The gulf widens, between the secular culture and the Catholic faith: and as it does so, committed secularists are becoming more and more inclined (especially where some aspect of Catholic belief to do with sexuality or “sexual identity” is concerned) aggressively to attack the faith and – where the secular law can plausibly be invoked – attempt to have this aspect of faith declared actually illegal.
I have two current stories, one on either side of the great pond. On this side of the Atlantic, no less a person than Brendan Barber, General Secretary of the Trade Union Congress (TUC), has written to the Education Secretary, Michael Gove, complaining that a booklet containing “homophobic material” had been distributed at Roman Catholic schools in the Lancaster diocese.
The booklet concerned – “Pure Manhood: How to become the man God wants you to be” by the American Catholic apologist Jason Evert, who spoke recently in Catholic schools throughout the diocese promoting chastity in accordance with Church teaching – claims that “scientifically speaking, safe sex is a joke” (this is true: condoms rupture: all that can be claimed is that sex using condoms is “safer”). The booklet also expounds what you may find explained in any number of Catholic books and document including the Catechism of the Catholic Church (does Mr Barber want to ban teaching from that in schools, I wonder?) – that “the homosexual act is disordered, much like contraceptive sex between heterosexuals. Both acts are directed against God’s natural purpose for sex – babies and bonding.”
Invoking the Equality Act 2010, which prohibits discrimination against individuals, Barber wrote to Mr Gove in December insisting that “schools now have a legal duty to challenge all forms of prejudice. Such literature undermines this completely.” Michael Gove replied: “The education provisions of the Equality Act 2010 which prohibit discrimination against individuals based on their protected characteristics (including their sexual orientation) do not extend to the content of the curriculum. Any materials used in sex and relationship education lessons, therefore, will not be subject to the discrimination provisions of the act.”
So, for the time being, our schools are safe from the likes of Mr Barber. But we have not heard the end of this one. One day, there will be another Labour government: and those who remember Ed Balls’s appalling Education Bill, (which would have required Catholic schools to teach children how to “access” contraception and abortion) – a Bill which fell at the election, having been opposed by the Tories but, shamefully, not by our own bishops – will not be confident that we are safe for the future. Those who form public opinion in these areas are already sharpening their knives. The quangocrat Trevor Phillips, chairman of the Equality and Human Rights Commission has said that religious rules should be left “at the door of the temple” and that religious institutions should give way to the “public law” laid down by Parliament. “Once you start to provide public services that have to be run under public rules,” he said, “then it has to go with public law.”
The latest American secularist onslaught against the Church, of course, is Obama’s recent edict that under his administration’s healthcare reform any provider of health care (including Catholic institutions) must be prepared to supply artificial contraception (including drugs which, though labelled contraceptive, are in fact abortifacient). I have recently written about this more than once. I now do so again to bring up to date anyone who has missed it, with one particular skirmish in the US Catholic fightback, that led by the redoubtable (and entirely admirable) Mother Angelica, founder of EWTN, who is now taking the fight against Obama to the courts.
You will remember that Obama tried to pacify Catholic resistance by saying that it won’t now be the Catholic institution involved who has to provide contraception: it will be their insurers. Yes, but who pays the insurer? It just won’t wash. Michael Warsaw, the chief executive officer of EWTN, was allowed an opinion piece slot in the New York Times to explain why EWTN was going to fight this in the courts on constitutional grounds:
Earlier this month, in response to widespread opposition to the mandate, the president announced an “accommodation” for some religious organisations – like, potentially, EWTN – that would shift the responsibility for the coverage from the employer to the employer’s insurance carrier.
But this would do nothing to solve the problem. First, EWTN self-insures, so we are the insurer. Second, even if we had an outside insurer, we would still be in the untenable position of facilitating access to drugs that go against our beliefs. And if we refused to comply with the directive, we could be hit with annual fines starting at around $600,000.
The administration’s supporters say that by opposing the rule, religious employers like EWTN are guilty of trying to coerce our employees and impose our values on them. But we are simply choosing not to participate in the use of these drugs. Our 350 employees, many of whom are not Catholic, freely choose to work here and can purchase and use contraception if they want to….
Instead, it is the government – which does not accept EWTN’s religious choice and can punish that choice by imposing fines – that is coercing us. But under the Constitution and federal religious liberties law, we cannot be forced to give up our beliefs as the price of participation in the public square. That is why the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty has filed a lawsuit on our behalf seeking to overturn this illegal mandate.
Watch this space, and how. This one is going to run and run. And with a bit of luck, Obama is going to lose. I have an interest to declare here: I have more than once appeared on EWTN and been deeply impressed by the whole dynamic set up. It’s from institutions like this that the renewal and future growth of the Catholic Church will come, and I don’t just mean in the US.
And now this splendid institution has declared war on the President. Mother Angelica versus Barack Obama: an epic struggle, or what? And this isn’t just a battle for the survival of a particular Catholic institution. It’s a battle for the faith against everything that is corrupt and bullying in the modern world. We mustn’t just hope that EWTN wins; we must earnestly pray for it; for, this is our battle too.