(CNSNews.com) – Faith leaders and religious liberty advocates are weighing in on the recently released U.S. Commission on Civil Rights report that concluded terms such as “religious liberty” and “religious freedom” were code words for discrimination and even “Christian supremacy.”
Their response is clear: The commission is out of step with the founding principles of the United States of America and its findings threaten the free practice of religion in this country.
“The phrases ‘religious liberty’ and ‘religious freedom’ will stand for nothing except hypocrisy so long as they remain code words for discrimination, intolerance, racism, sexism, homophobia, Islamophobia, Christian supremacy or any form of intolerance,” Martin Castro, chairman of the commission, said in a statement included in the 296-page report.
“The report was misleading in its account of the law, and dangerous in its recommendations,” Roger Severino, director of the DeVos Center for Religion and Civil Society at The Heritage Foundation, told CNSNews.com.
“It is preposterous for the chair to say that laws that protect the right of Muslim prisoners to grow beards, Native Americans to use sacred eagle feathers, and Sikhs to wear turbans in government jobs, are somehow an insidious attempt to impose ‘Christian supremacy’ on the nation,” said Severino.
“Perhaps most troubling is the attempt to discredit sincere religious believers as being motivated by hate instead of faith and the implied recommendation that religious groups should change their beliefs on sexual morality to conform with liberal norms for the good of the country,” said Severino, who also worked with the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty and for the Civil Rights Division of the Department of Justice.
“I would expect to see such a slanted and anti-religious report come out of China or France perhaps, but am disappointed to see it come from the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights,” he said.
“The report of the Civil Rights Commission, alleging that First Amendment claims of religious liberty are a mere cloak for discrimination, is pure hate speech,” Bishop E. W. Jackson, founder and president of Staying True to America’s National Destiny, or STAND, told CNSNews.com.
“This Commission has become a tool of the totalitarian left to stigmatize faith in God and belief in the Bible and its moral principles,” said Jackson.
He continued, “This report turns the concept of civil rights into a tool of religious persecution. It should be denounced by the American people as a dangerous departure from the spirit, letter, and plain meaning of the Constitution and Bill of Rights.”
Family Research Council President
Tony Perkins. (FRC)
Speaking to Family Research Council President Tony Perkins on his Washington Watch radio show, Ken Blackwell, the senior fellow for Family Empowerment at the FRC, said it is important to “fight back” against the report and its findings.
“There is a fundamental struggle in this country between those who believe in individual liberty and those who believe in our ability to practice our faith in the public square, and those who would cleanse the public square of faith and God,” Blackwell said.
“Essentially, what these folks are trying to do is to change the meaning of our language; to change the meaning of the very foundation of words and concepts of our Constitution,” Blackwell said. “And so in the marketplace of ideas and our public dialogue, agencies and agents like this can cause confusion and lead us down a rabbit hole.”
“It very important that we push back against this nonsense,” Blackwell said.
On Tuesday, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCC) weighed in, refuting Castro’s claims and stating that people of faith care for those who are discriminated against.
“[Castro] makes the shocking suggestion that Catholic, evangelical, orthodox Jewish, Mormon, and Muslim communities are comparable to fringe segregationists from the civil rights era,” Archbishop William E. Lori of Baltimore, chairman of the USCCB's Ad Hoc Committee for Religious Liberty, said in the statement.
“These statements painting those who support religious freedom with the broad brush of bigotry are reckless and reveal a profound disregard for the religious foundations of his own work,” said Lori.
“People of faith have often been the ones to carry the full promise of America to the most forgotten peripheries when other segments of society judged it too costly,” he said. “Men and women of faith were many in number during the most powerful marches of the civil rights era.”
“Can we imagine the civil rights movement without Rev. Martin Luther King, Fr. Theodore Hesburgh, and Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel?” Lori said. “In places like St. Louis, Catholic schools were integrated seven years before the Supreme Court decision in Brown v. Board of Education.”
“Jesus taught us to serve and not to count the cost,” Lori said.
“We wish we were there in even greater numbers, but we are there to humbly offer the full promise of America to all,” said the bishop. “Rest assured, if people of faith continue to be marginalized, it is the poor and vulnerable, not the Chairman and his friends, who will suffer.”
Even two members of the eight-member commission, which is chosen by the president and Congress, disagreed with the conclusion of the report, including Gail Heriot, professor at the University of San Diego School of Law.
“Back when the federal government didn’t heavily subsidize both public and private higher education, when it didn’t heavily regulate employment relationships, when it didn’t have the leading role in financing and delivering healthcare, we didn’t need to worry nearly so much about the ways in which conflicts with religious conscience and the law arise,” Heriot said in her rebuttal in the report.
“Nobody thought about whether the Sisters of Charity should be given a religious exemption from the Obamacare contraceptive mandate, because there was no Obamacare contraceptive mandate,” she said.
U.S. Catholic bishops at their annual
meeting in Baltimroe, Md. (AP)
“The Roman Catholic Church didn’t need the so-called Ministerial Exception to Title VII in order to limit ordinations to men (and to Roman Catholics), because there was no Title VII,” Heriot said.
“If there is any hypocrisy and intolerance, it is emanating from Mr. Castro who unfairly smears Christians, like the Little Sisters of the Poor, who are sincerely following their consciences out of love of God and neighbor, and who only want to be free to continue to serve the needy without government discrimination,” Severino said.
Kelly Shackelford, president and CEO of First Liberty Institute, said he questioned Castro’s role as chairman of the commission.
"No one denigrating religious freedom should be serving on a civil rights commission, much less being its chairman,” Shackelford said. “Calling religious freedom and liberty ‘code words’ for racism, homophobia, and sexism is reprehensible. America was founded on religious freedom.”