Religious business owners such as florists, bakers, musicians or photographers would not have been able to decline to participate in a same-sex “marriage” ceremony.
After the District of Columbia passed a law recognizing same-sex “marriages,” the district government told the Archdiocese of Washington’s Catholic Charities that it could not continue its 80-year-old partnership in adoption and foster care services because the archdiocese would place children in homes only with a mother and a father.
The Maryland bishops also warned of a “growing trend of government intrusion into the institutional and administrative life of the Church.”
Proposed Connecticut legislation in 2009 provided “one of the most alarming” examples of this trend.
The legislation would have allowed the state government to mandate the structure and organization of Catholic parishes. It also would have removed many administrative and pastoral responsibilities from the pastor and placed them in the hands of committees defined by the legislature.
The bishops’ statement hearkened back to the Maryland colony’s Toleration Act of 1649, the first American law to protect religious freedom. The bishops recounted how this practice ended only decades later when the colony was placed under royal control and the Church of England became the established religion.
This history teaches that religious liberty requires “constant vigilance and protection, or it will disappear.”
The bishops stressed that prayer and education are needed to counter threats to religious liberty and gave the faithful practical suggestions, noting that Catholics should first thank God for religious liberty.
They should also pray for elected leaders and public officials whose actions affect religious freedom, and for those who disdain or do not appreciate that freedom, the bishops said.
The Catholic community must also stay informed about threats to religious liberty through media like diocesan newspapers. The bishops advised readers of their document to share it with others.
Political action is also necessary to defend religious liberty, they said. Maryland Catholics should vote in every election. They should register with the Maryland Catholic Conference’s Catholic Advocacy network and participate in religious liberty events like Catholic Lobby Night held in Annapolis every President’s Day.
(Story continues below)
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“Everyone has the right to live in accordance with his or her particular religious beliefs, subject only to such limits as are necessary for the safe operation of society,” they said. “Society as a whole benefits when all citizens in our pluralistic democracy—including religious citizens and institutions—remain free to participate in public life and to do so in accordance with their sincerely held beliefs.”
Religious freedom upholds human dignity and is integral to the establishment of a good and just society, the statement said. It invoked religious groups’ work to abolish slavery, work with the mentally or physically disabled, and religious involvement in labor rights.
The document referenced the work of the civil rights movement, which made an “explicitly religious call” for equal treatment for African Americans. The bishops cited Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s description of churches as “the conscience of the state.”
“Rev. King’s message of equality and justice thus presupposed and deliberately relied upon a free and flourishing religious tradition to bring about its noble goals,” they said.