I love a good parade. There’s something about the pageantry, the grandeur, and the joy that lifts up a community and all the people within it. Perhaps I’m bitten by nostalgia when I remember my parents’ stories about the Corpus Christi parades back in Ireland in the 1940s and 50s. Thousands wound their way through communities after High Mass: girls in their white dresses and gloves and men in their Sunday finest marching behind the Eucharist. They were proud to be Catholic.
I was very curious when I noticed that the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) was encouraging people to have parades during this year’s Fortnight for Freedom, which begins Sunday. I thought to myself, “What a good idea.” A Church that has been rocked by sexual abuse scandals and divided by the bishops’ cultural war needs a good parade to bring us all together. I certainly wanted to sign up to march.
However, after I attended Mass, my vision of a unified Church marching together with the renewed hope that Pope Francis has fostered was quickly shattered. The priest explained that they really want us to march so that we can lend credence to their desire to discriminate. Next week, the bishops will launch a campaign under the guise of religious freedom, which means they want the ability to discriminate against LGBT people, against people who have children outside of marriage, against a woman who has an abortion — and against you.
The bishops want to take taxpayer money to fund their discrimination, but they don’t want adhere to the same rules as everyone else. They fought the Affordable Care Act provision that contraception be included as an essential health benefit covered by all insurance plans. When they lost, they pressured the administration into carving out exemptions for churches, dioceses, and other religious institutions — but even that was not enough. They expanded the exemption to religious nonprofits, and through Burwell v. Hobby Lobby, they even trampled on the conscience rights of individuals who work at for-profit corporations.
And that’s just the tip of the iceberg. Catholic charities in Africa take taxpayer money to serve patients with HIV & AIDS, but they don’t want to provide condoms to prevent HIV. Likewise, the USCCB has said that it will not provide abortions and emergency contraception in their border relief services, so the 68,000 children and teens who flee violence and persecution in their home country will not find the critical healthcare they need.
The bishops want a parade of Catholics not to uplift and celebrate our community, but to show support for their discrimination campaign. But Catholics in their everyday practice do not march behind the bishops. In fact, 89 percent of Catholics do not believe they have to vote on issues the way that bishops recommend; 72 percent support contraceptive coverage in both private and government insurance plans; and 99 percent of sexually active Catholic women have used a method of contraception banned by the Vatican.
Politicians from both sides of the aisle are the ones who are really marching behind the bishops. Every Republican presidential candidate in next year’s election will promise to give the bishops a blank check if they win. Even more depressing, we’ve seen the Obama administration making concessions to the bishops time and time again. This administration — and, it appears, the Democratic Party — has no understanding of the separation of church and state, and no commitment to supporting real religious freedom. Real religious freedom is freedom of and freedom from religion. Neither party seems to understand that you don’t get to impose your beliefs onto somebody else — your freedom stops at the end of your nose.
Unless we let our politicians know we don’t believe that discrimination is an American value, they are quite likely to empty the till — to give away the entire store — to the bishops and other religious interests. What’s at stake is preserving the separation of church and state that is precious for all Americans, including Catholics.
We should let our politicians know that a parade of everyone who believes in real religious freedom and rejects discrimination would stretch for miles.
Jon O’Brien is president of Catholics for Choice.