January 24, 2024 // Perspective

Gender Ideology Is Among Major Threats to Religious Liberty

In the inaugural report by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops on the “State of Religious Liberty in the United States,” published on Tuesday, January 16, the landscape of religious freedom in America is scrutinized with concern and a call to vigilance. The comprehensive 48-page report does not merely outline threats; it serves as a clarion call to all who cherish religious liberty, urging awareness and action in the face of growing challenges.

The report delineates five critical areas where religious liberty is threatened, providing a stark overview of the challenges Catholics face in America today. Notably, these threats are not limited to legislative battles but extend into the cultural and social arenas, affecting core aspects of what we believe as Catholics and how we live.

Bishop Rhoades, Chair of the USCCB’s Committee for Religious Liberty, which released the report, told OSV News that the committee began this annual report in order to “educate the faithful” and “motivate people to get involved in promoting and protecting religious liberty.” In an election year, this is all the more necessary. Catholics must study, form their consciences according to the mind of the Church, and make prudent decisions at the ballot box.

After surveying threats to religious liberty in Congress, the executive branch and the Supreme Court, the report concludes by directing Catholics to consider five main threats to religious liberty.

1. Attacks against houses of worship:

Foremost among these is the alarming rise in attacks against houses of worship, a phenomenon that transcends denominational boundaries and speaks to a broader climate of religious intolerance. The lingering shadow of the Israel-Hamas conflict has exacerbated this, heightening concerns for the safety of these sacred spaces that should be havens of peace and community.

2. Proposed compulsion of health care workers:

Equally concerning is a proposed regulation from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services concerning Section 1557 of the Affordable Care Act. This looming federal mandate may compel doctors to perform gender transition procedures and abortions, which would present a profound challenge to the conscience rights of health care professionals and the ethical standards of Catholic medical practice.

3. Threats to religious charities:

The plight of religious charities serving migrants and refugees is another area under scrutiny. As immigration
becomes a focal point in electoral politics, these charities face increasing threats, potentially undermining their mission to serve the vulnerable in accordance with Catholic social teaching.

4. The Pregnant Workers Fairness Act:

Additionally, the report raises concerns about the Pregnant Workers Fairness Act regulations, enforced by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. According to the U.S. bishops’ conference, the Pregnant Workers Fairness Act would require employers to provide reasonable accommodations to workers with medical needs due to pregnancy or childbirth, but these regulations potentially require religious employers to participate in practices antithetical to their pro-life beliefs, marking a significant encroachment on religious freedom.

5. Stifling of religious expression:

Finally, the suppression of religious speech, particularly regarding marriage and sexual difference, highlights a growing trend of societal and legal pressures to stifle the influence of religious beliefs in the public square.

This last threat is particularly difficult. Many Catholics self-censor at work or among friends, fearing ridicule – or, worse, recrimination – should they speak honestly or openly about Catholic teaching about marriage and human sexuality.

The celebration of “Pride Month” generated numerous
controversies last year. Recall the protests and counterprotests surrounding the Los Angeles Dodgers’ decision to present the Los Angeles Chapter of the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence, an anti-Catholic organization, a “Community Hero Award” during the team’s Pride Month festivities. More such events are likely to come.

And the bishops rightly predict that gender ideology, along with abortion and hostilities toward ministries that serve migrants at the border, will be a significant issue in the presidential campaign. The bishops note, “As with abortion, support of gender ideology tends to be associated with hostility to the exercise of religious beliefs and moral convictions upholding the sexual difference between men and women.” Religious freedom requires not only that we can openly hold these views but that we can freely teach and defend them.

The pressure to conform to social norms concerning human sexuality is exceedingly great. The LGBTQ lobby is well-established and effective in silencing opposing views. In 2020, the U.S. Department of Education issued the Religious Liberty and Free Inquiry Rule. The rule includes a provision known as the Equal Campus Access rule, which protects religious student groups at public universities from discrimination. In February of 2023, a new rule was proposed to rescind those protections, putting student leaders at risk if they hold that sex should be reserved to the confines of a marriage of one man and one woman.

The concern about gender ideology is not alarmist. Neither is it partisan or extremist. It is present, and because these conversations are so difficult, requiring compassion and charity, we must prepare ourselves in order to engage in them well.

Bishop Rhoades told OSV News that an erosion of that liberty would not only be “harmful to our country, and the principles on which our nation was founded, but also I think affects others around the world.” The decisions made in America have implications beyond our shores. We should equip ourselves, then, that we may advocate for religious liberty in our country, knowing that doing so will influence religious liberty throughout the world.

The Our Sunday Visitor Editorial Board consists of Father Patrick Briscoe, Gretchen R. Crowe, Matthew Kirby, Scott P. Richert, and York Young.

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