When States Force A Particular Secular Perspective

Recently, in a comment, Andrew raised the choices before Roman Catholic adoption agencies when states have mandated that all adoption agencies must be willing to adopt children to homosexual couples.  Specifically, he said:

“1) Continue receiving state funding and discontinue discriminating against potential parents based on certain criteria.

2) Give up state funding and continue discriminating. This would, of course, require the charity to put forth more money (of which the Roman Catholic church is in no short supply) to make up for the lost state money – which, rightfully so – should go towards causes which do NOT discriminate against the state’s residents.

3) Refuse to end discriminatory practices, refuse to compensate the lost state subsidies with their own money, and close the doors.”

As he noted, option three was the choice made.  There is more that should be added, however, to expand the perspective, here.  We should also look at the state, for it was the actions of the state that forced the Roman Catholic adoption agencies to consider those three options.

The state had four options:

1) Not make it illegal discrimination to choose not to place children in homes of homosexual couples.  Keep in mind that under adoption law, no one has the “right” to adopt and the “client” is actually the child.

2) Allowing a plurality of foster care and adoption providers, whatever their religious persuasions or secular positions, respecting the religious diversity we now have.  [And please keep in mind compelling interests again, here, and avoid the red herring knee jerk reactions, please.]

3) Refusing to allow adoption agencies to follow the moral dictates of their guiding religions.

4) Make foster care and adoption state-run only, removing the private sector entirely.

My understanding is the Illinois chose number 3.

In the end, I just have trouble seeing why we cannot press for option 2.  We should be respecting the diversity we have within our states.  To me, this has been one of the more disappointing aspects to the Measure 3 reaction.  It seems that some of the opponents were just as content to continue the “culture wars” in the same old cloth as the “religious right” so often is.  Rather than seeing Measure 3 and religious freedom from a more libertarian perspective, wherein each religiously affiliated entity may act accordingly, within the confines of “compelling interest” limits, some opponents want to force religious entities to have to accept things that are against their religious dictates.  Real religious freedom allows for everything from a freedom from religion to a freedom of religion.  What is needed is dialogue toward the end of holding these two together.

Nor is this something that is outside the bounds and experience of Orthodox Christianity.  Ours is a faith of free will.  The Sixth Ecumenical Council clearly grounded the discussion of free will in a proper understanding of Jesus as the Christ.  Yet, so often in America, we find ourselves between a rock (the political and secular left) and a hard place (the political and religious right).  It’s not easy, but perhaps with time, we can find the right dialogues with the right people and promote real freedoms and liberties.

Engaging the ELCA in Post-Measure 3 Dialogue

Although I think a combination of Planned Parenthood money and typical North Dakotan skepticism is what ultimately did in Measure 3, the resolution presented as a press release by the ELCA diocese of Western ND did not help matters any.  The resolution may be found on their site here:


It seems to me, from this statement, that the ELCA of Western ND felt caught off guard by Measure 3.  I say this because they alleged “hidden agendas” on the part of those who proposed the measure and also claimed the measure sought to incite fear.  These struck me as somewhat reactionary, which one might expect if they were surprised.  I could well be wrong, of course, but to me, the ELCA document read as though they were caught off guard a bit by the proposed measure.  Additionally, I think we would all do well to accept the ELCA concern for protecting people from abuse as a motive.  All that said, there are a couple of disconcerting aspects.

I think the concern with “inciting fear” came from a misunderstanding of Measure 3.  Measure 3 was actually responding to things on the ground, such as the recent HHS mandate and, before that, the closure of Roman Catholic adoption agencies.  I hope with time and dialogue, the ELCA opponents to Measure 3 and any such future amendment proposal or legislation could come to see that.

The most disappointing thing about the ELCA statement, however, was that it accused supporters of Measure 3 of having “hidden agendas.”    I had to do a double-take on this one.  It is true that the Western ND ELCA statement addressed “those proposing,” but that would basically mean everyone from those who wrote it to those who signed to have it on the ballot.

Therefore, the statement might not apply directly to people like me, since I have simply argued for Measure 3, but I’m not entirely sure.  Am I “proposing” by also “promoting”?  I’m not sure.

Regardless, I think that’s a problematic stance to take as it is disingenuous and inflammatory.   Accusing other Christians of having hidden agendas and conspiring to do something that would cause abuse is wrong.  At least, it’s wrong when no evidence is brought forth.  I had thought it was public knowledge that the ND Catholic Conference and Family Alliance were the main players behind drafting the amendment proposal and getting it on the ballot.  I would therefore suggest that the ELCA leaders of Western North Dakota talk to those two groups to determine whether there was some hidden agenda beyond what those groups have said and experienced (via closed adoption agencies and the HHS).

I think there is legitimate hope that that might yet happen.  In the Bismarck Tribune, Pastor Tim Johnson (one of the authors and signers) said he hopes both sides can now have a dialogue.  I hope so too.  I am going to be bold (perhaps too bold) and suggest that a good place to start would be for the ELCA of Western ND to apologize for the statement concerning “hidden agendas.”  That really isn’t a helpful approach to take toward other Christians.  I am also going to suggest that those of us who were proponents and supporters of Measure 3 need to do a better job of informing others the next time a similar amendment is on the ballot.  If proponents can lessen the “shock” and opponents can slow down and avoid disingenuous and inflammatory public attacks, perhaps headway can be made.

Religious Freedom After Measure 3

Measure 3 was defeated with some ease on Tuesday.  As KVLY reported, a significant reason had to do with the $1 million of antagonistic ads from Planned Parenthood.  I also think a factor was the (surprising to me) objections of the ELCA.  The ELCA supported an earlier effort to call for our State Department to place pressure on Turkey’s government to help both the Ecumenical Patriarch and all religious minorities in Turkey.  I posted on that a while back.  So, the ELCA is hardly against religious freedom.

It seems to me that what happened was a perfect storm of slippery slope arguments that tumbled headlong into scare tactic red herring arguments combined with a lot of people not taking the time to research the measure or the issue.  The government already has a well established track record of a “compelling interest” in preventing abuse (whether child or abuse), even over allegedly religious reasons for doing so.  I must admit that I am saddened to see so many failed to realize this.  It really would only take a little thought and time but in our society today, we are overly pressed for time and so taking the time to think through something like this will be difficult for many.

Hopefully, dialogue can come out of this, so that people on both sides can work through some hang ups and this can be given another shot.  No one on either side wants women and children abused.  Nothing in this measure would have closed down anything at the Planned Parenthood clinic in Fargo.  Instead, I suspect Planned Parenthood either did this to support political allies or did this because there is a long-range hope to be able to force Roman Catholic hospitals in the state (like St. Alexis in Bismarck) to offer certain insurance coverages or even “emergency” abortions.  Perhaps there is another factor or factors I am not considering but if I’m right, I’m doubly disappointed because 1) a religiously affiliated entity should have some religious protection concerning what practices are allowable for it–with other practices being offered elsewhere and 2) those of us wanting better religious freedom protection were sacrificed on an anti-anti-contraception altar.

Religious Minorities Have Most to Lose if Measure 3 Fails

Religious minorities in North Dakota have the most to lose if Measure 3 fails.  Indeed, Measure 3 will be, in part, a test of whether North Dakota is truly resilient enough to defend the religious convictions of both majority faiths and minority faiths.  The majority faiths, such as Roman Catholics and Protestants have their convictions on the line to the degree that they may wish to continue operating various charities and organizations without undue interference from the government.  North Dakotans of minority faiths have even more on the line, however.  Take the example of Orthodox Christianity.  Orthodox Christianity, though Christian, and even demonstrating a direct lineage and connection to the Apostles themselves, is neither Roman Catholic nor Protestant (both of whom split from Orthodoxy–the Roman Church first and then the Protestants from Rome).  In America, there are not very many Orthodox (though a quarter of us were formerly something else, we are still quite small).  Measure 3 could help ensure our freedom to observe our practices and holidays.  For example, on most years, Pascha (“Easter”) is on a different Sunday for us than it is for Roman Catholic and Protestant Christians.  This has to do with Orthodoxy continuing to base the date of Pascha/Easter off the Jewish lunar calendar (which is how Jews determine Passover).

This is important because it shows that we Orthodox more closely resemble the case of the Native Americans using Peyote back in 1990 than Catholics or Lutherans would.  We, too, have something “different” about our observances that might cause a work-place tension.  In 1990, the Supreme Court ruled that a business could take precedent over established, legitimate religious practices of its employees.  In response to this, Congress passed the bi-partisan Religious Freedom Restoration Act.  Of course, we then learned that applied only at the federal level.  So, now if people want religious freedom to be maintained as a fundamental legal right, we need to protect it state by state.  For anyone holding to an established, legitimate, but minority faith, Measure 3 is important.  Opponents have been using “logic” that would get them failing marks on college papers (at least in my class) in the name of protecting some people (women and children).  Women and children should be protected.  Under our laws, they are, and the government has a clear and compelling interest ALREADY WELL ESTABLISHED!  Measure 3 does not undo that.  Thinking so is the slippery slope argument to the point of sliding into red herring.  There are not problems with this at the federal level.  There are not problems with this in the 27 other states that have similar amendments.  There are potential problems for religious minorities without such protection, and history demonstrates this (from the Native Americans in Washington State in 1990 to our own Orthodox history earlier in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries).  If you want to protect a class of people, vote “yes” on Measure 3.

Inter-Faith Views on Religious Freedom on C-Span

In my last post, I mentioned that discussions concerning religious freedom were taking place across America right now.  There is one event I should have also mentioned, but forgot.  So, I wish to highlight it now.

Recently, an inter-faith conference on religious freedom was televised on C-Span.  Fr. Chad Hatfield, the Dean and CEO of St. Vladimir’s Orthodox Theological Seminary (www.svots.edu) gave a very nice talk as part of this (in session three, starting about 39 minutes in):


Although I have highlighted Fr. Chad’s speech here, I would recommend that we listen to each of the speakers and the Q and A session.  In America, it IS possible to have a robust religious freedom without descending into a situation wherein one religion dominates all others and disallows freedom.  Furthermore, I’d say, it is possible to have real, true religious freedom of religion and real,  true, freedom from religion.  It’s not an easy balance, to be sure, but protecting religious freedom as a fundamental legal right does not mean forcing religion upon those who are not religious (as recent, philosophically errant TV ads against Measure 3 imply).

Religious Freedom Debates Across America and North Dakota

As most (if not all) readers of this blog know, North Dakotans will soon have an opportunity to vote on Measure 3, which seeks to pattern North Dakotan religious freedom protection after that which already exists at the national level and in 27 other states.  [As an aside, with that in mind, I hope readers are savvy enough to note that the political ad against Measure 3 involves such an extreme case of a “slippery slope” argument that it’s nearly fallen head first into a “red herring” argument.]

North Dakota is not unique.  The recent decision of the HHS has rallied many concerned religious leaders (not just Roman Catholics who oppose birth control, excepting Natural Family Planning).  Recently, prayers at commission meetings has become a source of debate and discussion in Missouri:


Colorado was pressing for an amendment similar to North Dakota’s but due to concerns for having the process itself bogged down in courts, the main backer in that state (Focus on the Family) has decided to look ahead to 2014 instead:


Florida will vote on an amendment proposal in November.  In this case, the issue is one of government funds and recipients of those funds:


So, in sum, North Dakota is not unique in discussing and debating this issue.  We’re part of a larger national debate.  Where is the line drawn between church and state?  How is it drawn?  What does it mean to say the government cannot establish a religion and what does it mean to claim religious freedoms are fundamental (first amendment) rights?  These are questions we are all discussing.  North Dakotans often tend to view themselves as independents but on this issue, we’re just one more cog in the wheel.  What we decide definitely affects us here, and I hope we pass Measure 3, but what we decide will also affect the national conversation to some degree (even if but a small degree).

North Dakota and Measure Three

A couple posts back I mentioned the upcoming vote concerning religious freedom in North Dakota.  Christopher Dodson, the Executive Director and General Counsel for the North Dakota Catholic Conference initially commented on the piece, but has graciously allowed me to offer his comment as a stand alone post.  I believe his clarification concerning what Amendment 3 does is important, especially to those who, like the Orthodox in North Dakota, find themselves in the religious minority.  The following are from Mr. Dodson, to whom I am grateful:

Measure 3 would set the legal standard.  Formally, that means that if someone believes their religious freedom has been unduly burdened by a law, they would seek judicial, or in some cases, administrative remedy.  The court would then determine whether a burden actually exists and whether the state has a compelling interest and whether the means are narrowly tailored.

The formal process, therefore, would be no different than it is now. The only thing changed would be the standard applied by the court.  Under the current standard, the person whose rights were infringed would have little chance of prevailing.

Informally, it acts as a preemption against undue infringement.  That is, it presumably would make lawmakers think about not infringing on religious liberties before acting.