A False Narrative: Phony Claims Of ‘Religious Persecution’ Are Offensive

This editorial is part of our July/August edition of Church & State. Read more here.

  Image by Getty Images

Image by Getty Images

In parts of China, government officials are going around to Christian churches and pulling down the crosses. That’s religious persecution.

But being expected to mind your own business while people do things that your religion doesn’t approve of is not religious persecution.

Archbishop William E. Lori of Baltimore, who heads up the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Ad Hoc Committee on Religious Liberty, seems confused on this point. Lori recently complained about “bloodless persecution” of religion in America.

What is the source of this persecution? According to Lori, it stems from the legalization of marriage equality and the federal government’s efforts to provide birth control to people who want it.

As we’ve said many times, nothing in the Supreme Court’s marriage equality decision requires houses of worship to do anything they don’t want to do. Their clergy are not required to perform the marriages of same-sex couples. They don’t have to admit LGBT people as members. They are, in fact, free to rail against them from the pulpit.

The same holds true for birth control access. Under the Affordable Care Act, churches are exempt from the mandate to provide birth control in healthcare plans. A compromise has been forged that spares religious non-profits, including sectarian colleges, from paying for it directly. The only thing religious leaders must do is accept the fact that some of the people who work for them or attend their religious schools might want to use birth control.

When U.S. religious leaders assert that these things amount to persecution, they undermine their own argument. But they do more than that. They also belittle the sufferings of people who truly are facing religious persecution.

Religious freedom really is in jeopardy in many parts of the globe. The suffering Christians of China who meet in vandalized churches under the watchful eye of a state security apparatus know that full well.

Perhaps they could explain that to Lori. 

Follow Rob Boston online at @RobBoston1