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April 5, 2015

From Bishop Timothy L. Doherty on the Indiana religious freedom law

Bishop Timothy Doherty

I did not oppose SB 101 because it protects church-related institutions from unwarranted burdens on our missions such as parishes, schools and hospitals. I think of a burden as something that restricts our activity, or forces us into an activity inconsistent with long- held moral practice. I reject the notion that I supported a law against other people.

As a bishop, am I right to be concerned about undue burdens to our institutions? Yes, if we look at some hard facts. Across the country, there are still dozens of lawsuits pending where Catholic dioceses and universities are protesting government requirements to add things to our health insurance coverages that violate our moral code. We are not trying to block people from things that are available, but we don’t want to be forced to pay for these.

Employment law has been mostly respectful of how we hire for mission. For example, I can stipulate that positions such as religion teacher or bishop’s secretary should be filled by practicing Catholics in good standing. But I am also free to hire people who aren’t Catholics if we judge that they are qualified and a position does not require theological knowledge or religious teaching. But they would not be free to publicly challenge Church doctrine or religious practice while they work for us.

There has been a tendency for regulators or legislators to define religious practice, and craft laws around this. For example, California Catholic Charities could not past some tests like: you are Catholic if you hire mainly Catholics, or if you serve only Catholics. Can you imagine a Catholic charity, hospital, or school that defines itself like that? Religious liberty is more than freedom to worship. There continue to be conflicts about the distinction.

Last Fall, the California Catholic Conference filed a federal civil rights complaint because the California Department of Managed Health Care (DMHC) disallowed certain exceptions in all health insurances in the state, resulting in Catholic institutions and others being forced to purchase health insurance covering all forms of voluntary direct abortion, including late-term and gender selection. There is a serious push in California to effectively negate any hospital’s license to function, including a Catholic-sponsored one, if it does not perform direct abortions. This push is related to ongoing pressure there to set aside the Hyde-Weldon amendment that gives conscience protection to health practitioners who choose not to participate in abortions.


Can we be more careful about the word ‘discrimination?’ It requires some qualification, depending on the circumstance. Even dictionaries distinguish usage differences. There is unjust discrimination. There is unreasonable or unevenly applied discrimination.

And there is the ability to see differences. For example, most people discriminate when they look for a babysitter. They discriminate when they decide the roads are too icey to drive upon. They discriminate when they choose broccoli over carrots with their steak.

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