage of such a bill could be used to punish as discrimination what the Catholic Church teaches, the USCCB has always sought as comprehensive a religious exemption as is achievable, in order to protect the religious freedom of the Church, and of all others who hold similar views. One partial solution to this problem is to apply Title VII’s prohibition on religious discrimination, which is already incorporated in the current version of the bill.

But this is insufficient alone, as the Title VII protection does not cover all religious employers, and recent experience teaches that even covered institutions may face government retaliation for relying on such exemptions. Without such additional protection, ENDA would be applied to jeopardize our religious freedom to live our faith and moral tenets in today’s society.

The movement to redefine marriage to include two persons of the same sex (a.k.a. same-sex “marriage”) has changed the law substantially toward that end, at both the state and federal level, and it has become increasingly clear that laws like ENDA have been instrumental to those changes.

Gay rights issues in general and ENDA in particular probably played a big role in the group's withdrawal from LCCR. The Religion News Service reported that "Sister Mary Ann Walsh, a spokeswoman for the bishops' conference, said the LCCR's expansion of civil rights to include protections for gays and lesbians was another potential point of disagreement." The Bishops' announcement stated in part, "The interests of the Leadership Conference and those of the USCCB have diverged as the LCCR has moved beyond advocacy of traditional civil rights to advocacy of positions which do not reflect the principles and policies of the bishops’ Conference."

This is unfortunate news for lgbt rights advocates within the beltway. The Bishops' Conference is big, powerful and genuinely progressive on many issues, such as poverty, race and immigration. The loss of its neutrality on ENDA is a setback, especially because its reasons are bogus; the religious exemption in Title VII that would be part of ENDA has worked well for 45 years. The withdrawal of the bishops from LCCR signals both the increasing power of conservatives within that faith and the increasing power of lgbt issues to create schisms in American politics.


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