Tag: Religious freedom

Stand Against Unjust Discrimination: Oppose the Equality Act

Stand Against Unjust Discrimination: Oppose the Equality Act

March 16, 2021 • Cardinal Timothy Dolan • Public Disclosure: The Journal of the Witherspoon Institute

The Equality Act goes far beyond the noble desire to protect vulnerable people. It burdens consciences, severely curtails the rights of people to practice their faith, smuggles in an abortion mandate, and explicitly exempts itself from respecting religious freedom.

Americans have long been a tolerant people. In recent years, there has been much concern and lament about how divided we have become, and we are right to be concerned about the divisions that are opening up in our public life. At the same time, considering this country’s extraordinary diversity, we might marvel at the way the vast majority of us accept difference and show hospitality and respect toward our neighbors, even amid our deep disagreements.

The Equality Act takes us in a different direction. While the name sounds appealing—who is not in favor of equality?—the Equality Act is actually deeply intolerant. It forces a highly contested understanding of human nature on all people, and it goes out of its way to target people of faith.

The idea behind the Equality Act seems simple enough. It makes “sexual orientation” and “gender identity” protected categories in the Civil Rights Act. The goal is to protect people who identify as LGBT from discrimination.

The desire to protect people from unjust discrimination is a laudable one. We Catholics believe that every individual is created in the image of God, and so we have an obligation to treat all people with dignity, respect, and compassion. All Catholics should stand against unjust discrimination. But the Equality Act goes far beyond its ostensible goal.

While the name sounds appealing—who is not in favor of equality?—the Equality Act is actually deeply intolerant.

A Christian Understanding of Sex and Gender

One need not profess the Catholic faith to find problems with the Equality Act. Reason and natural law provide ample grounds for rejecting it. But a Christian perspective can illuminate how the codification of gender ideology into law is harmful.

A Christian understanding of sex and gender is not about following arbitrary rules. It is about human flourishing, the common good, and respecting the integrity of nature. The Church has long understood that the human person is a unity of body and soul. I am not a mind that happens to have a body. I am a body animated by a soul, a whole person. One’s identity is inseparable from one’s body. Gender ideology presents a counter anthropology, claiming that one’s given body could somehow contradict one’s identity.

Christians recognize that there is a distinction between the sexes. Sexual difference is a fundamental, sacred, and beautiful dimension of human nature, and the complementarity between male and female finds meaning in the “the flourishing of family life.”

Much of the language of Scripture and sacred tradition builds on the natural understanding of marriage as a fruitful union between male and female. Christianity becomes incomprehensible if we accept that marriage is based merely on strong affection or that gender can be untethered from biological sex. While Catholics must accompany all individuals, we cannot accept an ideology of gender, which, as Pope Francis says, “‘denies the difference and reciprocity in nature of a man and a woman and envisages a society without sexual differences, thereby eliminating the anthropological basis of the family.’” In fact, the Holy Father seems to be speaking directly to the problem represented by the Equality Act when he says, “‘This ideology leads to educational programmes and legislative enactments that promote a personal identity and emotional intimacy radically separated from the biological difference between male and female. Consequently, human identity becomes the choice of the individual, one which can also change over time.’”

While Catholics must accompany all individuals, we cannot accept an ideology of gender, which, as Pope Francis says, ‘denies the difference and reciprocity in nature of a man and a woman and envisages a society without sexual differences, thereby eliminating the anthropological basis of the family.’

Imposing Gender Ideology

Of course, many Americans may reject a view of sexuality rooted in the natural law, and perhaps many more do not accept a Christian understanding of the human person. The United States is highly pluralistic. One of the great benefits of living in a free society, though, is that we can reason together about how best to live together with our differences. As I noted earlier this year, Pope Francis offers much wisdom in Fratelli tutti when he teaches that dialogue allows us the room to seek the truth together in a pluralistic society. The Equality Act brings an end to dialogue. It forces all of us to accept the tendentious claims of gender ideology.

Allowing for room for discernment is especially important here. Consider a scenario involving female spaces at a school. A young male informs a teacher that he now identifies as a female, and that he wishes to be treated as a female. How should an educator respond?

Proper discernment entails taking full account of the whole situation. What is going on in this student’s life? What would be fair to all students? What sort of accommodations are possible? What kind of counseling options are available? It is not difficult to imagine several ways that a teacher could respond to this situation in a way that is both truthful and compassionate, faithful and empathetic. But the Equality Act allows for only one way to handle this situation, and it is a way that is unfair for the female students who want privacy and ultimately uncompassionate to a student in need of accompaniment that is both loving and honest. By forcing gender ideology on schools, charitable services, and hospitals, the Equality Act shrinks the space in which people of good will can discern how best to help persons experiencing gender dysphoria.

Targeting Religion

Religious freedom is a fundamental right, enshrined as the first in the Bill of Rights. All people of good will deserve the space to seek the truth about God and to respond to the truth when it is grasped. Certainly, ordering society toward the good while respecting the freedom of all can be a challenge. But at a minimum, no one should be forced by the government to do something that she or he understands to be against his or her deeply held convictions. The Catholic Church teaches this clearly:

[Religious] freedom means that all men are to be immune from coercion on the part of individuals or of social groups and of any human power, in such wise that no one is to be forced to act in a manner contrary to his own beliefs, whether privately or publicly, whether alone or in association with others, within due limits.

The Equality Act seems to go out of its way to target religion. It exempts itself from the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA), a bill that was passed nearly unanimously by Congress and signed into law by President Bill Clinton in 1993. RFRA basically says that if the government is going to burden religion, it needs to have a very good reason, and it needs to show that it did everything possible to avoid over-burdening the religion.

RFRA has been invoked by Muslims seeking to wear short beards in prison, American Indians using eagle feathers in religious ceremonies, humanitarians leaving water for migrants in the desert, and—yes—nuns who do not want to pay for contraceptives. RFRA protects people of all faiths. But under the Equality Act, a religious service provider is not protected by RFRA if it “discriminates” on the basis of “gender identity.” So, if a Catholic women’s shelter decides that it would be best not to house a biological man self-identifying as a woman in the same space as women who have been victims of domestic abuse, that ministry would not be protected under the Equality Act.

The Equality Act also expands the meaning of public accommodations. What this means is that some institutions we would not normally think of as public are considered public under the Equality Act. For example, a church is obviously a religious building. But what if the church has a banquet hall that it rents out for events? Most reasonable people would say that the law should not force a church to host an event that it considers to be immoral. But under the Equality Act, if the church is open to the public, then disallowing the celebration of a same-sex civil marriage would be discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation. Of course, in this instance, the church objects to the activity of the participants, not the “orientation” of the individuals, but the Act does not make that distinction. Our recognition of the inherent dignity of all persons does not entail that we must celebrate conduct contrary to our beliefs.

The Equality Act goes far beyond the noble desire to protect vulnerable people. It burdens consciences and severely curtails the rights of religious people to be free to practice their faith.

The Equality Act also sneaks in an abortion mandate by defining “sex” to include “pregnancy, childbirth, or a related medical condition”—a phrase that courts have interpreted to include abortion. With this trick, the Act can effectively say that refusing to perform an abortion constitutes discrimination on the basis of sex. Consider a Catholic doctor working at a Catholic hospital. She is not protected from being forced to perform abortions by virtue of working at a Catholic hospital, because the hospital is a public accommodation. Her individual conscience rights are less protected, because she has no recourse to RFRA. It seems that whether the issue is abortion, gender ideology, or marriage redefinition, the activists are not content to simply do what they want. With the Equality Act, they are saying, “no matter what you believe, you are going to support these things.”

The Equality Act goes far beyond the noble desire to protect vulnerable people. It burdens consciences and severely curtails the rights of religious people to be free to practice their faith.

For the Good of All

All people should be treated with dignity and respect. There are cases of real harms that provide the impetus for bills like the Equality Act. During this season of Lent, we Christians reflect on ways that we have treated others unjustly, bringing our own failings to the sacrament of penance—including any times we have treated individuals experiencing same-sex attraction or gender dysphoria with anything less than love.

At the same time, as Justice Anthony Kennedy has put it, “Tolerance is most meaningful when it’s mutual.” The Equality Act codifies intolerance, not only for religious people, but for people who have serious, good-faith questions about the transgender political movement. As inheritors of a long tradition on what human flourishing looks like, Christians have a unique contribution to make to today’s conversations about sex and gender. We should have space to make it.

June 12, 2020: A Big Step for Religious Freedom


By Nina Shea

June 11, 2020 7:25 pm ET

For decades religious freedom has been treated as the unwanted stepcihld in the human-rights side of U.S. foreign policy. But in a rare ray of light this dark spring, America’s defining right has been recognized at the highest level as a “moral and national security imperative.” This is more than a symbolic gesture.

On June 2 President Trump signed an executive order that declares support for religious freedom a foreign policy “priority.” It mandates that “the United States will respect and vigorously promote this freedom” abroad. It has been a long journey to this point.

The State Department’s Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor was created in 1977 to help advance individual liberty and democratic freedoms around the world. The U.S. had pledged to do so since 1948, when it backed the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Technically religious freedom was covered along with other fundamental rights in the bureau’s mandate.


In reality, many officials saw religious freedom as irrelevant—neither universal nor inalienable. In a 1997 speech at Catholic University, Secretary of State Madeleine Albrightdismissed calls to press for religious freedom. Speaking in the context of Sudan’s mass killing, rape and deportation of religious minorities, Ms. Albright said, “We must also take into account the perspectives and values of others.” U.S. officials often vociferously protested the torture and imprisonment of journalists, lawyers and political dissidents. But Washington’s record on standing up for religious believers was spottier.


A broad, faith-based movement—incensed that reports of religious persecution were habitually ignored by the American foreign-policy establishment—successfully lobbied for the International Religious Freedom Act of 1998. The IRFA institutionalized concern for religious freedom. It established a new office and the post of ambassador-at-large, along with an independent bipartisan commission to recommend policies. The legislation mandated State publish an annual report that identifies the world’s worst persecutors of religious freedom. A 2016 bill empowered the ambassador-at-large to report directly to the secretary of state.

Greater awareness has led to results. Many of the persecuted draw courage and receive better treatment because they are not forgotten. Some were even freed from prison, with several high-profile cases in recent years. American Pastor Andrew Brunson, detained on false charges in Turkey for more than two years, finally was released in 2018, in large part thanks to help from the Commission on International Religious Freedom.

But problems persisted. Washington didn’t begin directing humanitarian aid in Iraq to the Christian and Yazidi communities until 2018—four years after Islamic State destroyed their towns and two years after State officially designated them victims of genocide. The effort to overcome the bureaucratic inertia that slowed aid was considered Vice President Mike Pence’s pet project—essentially recognition that it wouldn’t have happened if not for his special interest and specific direction.

There’s always more to do, but the Trump administration has elevated the cause of international religious freedom since the president came into office. The 2017 U.S. National Security Strategy cited violent attacks on religious minorities. In a notable first, the document promised to “place a priority on protecting” such groups.

The recent executive order, which applies beyond the Middle East and religious minorities, ensures the NSS pledge will become operational. For example, Nigeria is on the IRFA “special watch list” and will automatically be given priority through a selection of diplomatic tools—from assistance for rights defenders to help improving security for targeted houses of worship and villages. China, a “country of particular concern” because it suppresses all religions, will receive similar treatment.

The secretary of state, U.S. Agency for International Development and U.S. embassies around the world must produce specific plans to advance religious freedom. They also will carry out educational training in international religious freedom for the Foreign Service and other federal employees. Another important provision appears to take aim at America’s previously unconscionable negligence in Iraq by mandating “foreign assistance programs shall ensure that faith-based and religious entities, including eligible entities in foreign countries, are not discriminated against.”

The order puts teeth in IRFA’s listing of severe persecutors by directing the secretaries of state and Treasury to prioritize economic sanctions and visa denials to pressure offending individuals in those countries. It allocates $50 million for new programs to protect religious communities and their culture.

Religious freedom remains a salient foreign-policy issue for a simple reason: Billions of people are religious, and many are persecuted. The U.S. has taken an important step toward ensuring it always stands with them.

Ms. Shea, a senior fellow at the HudsonInstitute, served on the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (1999-2012).

March 10, 2020: Experts Form “Strategy Coalition to Protect Christians and Religious Pluralism in Sub-Sahara”


Following a surge in beheadings, abductions and other violent assaults by Islamic extremists targeting Catholic priests, Protestant ministers, and ordinary Christians in sub-Saharan Africa, 20 leading experts in international religious freedom convened a three-day emergency strategy session, March 5-7, on how to respond. It was held at Ave Maria School of Law in Naples, Florida.

June 21, 2019: UN Day marks victory for religious freedom


OTTAWA — Getting the United Nations and the European Union to acknowledge the persecution of Christians is an ongoing challenge, but there are signs of progress, says Marcela Szymanski, a lobbyist for Aid to the Church in Need.

One positive step was taken May 29 with a United Nations resolution to make Aug. 22 the International Day Commemorating the Victims of Acts of Violence Based on Religion or Belief, said the Brussels-based editor of Aid to the Church in Need’s Religious Freedom in the World Report.

June 21, 2019 – Custody of Wunderlich Challenged By Authorities

Newsletter – June 2019
The same court which ordered the removal of the Wunderlich children in 2013, has again challenged the custody of the children by demanding proof of their school attendance.

The Wunderlich family were summoned to a court in Darmstadt, Germany, last week. The two younger children, who are still minors, and their parents were questioned in two separate hearings over two days.

Despite the right of parents to direct the education of their children being protected in international law, Dirk and Petra Wunderlich awoke one morning in 2013 to discover that more than 30 German police officers and social workers had come to seize custody of their four children.

The Wunderlich family has been in and out of court ever since, fighting to ensure respect for this fundamental right. Now, once again, they are fighting to keep custody of their children.

Please continue to pray for the Wunderlich family. Having brought their case to the Grand Chamber of the European Court of Human Rights, the highest level of the court, they wait for confirmation that it will be heard.

A good decision there would better protect the right of parents to direct the upbringing of their children in Germany and across Europe.

Thank you for supporting us in our shared mission,

Paul Coleman, Executive Director

Partner with us today to support the Wunderlich family

The Wunderlich’s fight for parental rights

Jan 2013
German authorities take children away
The Wunderlich family’s right to homeschool is challenged by the German authorities who forcibly remove their four children from their home.
Apr 2015
Family files case at the Human Rights Court
On 16 April, ADF International filed the case against Germany at the European Court of Human Rights, on behalf of the Wunderlich family.
Apr 2017
Submissions made to Human Rights Court 
On 6 April, ADF International made final written submissions in the case of Wunderlich v. Germanyto the European Court of Human Rights.
Jan 2019
European Court rules against Wunderlichs 
The European Court of Human Rights ruled that the German authorities’ actions were not in violation of the Wunderlich family’s fundamental rights.
Apr 2019
Wunderlichs appeal to top European court 
The Wunderlich family, with the help of ADF International, has asked the Court to refer their caseto the Grand Chamber of the European Court of Human Rights, the top European court.
Watch: The Wunderlich family and ADF International’s Robert Clarke share why it’s important to protect the right of parents to direct the upbringing of their children.