THIS JUNE, YET ANOTHER POTENTIALLY FAR-REACHING RULING ON religious freedom will be handed down by the U. S. Supreme Court. In the case of Fulton v. Philadelphia, a Catholic foster agency is arguing for the right to deny same-sex and unmarried couples the chance to adopt children. The case is an escalation of the question of whether businesses should have the right to “conscience exemptions.” Catholic Social Services, the foster home’s sponsor, is a government contractor seeking to dodge nondiscrimination laws. The ramifications of a sweeping ruling could devastate many protected classes of people throughout the United States.
These cases are beginning to feel like a film on a loop. A Catholic institution finds itself in the highest court in the land, locked in litigation that could redefine the parameters of religious freedom. And, like similar cases involving the Little Sisters of the Poor or last year’s Our Lady of Guadalupe School v. Morrissey-Berru, the Becket Fund provides lead counsel for the church.
The consequential nature of the Fulton case provides the impetus for the theme of this issue. Because the ruling could have massive implications for the denial of all kinds of services, particularly health care, we asked Sonja Spoo to explore the human toll of refusals. Chase Strangio and Leslie Cooper of the ACLU discuss Fulton’s potential to turn back the clock on generations of progress against the harms of discrimination. And Ilyse Hogue, outgoing president of NARAL, offers some research into the Becket Fund, the legal firm founded by and financially floated by arch-conservative Catholics.
Religious Liberty fights are not unique to the U.S. nor to our moment in time. Dr. Ahmed Shaheed, the U.N. special rapporteur on freedom of religion or belief, describes his recent study of the global phenomenon of gender-based violence and discrimination in the name of religion. Scholar Sally Roesch Wagner recounts the little-known story of suffragist Matilda Joslyn Gage who, at the end of the 19th century, sounded alarm bells about a movement to enshrine God in the Constitution and Jesus Christ as the head of government. You’ll be surprised at how close the U.S. came to making that a reality.
We also say farewell to theologian Hans Küng, who used his theological prowess and prophetic voice to call for a rethinking of church teachings on abortion and homosexuality, and encouraged lifting the ban on birth control, the use of which he called a matter of individual conscience. How different the Catholic Church’s priorities might be today had the hierarchy been courageous enough to listen to him and the generations of scholars he has inspired.
We hope you enjoy this edition of Conscience. As a reminder, this issue and our past issues are available at our newly redesigned website catholicsforchoice.org. Just click the “Conscience” tab in the upper right corner. It’s a stunning resource with a fresh, new look.