I was recently recruited to write a free-lance piece on an ecumenical novena to the Holy Spirit, to be live streamed on cmax.tv beginning on Ascension Thursday. To read my article, and learn how to access and participate in this Pentecost novena, click here.
Pro-life pregnancy resources are being targeted for destruction by the New York State legislature.
Bill A05499 would authorize the New York State Health Commissioner to conduct a study of pro-life pregnancy centers in the state, potentially overwhelming their limited resources and largely volunteer staffs with requirements to compile and turn over to the state voluminous amounts of data and information.
That, along with the study’s “pre-determined outcome”—finding the services of these centers too “limited” because they do not include abortion—are clearly designed to “intimidate, silence and shut down pro-life centers,” in the words of the N.Y. State Catholic Conference.
This is confirmed by the fact that the bill authorizes no similar state investigation of abortion clinics; no collection of voluminous data from them; no questioning whether they apprise pregnant women of their full range of choices, including pro-life alternatives to abortion. Only pro-life centers are to be investigated, their survival threatened if they do not refer for abortions.
This bill is now on a fast track to passage after New York’s radically pro-abortion Democrats tightened their stranglehold on the legislature in last fall’s elections.
Consider what would be lost to women and children if these pro-life centers are legislated out of existence:
They provide referrals, for everything from medical support, financial resources and housing, to legal and social assistance and professional counseling; information, about pregnancy, prenatal care and childbirth—including, and this is what really drives the abortion industry’s opposition, information about the baby’s development and sometimes ultrasound imaging of the child in utero; information about adoption, community programs, training in parenting skills and child care; and free resources including pregnancy tests, maternity clothes, baby items, and 24/7 telephone helplines.
Pro-life maternity residences typically offer young single mothers housing and assistance through pregnancy, childbirth, and into motherhood, providing childcare and opportunities to develop parenting skills, complete their education and receive job training.
Most importantly, pro-life centers offer friendship, love, and hope to women in crisis and their children.
Why would government officials who claim to be “pro-choice” want to destroy centers that simply offer another choice to women contemplating abortion?
Because many such politicians are in thrall to the abortion lobby and lucrative abortion industry. That industry, besides being flush with government money, turns a profit by selling abortions. It doesn’t make any money when women choose not to abort, and so it doesn’t expend any effort or resources informing them of alternatives to abortion or assisting them when they choose life.
Nor can it tolerate those who do. So it seeks to destroy these loving ministries to women and children—ministries staffed largely by volunteers, that offer their services free of charge, without profit or government funding.
There needs now to be a powerful public outcry—of protest and opposition to this bill, and of support for these pro-life centers. This should come not only from pro-lifers, but from all caring people, including those who are truly “pro-choice” and want to assure that abortion is not the only choice accessible to women in crisis.
There should be a particular outcry from those Catholics who, while opposing abortion, are ambivalent about enacting laws to protect the unborn, preferring to focus precisely on what these centers do: help women access the resources they need to choose life for their child.
The public needs to understand the extremism of the abortion lobby, and this legislation is Exhibit A. They have never been about promoting choice. They are about promoting abortion; suppressing all opposition; and—most especially—destroying pregnancy resource centers that prevent abortions by assisting mothers who want to choose life for their child.
So please, if you live in New York:
- Contact your state senator and assembly member, respectfully but firmly urging them to oppose this attack on pro-life pregnancy support services;
- Spread the word, in your families, churches, communities, among friends, urging them to make their voices heard as well;
- If you are a member or leader of any groups or organizations, particularly religious ones, please work to involve them not only as individuals, but as a unified organization speaking with one voice to save these vital, life-affirming resources;
- Pastors, and other church leaders, please share this information with your congregations, and urge them to help defend these pro-life ministries of love;
- Volunteer, if you can, at one of these pro-life centers, or donate to them, so that should this insidious legislation pass, its intent of overwhelming their limited staffs and resources might at least be mitigated by an influx of new volunteers and funds.
If you live outside New York, but have family, friends, or other contacts here, please share this information with them, ask them to share it with others, and to make their voices heard as well.
And understand that if this odious effort succeeds in New York, it will doubtless spur similar legislation in other states, and quite possibly in our national government as well.
And everyone, please pray.
Pray for all mothers and children who need these pro-life centers. Pray that God may change the hearts of legislators intent on destroying them.
And pray for our state and nation, as we plunge headlong, and ever more deeply, into the culture of death.
New York State just legalized recreational marijuana, to the cheers of some and the consternation of others.
This is an issue on which I’ve long sympathized with concerns on both sides. I do accept the judgement of health care professionals who attest to the medicinal attributes of cannabis, so I fully embrace its legalization for legitimate medical treatments.
But I have no professional expertise about the effects of marijuana. Nor, although I came of age during the counterculture, can I speak from personal experience, having never even felt tempted to smoke a joint—probably because, like many of my fellow boomers, I rejected that counterculture that is supposed to have defined our entire generation.
Nevertheless, I share the concerns of legalization supporters about the costs of enforcing marijuana prohibitions, from policing, to prosecutions, to incarceration; and the harm done to those who end up in prison and are then dogged with a criminal record for what they feel was a “victimless crime.” And I am troubled by the wide racial disparities in marijuana arrest rates highlighted in a 2020 report by the American Civil Liberties Union.
On the other hand, I note past Bureau of Justice statistics indicating that incarceration rates for marijuana possession alone (absent other crimes) have been miniscule—less than one percent of all state inmates nationwide—with many of those having used marijuana possession to plead down from more serious crimes.
And I share the concerns articulated by, among others, the New York State Catholic Conference about:
- “Today’s ultra-potent marijuana” and it’s unclear impact “on developing brains.”
- Marijuana as “a gateway drug” that can lead some into devastating addictions and criminal activity to support their habits.
- Its potential to “result in higher incidence of impaired driving and operation of machinery by adults.”
- The “irresponsibility” of legalizing “recreational use of a substance designed to be inhaled deeply and held in the lungs,” especially “at this particular moment in history when we are suffering from a horrific pandemic involving a novel virus that attacks the lungs.”
- Legalization sending “a message to children that marijuana is harmless fun endorsed by the state.”
And not just children. It is one thing to expunge criminal records, ease burdens on the criminal justice systems, and end draconian sentencing—to the extent it actually exists. It is another thing to give the law’s imprimatur to recreational marijuana by fully legalizing it, effectively encouraging its use.
And that brings me to another concern: the New York State government’s vision of marijuana sales as a cash cow to replenish their perpetually overdrawn state financial coffers.
“Tax Collection Projected to Reach $350 Million Annually” blared Gov. Cuomo’s news release—well before it got around to citing the alleged injustices corrected by legalization, or the safeguards that purportedly protect against its dangers.
It is one thing for governments to end prohibitions against potentially self-endangering behaviors, substituting public safeguards for criminal sanctions.
But when government comes to depend on self-destructive behaviors as sources of revenue, it is but a short—and inevitable—step toward the state encouraging, rather than just allowing, such behaviors.
We have already seen this with gambling, where New York—and numerous other jurisdictions—did not just legalize previously prohibited forms of gambling; it took them over, making lotteries and off-track betting state-run operations.
The rationale was that people were going to play the numbers and bet the ponies anyway, so better for the state to get the revenue, and put it toward public services, than for it to go into the pockets of organized crime.
But in short order, New York began advertising its lotteries and OTB, in order to increase its take. No longer was the state simply trying to redirect existing gambling monies into government coffers. It was now using advertising to try to attract new bettors, those who weren’t gambling previously, and to get those who were to bet even more; disregarding the dangers to those afflicted with gambling addictions—and their families—and to economically vulnerable populations particularly susceptible to the lures, and the personal devastation, of excessive gambling.
How long before something similar happens with marijuana revenues? Before there is a shortfall in that projected $350 million annually, or the state decides that $350 million a year is not nearly enough? How long before more people need to be encouraged to use marijuana, and to use more of it? Before the state is advertising the pleasures of “getting high,” drawing in those most vulnerable to its “gateway” to addiction and crime, its potential damage to health, its impact on one’s employment and family? How long before the government is tempted to lessen safeguards, or to lower the legal age in order to tap into the teen market?
Governments need to raise revenues. They also need to exercise fiscal restraint. In too many jurisdictions—certainly in New York—the emphasis is almost exclusively on the former. How much they raise, however—and how they raise it—become moral issues when governments, refusing to exercise fiscal restraint, become so desperate for ever more revenue that they resort to schemes that encourage self-endangering behavior—in the process exploiting those populations most vulnerable to the destructive effects of such behavior.
“Those who believed shared all things in common; they would sell their property and goods, dividing everything on the basis of each one’s needs.”
Thus does the Acts of the Apostles describe the “communal life” of the early Christians. “None of them ever claimed anything as his own; rather, everything was held in common.”
This, I think, is the root of the attraction some Catholics feel toward the communist ideal: what we might call the “commune-ism” of the early Church, as distinct from modern day communist systems. Indeed, Catholics drawn to the communist ideal will point out that “true communism” has never actually existed on a large scale, national level. I would submit that it never will, because it never can.
The communal approach of the early Church is easily seen as the Christian ideal. It has flourished, in various forms, throughout the history of Catholicism, in monastic life, among certain religious orders, in some lay movements and communities.
It works for several reasons: it is voluntary, the communities are small, and all who participate believe in and are committed to its ideals.
And these are precisely the reasons that large scale, government-imposed communist systems do not work—and are morally unacceptable.
They deny human freedom. One does not have to be a “greedy capitalist” to want one’s own property—to be in business for oneself, to work one’s own land, or just to have a home for one’s family.
As Pope Leo XIII made clear in Rerum Novarum, his seminal encyclical on Catholic social teaching, the Church upholds the right of the individual to own property as the just fruits of one’s labor. We are all free to voluntarily give away what we have, or decline to possess anything of our own. And yes, our Church teaches that we ought not hoard more than we need, while others suffer from want. But it is morally wrong for a coercive government to dispossess us of what is rightfully ours, to force us into a communal way of living that we do not choose for ourselves.
The vastness and diversity of large-scale communist societies also make them unworkable and morally problematic. It is one thing for a small group of like-minded people to come together voluntarily in a commune, all holding the same beliefs and values and agreeing to the same rules and practices, the appropriate use of their shared resources, and the relinquishing of personal freedom and individual possessions. It is quite another thing to force together an entire nation of diverse people, with different values, different religious beliefs, different priorities in their lives, require them to surrender any freedom to act according to their beliefs, values, and priorities, and deny them the discretion to use the resources they have earned in furtherance of those beliefs, values, and priorities. This disincentivizes productivity, making large-scale communist systems economically deficient as well.
Finally, the accumulation of power necessary to impose a communist system on an entire national population virtually guarantees that those holding such power will not relinquish it in order to live as “equals” among those over whom they have imposed their will.
This is especially true when they have followed the Marxist formula for establishing a communist system: violent revolution, followed by brutal, merciless suppression of all dissent. This, Marx wrote, is absolutely essential to reaching the ultimate goal: a classless society in which all are equal.
Yet, across more than a century of communist revolutions in virtually every corner of the globe, not one has ever attained that goal of classless equality.
“Power tends to corrupt,” Lord Acton said, and “absolute power corrupts absolutely.” We see even in a democracy, where there are constitutional limits to power, how difficult it is for the political class to limit or relinquish its powers, or to resist temptations to abuse those powers for personal gain.
How much more so when power has been obtained, secured, and made absolute through violent revolution and ruthless suppression of dissent. What moral compunction is left, for those who have already slaughtered millions of their own people and banished millions more into their gulags, to suddenly relinquish power, eschew the accumulation of material wealth, and reduce themselves to equality with the masses?
Communal living, among small groups of people with shared beliefs and values who come together freely and voluntarily, remains a Christian ideal. (Though not an obligation. Catholic social teaching allows for varying prudential judgements as to how best to organize one’s life and economic activity in service to our own needs and the common good.)
Large scale communist societies pervert the communal ideal, through brutal suppression of freedom, imposition of beliefs not shared by the entire population, and resulting economic deficiencies that only increase, rather than alleviate, human suffering.
As such, they are incompatible with Catholic moral and social teaching.
There is always so much to contemplate in the Scriptural readings for Holy Week.
This year, I found myself focusing on Peter’s denial of Jesus—and its lesson for us. It is really, when you think about it, another passion story, another story of suffering, death, and resurrection—one that all of us can probably relate to situations in our own lives.
Think of what Peter went through—beginning with Jesus telling him, in front of all the other apostles, that “this very night before the cock crows twice you will deny me three times.”
How must that have felt! Jesus, to whom he had devoted his life, his entire being; in whom he had absolute faith and trust; Jesus, whom he loved with all his heart and soul, now believes—and tells the others—that Peter will deny Him in His terrible hour of trial.
How deep, how searing, the pain and hurt Peter must have felt, as he stammered in reply, “Even though I should have to die with you, I will not deny you.”
Who can doubt that in that moment Peter meant what he had said, and believed with all his heart that he would never deny the one he had proclaimed “the Christ, the son of the living God.”
And then, only hours later, he did just that—denying Jesus in order to save himself. And not once, but three separate times! Given two subsequent chances to overcome his fear, and stand up for Jesus, he instead doubled and tripled down, as we say today, repeating his denials ever more vehemently.
Then the cock crowed—and Peter “went out and began to weep bitterly,” as Matthew’s Gospel tells it.
He must have felt as though he were suffering death; not physical death, but something far worse: death of the spirit. For in denying Jesus, he had denied everything he had come to believe, that which gave his life, indeed life itself, its only true meaning. He had denied the Way, the Truth, and the Life; he had denied the Son of the living God; and he had thereby denied the transcendent meaning of his own existence.
Yet, though he had succumbed to weakness, Peter had in fact never stopped believing. As he had done at other times after Jesus had rebuked him, he remained faithful. He stayed with the apostles, saw the empty tomb, and encountered the risen Christ. And then came the resurrection: Pentecost, when Peter, along with the other apostles, received the gifts of the Holy Spirit, including the courage they would need to proclaim the Gospel in the face of unrelenting persecution. And ultimately, Peter would fulfill his promise to Jesus, that he would remain faithful “though I should have to die” for Christ.
Surely, all of us can relate to Peter’s succumbing to weakness, because we all have our own human weaknesses. Some manifest themselves in our personal lives: treating others badly, acting selfishly or pridefully, indulging various sinful desires, or just failing to maintain a healthy prayer life and keep our lives centered in God.
Or perhaps we fail in a way similar to Peter: allowing fear and weakness to prevent us from standing up for our beliefs, or against cruel persecution of another. Maybe we are silent—or even join in—when our Catholic faith is ridiculed, rather than risk being socially ostracized. Maybe back in our school years, we failed to speak up for the kid who was being bullied, afraid of being targeted ourselves; and now we repeat that behavior, refusing to confront cancel culture bullies and their media allies as they use vicious smears to destroy the reputations, livelihoods, and even lives of those who dare to differ with them.
In all of these areas, we may be aware of our shortcomings, and determined to change. But as we continue to repeat the same failings, it is easy to despair of our ability to overcome our weaknesses and improve ourselves. That is where the example of St. Peter can serve us.
Christ did not choose Peter because he was perfect. Far from it. Peter repeatedly fell short and was rebuked by Jesus. But he persevered, allowing Jesus to work through him, to strengthen him; until finally—after suffering the devastation of his greatest failing, his denial of Christ—he opened himself to the gifts of the Holy Spirit, and truly became the rock upon which Jesus would build His Church.
And so we are called to persevere, in faith, through our repeated failings and shortcomings; allowing ourselves, like Peter, to be fortified by the Holy Spirit in overcoming our weaknesses, resisting temptation to sin, and finding the courage to stand up in defense of our faith, our Church, and all who are unjustly persecuted.
Just wanted to share some exciting news, that I am now a regular contributor to Newsmax Insiders on the Newsmax website. I’ll be publishing at least two columns a month on Newsmax. This will give much greater exposure to my Reading the Signs blog posts, affording me the opportunity to share with a wider audience my perspective on the contributions that Catholic moral and social teaching can and should make to cultural and public policy deliberations. It will also allow me to occasionally expand my writing into areas beyond what I focus on in my blog posts.
To see my first post on Newsmax, a shorter version of my blog post on the Equality Act, click here.
We are approaching Monday of Holy Week—Reconciliation Monday here in the New York metropolitan area, when virtually all parishes are open for confessions throughout the entire day.
This tradition was started in our Diocese of Rockville Centre more than two decades ago, and instituted shortly thereafter in the Brooklyn Diocese and Archdiocese of New York. It is a wonderful way to begin this holiest of weeks in the Church calendar, availing ourselves of the spiritual cleansing and reconciliation offered through the sacrament of Penance, uniting our own atonement with that which Christ offered on our behalf, as we prepare to celebrate the glory of His Resurrection on Easter Sunday.
It is a truism that virtually every Catholic who has lapsed in their practice of the faith has that “bad confession story”—a priest who was cross or impatient during a childhood confession, or a confessor who seemed insensitive or judgmental as an adult grappled with serious or troubling issues in the confessional. That such stories are often repeated not from personal experience but second or third hand makes them no less damaging in turning people away from this vital, healing sacrament.
A few years ago, prior to Reconciliation Monday, several women allowed me to use the pages of The Long Island Catholic magazine to share their inspiring stories of spiritually uplifting confession experiences. In that same spirit, allow me to now recall several of my own very positive experiences with the sacrament of Reconciliation and the priestly guidance I was blessed to receive.
Some years back, I felt that my colleagues and I were being treated unjustly in a workplace situation. Heading home after a Saturday in the office, and filled with anger, I decided—was led, I am sure, by the Holy Spirit, or perhaps my guardian angel—to stop at a parish that I knew had confessions before its 5 p.m. Mass.
I expressed, in confession, my anger and frustration at this perceived injustice, and my inability to forgive those responsible. The priest hearing my confession directed me, as penance, to spend a few minutes before the First Station of the Cross, where Pilate condemns Jesus to death, and meditate on the injustice that our Lord willingly endured.
I hadn’t shared the particulars of my work situation with Father, and he hadn’t asked. He was making no judgements about the validity of my complaints. He just wanted me to contrast the level of injustice I felt my colleagues and I were subjected to—and my inability to forgive it—with the unspeakable injustice that Jesus endured, and His extraordinary witness to forgiveness from the Cross—asking, while in the throes of crucifixion, the Father’s forgiveness of those who had put Him there.
At that time, I focused on our Lord’s forgiveness of His immediate persecutors—the Jewish high priests who accused Him, Pilate who condemned Him, the Roman soldiers who crucified Him.
But now I am thinking of how Jesus’ words on the Cross—“Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do”—pertain to all of us, to all humanity, across all of human history. For we too put the sinless Christ on the Cross, to atone for all of our sinful transgressions, against God and against each other.
Several weeks ago at daily Mass, we heard the parable of the servant who, having been forgiven an enormous debt by his master, refuses to forgive a much smaller debt owed to him, and instead has the offender thrown in prison.
Now, reflecting on how Jesus willingly endured such horrible—and unmerited—suffering because of our wrongdoing—and asked God to forgive us for it—I think, as the master thought of his ungrateful servant, how dare I refuse to forgive another person for a perceived, and certainly less grave, wrong done to me.
And still, I struggle to do so. In a more recent confession, speaking more generally, I explained to a different priest that while I know I should forgive others, and I tell myself that I have, I don’t really feel forgiveness in my heart when I recall some particularly painful past hurts.
In another insightful penance assignment, Father told me to think of one person I seemed unable to forgive—and offer a prayer for that person. I did—and it gave me a sense, a true feeling, of forgiveness, not only toward that person, but toward others I have found it difficult to forgive. More than that, it caused me to reflect on the many persons—more than I could even think of, let alone count—from whom I need forgiveness.
Both those confessions, besides filling me with the peace and reconciliation that come with God’s mercy and forgiveness, also fortified me—thanks to the wisdom and inspired guidance of my priest confessors—with tools to employ in my continued struggles to forgive others and to humbly seek forgiveness from those I have wronged.
And so I would invite everyone—particularly those who may have been away from confession for an extended period—to give yourself the opportunity, on this Reconciliation Monday, to experience what I have been blessed to experience: the graces and healing of this penitential sacrament; the richness of God’s love and mercy; and the wisdom and inspired guidance that await you from our caring, faith-filled Catholic priests.
To the dismay of those who repeatedly misread Pope Francis’ conciliatory words as a harbinger of doctrinal changes, the Vatican has dashed expectations that the pope would approve Church blessings on homosexual relationships.
Those expectations were clearly misguided. Yes, Pope Francis, presenting the Church as universally welcoming and inclusive, has seemed to engage in a special pastoral outreach to those in same-sex relationships, assuring them of his and the Church’s love for them.
This has led many—in the Church, in gay rights circles, in media—to cite, selectively and without adequate context, various papal statements as signs that Papa Bergoglio was intent on changing Church teaching to accommodate homosexual unions.
Yes, Pope Francis last year called for same-sex civil unions. But that was in the context of protecting legal rights and health care benefits, not conferring Church approval upon such relationships.
Yes, in Amoris Laetitia he urged understanding for “complexities” and “irregularities” in family situations. But he also reiterated—unequivocally—Church teaching that “there are absolutely no grounds for considering homosexual unions to be in any way similar or even remotely analogous to God’s plan for marriage and family.”
Even his oft-quoted 2013 remark, “Who am I to judge” takes on a quite different meaning when read in the full context he later detailed.
“On that occasion I said this: If a person is gay and seeks out the Lord and is willing, who am I to judge that person?” he explained in a 2016 book, The Name of God is Mercy. “I was paraphrasing by heart the Catechism of the Catholic Church where it says that these people should be treated with delicacy and not be marginalized.”
“I prefer that homosexuals come to confession,” he added, “that they stay close to the Lord, and that we pray all together. You can advise them to pray, show goodwill, show them the way, and accompany them along it.”
While a clear expression of love for homosexual persons, that is hardly an embrace of same-sex relationships. Rather, it is an affirmation that true Christian love means praying for us when we go astray, showing us the way back—especially through penance and reconciliation—and accompanying us on that journey. It manifestly does not mean encouraging us to continue in our errant ways.
I love Pope Francis’ image of the Church as a “field hospital” whose healing love is accessible to all. Part of that healing is physical, of course, and the Church responds in so many tangible ways to human suffering and need.
Infinitely more important is the Church’s role as a spiritual field hospital, providing—through prayer, grace, the sacraments—healing balm for our immortal souls; but then going beyond that to also give us tools, through its teachings and guidance, to overcome temptation and live in harmony with God’s natural law.
Notice I have not used the word “sin” in discussing same-sex relationships. That is not because I deny its reality, but because I want to focus on something that Pope Benedict XVI emphasized: that every “No” within Catholic teaching, far from being arbitrary, follows naturally from a greater “Yes” to “God’s infinite, transforming and ennobling love for all of us”—a love that is reflected in the Church’s “positive and inspiring vision of human life, the beauty of marriage and the joy of parenthood.”
So, for example—as St. Paul VI explained so beautifully in Humanae Vitae and St. John Paul II in his Theology of the Body—the Church’s “No” to artificial contraception follows naturally from our “Yes” to God’s gift of new life, generated through the loving intercourse of husband and wife in marriage.
And our “No” to homosexual relations—and to heterosexual relations outside of marriage—follows from our “Yes” to God’s divine plan for His gift of human sexuality, in which male and female are designed, physiologically and spiritually, for sexual union as husband and wife; part of their lifelong giving of themselves to each other, to their children, and to God.
As such, the Church confers its blessing on those holy actions—marital love between man and woman in openness to new life—which express our resounding “Yes” to the natural order ordained by God. And it cannot confer its blessings on behaviors which defy that natural order.
Among the many harsh criticisms of this Vatican decree, I was struck by Argentine LGBT leader Esteban Paulon’s statement that “It takes us back 200 years.”
What does that mean, exactly? Every Sunday, our sacred liturgy takes us back two thousand years, to the Last Supper when Jesus instituted the Eucharist, and to His passion, death and Resurrection, re-enacted in the holy sacrifice of the Mass.
Church teaching, and God’s natural law on which it is based, are timeless, meant to guide us in season and out: during times when those teachings seem almost universally accepted, as the teaching on marriage between one man and one woman has been throughout history; and during times, like now, when large segments of the prevailing culture reject that teaching.
We are called by God to conform our lives not to the transient values of the passing cultural zeitgeist, but to the timeless truths of His natural law. The Church, through her teachings, must help us to do that; as she has with this latest decree.
When is “Equality” not a good thing?
When it is deceptively invoked to disguise legislation that will not advance equality, but will instead radically rewrite civil rights law and destroy religious freedom protections; that will impose “gender ideology” upon children, families, and faith-based institutions, affecting everything from bathroom privacy, to the integrity of women’s sports, to the right of religious people and institutions to live according to their sacred beliefs.
That is the true nature of the so-called “Equality Act,” which has passed the U.S. House of Representatives and is pending in the U.S. Senate. It is actively opposed by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops because it “discriminates against people of faith.”
The bill would expand the reach of the 1964 Civil Rights Act, which prohibited discrimination on the basis of race, sex, or national origin, to now include “sexual orientation” and “gender identity”—thereby criminalizing those who hold to beliefs and practices that recognize marriage as between one woman and one man, and gender as a permanent biological reality, not a changeable social construct.
And to make sure that people and institutions of faith have no legal recourse, the bill exempts itself from the 1993 Religious Freedom Restoration Act, so that there will be no religious or conscience exemptions from its dictates.
As self-described “gay conservative” Brad Polumbo wrote in USA Today in May 2019, “the Equality Act goes too far for any level-headed gay rights advocate to support, and its blatant disregard for the basic right to religious freedom is appalling.” (My emphasis)
This bill, if enacted, will:
- force religiously operated facilities—such as parish or Knights of Columbus halls—to either host events, like same-sex “weddings,” that violate their beliefs, or close their doors to the community;
- require women and girls to compete against biological men and boys in scholastic sports, and to share restroom, locker room, and shower facilities with men and boys;
- mandate that faith-based charities either act in violation of their religious beliefs —for example, housing biological males in shelters for abused women, or placing children for foster care or adoption with same-sex, transgender, or non-married co-habiting couples—or be shut down, depriving people in need of their charitable services;
- cite “pregnancy discrimination” to mandate taxpayer funding of abortions and force health care providers to perform abortions in violation of their conscience or the teachings of their religion;
- force health care professionals, against their medical judgment and/or religious beliefs, to facilitate “gender transition” treatments, including hormone therapies and surgical procedures. “This,” wrote Polumbo, “eviscerates freedom of conscience and tramples over the basic constitutional rights of religious Americans who work in the health care industry.”
As Monica Burke at the Heritage Foundation has pointed out, the Equality Act also threatens employers and workers, particularly small and family-owned entities, with loss of their businesses and jobs if they refuse to violate their religious beliefs. This is already playing out on the state and local level, with florists, bakers, photographers, and many other wedding service providers charged with civil rights violations—some hit with crippling fines, others driven out of business altogether—because their religious or moral convictions prevent them from participating in same-sex “weddings.”
The bill would also harm families, Burke points out, “by normalizing hormonal and surgical interventions for gender-dysphoric children”—the vast majority of whom outgrow such dysphoria “by the end of puberty”—”as well as ideological ‘education’ in schools and other public venues.”
The Equality Act, then, is a collection of self-evident contradictions:
- Under the guise of prohibiting discrimination, it would discriminate against people and institutions of faith;
- Under the guise of protecting privacy, it would destroy women’s privacy in restrooms, locker rooms, showers, and homeless shelters;
- Under the guise of promoting equality, it would undermine women’s equality in sports;
- And of course, it denies equality for unborn children, whose mass destruction would be further advanced by its provisions.
Further illustrating this, last Tuesday EWTN reporter Owen Jensen, concerned about recourse for doctors forced to perform abortions under the Equality Act, asked White House press secretary Jen Psaki whether President Biden would keep in place the Conscience and Religious Freedom Division established by President Trump at the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS). Psaki deferred the question to Biden’s nominee for director of HHS, Xavier Becerra.
That is hardly reassuring. As Attorney General of California, Becerra sued to force the Little Sisters of the Poor to include coverage for abortion-inducing drugs in their employees’ health insurance. And he enthusiastically supported a state law—defending it, unsuccessfully, thank God, before the U.S. Supreme Court—that would have forced pro-life pregnancy centers to refer for abortions. They could have been fined out of existence for not complying, depriving many women—and children—of the loving services they offer.
The Equality Act in Becerra’s hands would be a dangerous weapon in service to his pro-abortion absolutism and his demonstrated hostility to conscience rights and religious liberty. His nomination, and the Equality Act, should both be rejected by the Senate.
If you agree, please contact your U.S. Senators and urge them to vote against Xavier Becerra’s confirmation as director of Health and Human Services.
And, to go the U.S. Bishops’ Action Center and make your voice heard in opposition to the misnamed Equality Act, please click here.
President Biden’s choice for Secretary of the Interior, Rep. Deb Haaland (D-NM), drew immediate opposition from some Republicans, and reported concerns from West Virginia Democrat Joe Manchin—although Manchin subsequently said he would vote to confirm the nominee.
“We are concerned with Rep. Haaland’s record on energy development,” Sen. John Hoeven (R-ND) explained, citing her “opposition to important energy infrastructure like pipelines” and “support for policies like the Green New Deal, which raises prices for consumers while increasing our reliance on foreign energy sources.”
Supporters countered that Haaland will stand up to powerful interests in pursuing policies essential to protecting the environment.
She “is going to shift a worldview on how we’ll be managing water, land and natural resources in the future,” said Julia Bernal, director of Pueblo Action Alliance in New Mexico. “The way we’ve been misusing resources and mismanaging land has resulted in a climate crisis. Seeing a change in who holds that power, if that threatens the interests of oil and gas, that definitely reveals what’s wrong with things.”
This seemed to portend a healthy Senate debate, one well worth having. How severe is the impact of fossil fuels on the climate? What level of trade-off, if any, is acceptable between a cleaner environment, and loss of jobs and energy independence? How effective are alternative sources of energy? (an issue dramatized by the apparently widespread solar and wind power outages during the recent powerful storm in Texas) Do major oil and gas producers have an out-sized influence on American energy policy, and are they using it to advance their self-interest by suppressing alternatives?
Sadly, a more toxic scenario was also portended.
Haaland, a member of the Laguna Pueblo, would be the first Native American to serve in a presidential cabinet. And that, for some, was enough to justify imputing bigotry to anyone who opposed her nomination.
Typical was this statement by Montana state Sen. Shane Morigeau, a Democrat and member of the Salish and Kootenai tribes, as reported by Politico:
“Being a minority person and being a person of color, it makes you wonder if she would get this treatment if she wasn’t a person of color, if she wasn’t Indian and if she wasn’t a woman. She became an easy target because we haven’t gotten to this place in our country where we give — especially women and people of color — a fair shot.”
Then there was Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY), who excoriated fellow Democrat Manchin for having concerns about Haaland while he voted to confirm the “openly racist” Jeff Sessions as President Trump’s attorney general. Her evidence that Sessions was “openly racist”? His hard line on immigration—which I didn’t like either, but I require some actual evidence, which AOC didn’t provide, before assuming it was motivated by racism.
True to form, during hearings last Wednesday and Thursday, Republican senators challenged Haaland with tough questions on energy and environmental issues. Also true to form, Haaland supporters and mainstream media outlets decried the tough questioning as evidence of racial bias. While they cited not one instance of Haaland’s critics referencing her gender or ethnicity—indeed, it is only her supporters who are doing so—they simply claimed that various criticisms of her, even though issues-based, were “code” for anti-Native American racism. Thus could the Associated Press, without evidence, blare the headline, “Native American nominee’s grilling raises questions on bias.”
Do you see how insidious this is? For her supporters to suggest that those opposing Haaland were motivated by racism and sexism, dismissing the policy differences they delineated, is no better than if those opponents had suggested that Haaland’s nomination was based solely on her ethnicity and sex, dismissing her experience, qualifications, and policy positions.
I am old enough to remember when opponents of the Vietnam war had to fend off charges that they were anti-American, even Communist sympathizers. Doubtless that was true of some of the more extreme, violent protesters—as doubtless there are some in America today whose opposition to Haaland is motivated by bigotry. But to impute such motives to respectable public officials and mainstream Americans who have no record of support for such evils, and who seek only to express legitimate policy differences, was wrong then and is wrong now.
And it is destructive in a number of ways:
- to the good name of those Senators being maligned, without cause, as bigots;
- to the nominee herself, as it suggests that supporters have no substantive arguments for her, and so must resort to slandering her opponents;
- to the serious debate and discussion we needed our Senate to engage in on critical energy and environmental policy questions;
- to equal rights, because falsely imputing racism and sexism to gain political advantage, like promiscuously labeling political opponents “Nazis” or “Communists,” trivializes the true nature of these evils, undermining our efforts to identify and combat them.
And of course, this resort to ad hominem attacks to try to discredit those we disagree with only further exacerbates the incivility which so poisons our public discourse.
Can we please, instead, rely on principled persuasion, rather than personal attacks, to advance the people and policies we believe to be good and just?
In short, can we all please heed the Eighth Commandment?