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US Catholic bishops conference stands up for 'anti-constitutional' bill

13 July 2016 | by Catholic News Service , Sean Smith

Bill would provide 'a measure of protection for religious freedom at the federal level', two archbishops claim

A controversial US bill that two archbishops said would provide "a measure of protection for religious freedom at the federal level" but critics say is "state-sanctioned discrimination" has begun to make its way through the legislative process in the US.

The House Oversight and Government Reform Committee held a hearing this week on the First Amendment Defense Act, which seeks to define "discriminatory action" as any federal government action to discriminate against a person because of their beliefs or convictions.

The first amendment of the US Constitution protects citizens' freedom to follow a religion, freedom of speech and freedom of the press.

The day of the hearing Archbishop Salvatore J. Cordileone of San Francisco and Archbishop William E. Lori of Baltimore issued a joint statement urging support for the measure. They are, respectively, chairmen of the US Conference of Catholic Bishops' Subcommittee for the Promotion and Defense of Marriage and the bishops' Ad Hoc Committee for Religious Liberty.

They said the bill is "a modest but important step in ensuring conscience protection to faith-based organisations and people of all faiths and of no faith who believe that marriage is the union of one man and one woman, protecting them from discrimination by the federal government."

The bill - known as HR 2802 - "prohibits the federal government from taking discriminatory action against a person on the basis that such person believes or acts in accordance with a religious belief or moral conviction that: (1) marriage is or should be recognized as the union of one man and one woman, or (2) sexual relations are properly reserved to such a marriage'.

Archbishops Cordileone and Lori noted an "increasing intolerance toward religious belief and belief in the conjugal meaning of marriage," which they said makes the bill's protections "essential for continuing faith-based charitable work, which supports the common good of our society."

"Faith-based agencies and schools should not lose their licenses or accreditation simply because they hold reasonable views on marriage that differ from the federal government's view," the prelates said.

But critics of the law say that it will struggle to make it through to become legislation because it would allow individuals, businesses, health care providers and taxpayer-funded social service providers to ignore laws that conflict with those religious beliefs.

An almost identical law that legislators attempted to push through the state of Mississippi last month was struck down as unconstitutional because it would allow businesses to deny services to whole sections of the community because of their beliefs. District Judge Carlton Reeves issued a 60-page statement in which he described the Mississippi law, known as House Bill 1523, as "state-sanctioned discrimination".

"The definition of marriage as the union of one man and one woman, universally held for centuries, has nothing to do with disrespect for others, nor does it depend on religious belief," Archbishops Cordileone and Lori wrote. "Rather, it is based on truths about the human person that are understandable by reason.

The Catholic Church "will continue to promote and protect the truth of marriage as foundational to the common good" the archbishops said in their statement.



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