July 10, 2024 // National

Federal Agencies Distort Truth, Threaten Religious Freedom with Gender Ideology Rules

By Bishop Kevin C. Rhoades and Bishop Robert Barron

(OSV News) – The Church celebrates the month of June in dedication to the Most Sacred Heart of Jesus, who pours out His never-ending love to humanity. This love is offered to each of us, yet we are reminded that love cannot exist without truth because He who loves us is truth itself (cf. John 14:6). As bishops, we are thus compelled to address recent efforts to distort the truth through the proliferation of “new rights” by federal agencies, which aim to codify, and in effect, further advance in society, what Pope Francis lately called the “ugliest danger” of our time.

Throughout the past several years, federal agencies have been working methodically to promote gender ideology at the expense of the rights of people of faith. Recently, that steady march became a sprint. Throughout three weeks in April and May, federal agencies issued eight separate rules enshrining gender ideology into law.

We saw this coming. In 2022, U.S. bishops began alerting Catholics and people of goodwill to proposed federal regulations that do harm to Catholic institutions and undermine the common good.

Chairmen across multiple USCCB committees focused on problems coming from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) and the Department of Education (USDE). Cardinal Timothy Dolan of New York and Cardinal Blase Cupich of Chicago took to America Magazine to warn Catholics about an HHS regulation that would require Catholic hospitals to perform gender transition surgeries. And the USCCB undertook significant efforts to explain to these federal agencies how their proposed rules would do harm. On the Title IX and Section 1557 regulations alone, USCCB action alerts generated more than 37,500 total comments filed by concerned Catholics.

In the end, it seems to have made little difference. A common pattern runs through these new rules. First, they require charities and social service providers to assent to or participate in gender ideology in various ways. One rule requires foster parents to affirm their children’s asserted gender identities. Another says having sex-separate bathrooms at work is sexual harassment. Yet another contorts a law against disability discrimination into a requirement to accommodate gender identity claims. And so on.

The rules then make vague assurances that the agencies respect religious freedom, while pointedly refusing to provide any real guarantee that anyone’s religious freedom will actually be honored. In many cases, faith-based organizations are told exemptions will be considered on a case-by-case basis.

We need to be really clear here. These rules promote an ideological worldview at odds with the foundational order of human nature. In doing so, they also threaten the viability of Catholic institutions, such as hospitals, migration and refugee services, and adoption and foster care agencies. This regulatory regime harms the common good and undermines the Church’s good works in service of the human person.

Our belief in the dignity of the human person underpins all our charitable services. Our special care for migrants, orphans, the poor, and the sick flows from this powerful reality – which we affirm to be both biblical but also available to natural human reason – that every individual has an “ontological dignity,” which is “indelible and remains valid beyond any circumstances in which the person may find themselves.” Indeed, persons who struggle with gender dysphoria have infinite dignity, and they deserve our love and respect as persons created in the image of God.

But this same principle of human dignity is also what animates our defense of unborn life, our promotion of marriage, our teaching that each person’s sexual identity – rooted in his or her biological sex – ought to be received as a gift from God, and our concern for religious freedom. Our commitment to serving in the world cannot come at the expense of our commitment to life, marriage, and the nature of the human person.

Despite the challenges we face, discouragement has no place in the good news of the Gospel. Catholics will continue to serve the least of our neighbors – in love and truth – come what may.

Bishop Kevin C. Rhoades is Chairman of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Committee for Religious Liberty. Bishop Robert E. Barron is the Bishop of the Diocese of Winona-Rochester, Minnesota, and Chairman of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Committee on Laity, Marriage, Family Life, and Youth.

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