Protecting Human Dignity and Religious Freedom a statement of Bishop James V. Johnston

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Protecting Human Dignity and Religious Freedom
A Statement of Bishop James V. Johnston, Jr. to Catholics and All Persons of Good Will,

in the Diocese of Springfield-Cape Girardeau

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The Springfield City Council is currently scheduled to vote on amending the City’s non-discrimination ordinance at its October 13 meeting. I am taking this opportunity for reflection, in light of the Gospel and human reason, on the issues involved and hope that this statement will assist Catholics and others of good will in forming their conscience on these matters. I also write with the hope and intention of reaching out with respect and honesty to those in the community who describe themselves as LGBT (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgendered).

The Catholic Church believes that all persons are created by God with equal and inherent dignity, a dignity that must be respected by both governments and individuals. Created in God’s image, the human person has a dignity that cannot be lost or gained and which no human action can remove. It is for this reason that the Church is a defender of the right to life of the unborn as well as an opponent of the death penalty. It is for this reason that we oppose all disrespect directed against any person. And it is for this same reason that we call all persons to live consistent with the dignity of their creation.

Not everyone believes in inherent human dignity: some believe it is a quality gained at a certain stage of human development (birth or even later). This way of thinking, for example, gives no rights to the unborn. Some believe that human dignity is a feature that can be lost, as in the case of the elderly or disabled or those convicted of serious crimes, and thus they support euthanasia and the death penalty. Some believe in neither a creator nor creation and reject the very notion that all human beings, male and female, are made in God’s image and therefore have a particular dignity to be respected.

The rejection of inherent dignity is frequently accompanied by, or results from, a world view that replaces faith in God with faith in “progress,” or “history,” which is to say, blind faith in human technological power to recreate the world according to one’s own desires. Our cultural elites claim that, even in the context of marriage and parenthood, men and women, husbands and wives, mothers and fathers, are interchangeable—even though our basic biology makes obvious that this is not the case in forming a family or bringing new life into the world. Judges, politicians, and some activists suggest that accepting this new secular doctrine, really a competing government-supported secular “religion,” is the price we must pay for our membership in the American political community. Already some persons, who refuse to pledge full allegiance to this new creed, have lost their jobs, been driven out of business, or fined for living their convictions, what they believe—something many of us never thought would happen in America.

It is in this larger cultural and national context that we must evaluate the municipal legislation already mentioned and what it could mandate if passed. While there are two different bills under consideration and, in addition, an amended version, as well as various possible procedural outcomes, my intention is not to offer a detailed legal analysis, much less to propose legislation. It is sufficient to note that the proposed amendments are inadequate to protect the legitimate rights of religious institutions and individuals. In the name of preventing discrimination against some, they would impose it on others.

Given the well-known religiosity of our region, this omission is peculiar, and in the context of anti-religious statements made before the City Council and in various media, somewhat ominous. Our Constitutional right to freedom of religion is being reduced to freedom of worship: we can believe as we wish inside our churches, mosques, and synagogues, but not live it in the rest of our lives. For example, in terms of religious institutions, I am informed by legal counsel, that the legislation under consideration by the City Council would require Catholic schools and parishes that allow outside groups to use their facilities to rent buildings and rooms on Church property for receptions, or even celebrations, of same-sex unions. Further, the proposed legislation may criminalize requiring employees at our grade schools or high school to live according to the teachings of our faith. In either case, pastors and school principals could be fined or even jailed for up to six months.

Do the people of Springfield really want to make criminals out of persons who are merely trying to live their faith? Does the government have a compelling interest in forcing every member of our society to participate in the celebration of same-sex relationships? Can the law treat with respect and dignity persons with same-sex attraction without prosecuting those with sincere conscience objections? Regarding the last question, I hope so. As the staff of the Missouri Catholic Conference recently testified regarding similar legislation:

The United States has a long tradition of respecting rights of conscience and the free exercise of religion, even enshrining the principle of religious liberty in the first article of the Bill of Rights (the First Amendment). Rights of conscience are thus integral to the American democratic experiment, and respect for these rights recognizes that an individual’s sincerely held religious convictions often make up the core of who they are as a human being.

I urge the Springfield City Council to find a way to respect the conscience rights and civil rights of all its citizens.


Leslie Anne Eidson, Director of Communications, Media, Publications
Roman Catholic Diocese of Springfield-Cape Girardeau
601 S. Jefferson Avenue, Springfield, MO 65806-3143
leidson@dioscg.org (417) 866.0841 www.dioscg.org


Established in 1956, the Diocese of Springfield-Cape Girardeau is comprised of 66 parishes.
18 mission churches, and four chapels covering 39 counties in southern Missouri and over
25,000 square miles. The Diocese serves a Catholic population of close to 68,000.

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