Archbishop William Lori of Baltimore has an otherwise excellent column in today’s Washington Post about the need to protect religious liberty from the assault represented by the HHS abortifacient mandate. But he makes an important misstatement, a wholly gratuitous one, that MUST be corrected, and will be in a moment.
First, here’s what is good, indeed terrific, about the column: It captures the essence of the state’s intrusion into internal religious affairs. As in:
According to HHS, an entity deserves religious freedom only if it primarily hires and primarily serves its co-religionists. But the state has no competence or authority to define the church and her ministries, let alone to impose on her such a restrictive, inward-looking definition.
This definition is a blow to any religious community, but especially to Catholics, who are called to serve anyone in need. As we often say, we serve people because we are Catholic, not because they are. It is why so many Catholic schools enroll so many non-Catholics; Catholic hospitals don’t ask for baptismal certificates upon admission; and Catholic soup kitchens don’t quiz the hungry on the Catechism.
Do read the whole thing. It’s good.
That said, there is a terrible mistake in the column that appears again and again in the talking points of Catholic clergy across the country. I’ll first quote Lori’s claim, and then show why it is flatly inaccurate. Here’s what he wrote:
And the federal government is not the only problem either. In Alabama and other states anti-immigrant legislation is so draconian as to make it a crime to give basic help–such as food, or a ride to church, or counseling–to an undocumented immigrant. This imperils the good work of pastors who are called to care for all souls, not just those recognized by government.
Not to put too fine a point on it, but this is an ignorant re-statement of an assertion that was never true in the first place. In a Weekly Standard piece last December, I showed how and why the assertion is false:
Then there is the absurd notion that priests or pastors might be arrested while providing humanitarian assistance under the part of the law that would make it unlawful to “harbor” an illegal alien. For one thing, the anti-harboring provisions match, almost word for word, an extensive anti-harboring section of federal law (8 U.S. Code 1324) that similarly makes it unlawful to “conceal, harbor, or shield from detection, such alien in any place, including any building or any means of transportation”—a federal law that never before has been thought to put clergy in the slightest danger. For another thing, the Alabama law contains a host of exceptions for primary and secondary education and for just the sorts of humanitarian actions Obama described—among others, any “emergency medical condition,” “emergency disaster relief,” and “soup kitchens, crisis counseling and intervention, and short-term shelter.”
To add to the protections for those in the ministry, Alabama’s constitution contains a “Religious Freedom Amendment” more extensive than the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, namely “to guarantee that the freedom of religion is not burdened by state and local law; and to provide a claim or defense to persons whose religious freedom is burdened by government.”
Finally, when Obama was using the Hispanic media to spread alarm, a federal judge had already enjoined the Alabama law’s “harboring” sections on technical grounds, mooting (at least for now) the entire alleged danger.
“I’ve made it clear in every public statement that there is nothing in this law that would prohibit anyone from being a good Samaritan,” said Luther Strange, Alabama’s mild-mannered, moderate-conservative attorney general cast by the New York Times in the role of the viciously segregationist former governor George Wallace, with all of Wallace’s “defiant history of intolerance and minority oppression.” The characterization fits Strange about as well as a tuxedo would fit a porpoise.
There. That just about sums it up: No different from federal law/mutliple specific exemptions/state constitutional protections/federal court enjoinment/state AG assurances.
It’s time the bishops, in the course of their brave and noble opposition to the HHS mandate, stop reaching for an unnecessary and unfair additional point that obviously is intended merely to make their complaint look bipartisan.