This is an unsigned commentary from the June 6 issue of Our Sunday Visitor, a national Catholic newsweekly based in Huntington, Indiana. It was written by the newspaper’s editorial board.
The U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in Masterpiece Cakeshop v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission, upholding the religious freedom claim of a baker who refused to bake a wedding cake for a same-sex couple, may have been decided by a failure to grasp what religion is and how it’s treated in the constitutional system of the government of the United States.
In his June 4 opinion, Justice Anthony Kennedy noted that Colorado’s civil rights commissioner, at a public meeting, asserted that “freedom of religion and religion has been used to justify all kinds of discrimination throughout history, whether it be slavery, whether it be the Holocaust, whether it be — I mean, we — we can list hundreds of situations where freedom of religion has been used to justify discrimination.”
Justice Kennedy called this sentiment “inappropriate” for a body tasked with “the solemn responsibility of fair and neutral enforcement of Colorado’s anti-discrimination law — a law that protects discrimination on the basis of religion as well as sexual orientation.”
In the end, the failure of this commissioner to believe that such a religious objection can be sincerely held was enough to tip the scales, and the court took religious freedom and conscience rights seriously — for now.
Like a wedding cake, this ruling comes with an expiration date. What are Christians going to do with the time that this ruling provides? In years past, perceived threats to our values in the culture — and threats to religious freedom itself — have been met with legislative fixes such as the Religious Freedom Restoration Act and the Defense of Marriage Act.
But any legal measure or protection is reliant on a critical mass of popular support, something that can erode or evaporate completely if social mores drift far enough from the values that motivated the law in the first place. The central place of religion in the life of a society is one such value.
If Kennedy’s prescriptions are followed — if civil rights commissions really do their jobs and people at every level of society take the time to understand and respect their neighbors — that alone would represent a great stride toward more peaceful coexistence. And if those who heed Kennedy’s words go out and engage with believers with the presumption of the other’s sincerity and goodwill, they could be in for a surprise.
As Christians look to the future, we must try to find opportunities to spread the Gospel as the real agent of change in our culture. If, as the Faith tells us, Jesus came to liberate captives and bring sight to the blind, an authentic Christian witness — one that truly grasps the Gospel — could really move mountains and change hearts and minds in our society.
The ultimate measure of our relationships with our neighbors should be our Christ-like love for them. As Pope Francis said on Twitter in June 2017, “Love requires a creative, concrete response. Good intentions are not enough. The other is not a statistic, but a person to take care of.” Taking this view can ensure that the Christian witness effects change in a way that a focus on policymaking never will.
Living our daily lives in our homes, workplaces and parishes, we all have the tools and connections to foster authentic solidarity, to live out our values in profound ways and to remove any question that a Christian can be anything but sincere in his or her love for all people. When both Christians and non-Christians clearly see that this is the essence of the Gospel, society may change for the better in ways we can all embrace.
The views or positions presented in this or any guest editorial are those of the individual publication and do not necessarily represent the views of CatholicPhilly.com, Catholic News Service or of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.
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