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Who Are the Enemies of Religious Liberty?

Deep-pocketed elite foundations giving money to undermine First Amendment freedoms

Philadelphia Archbishop Charles Chaput, in a speech he recently gave about religious liberty:

And what about the United States? Compared to almost anywhere else in the world, our religious freedom situation is good. Religious believers played a very big role in founding and building the country. Until recently, our laws have reflected that. In many ways they still do. A large majority of Americans still believe in God and still identify as Christian. Religious practice remains high. But that’s changing. And the pace will quicken. More young people are disaffiliated from religion now than at any time in our country’s past. More stay away as they age. And many have no sense of the role that religious freedom has played in our nation’s life and culture.

The current White House may be the least friendly to religious concerns in our history. But we’ll see more of the same in the future – pressure in favor of things like gay rights, contraception and abortion services, and against public religious witness. We’ll see it in the courts and in so-called “anti-discrimination” laws. We’ll see it in “anti-bullying” policies that turn public schools into indoctrination centers on matters of human sexuality; centers that teach that there’s no permanent truth involved in words like “male” and “female.” And we’ll see it in restrictions on public funding, revocation of tax exemptions and expanding government regulations. We too easily forget that every good service the government provides comes with a growth in its regulatory power. And that power can be used in ways nobody imagined in the past.

We also forget Tocqueville’s warning that democracy can become tyrannical precisely because it’s so sensitive to public opinion. If anyone needs proof, consider what a phrase like “marriage equality” has done to our public discourse in less than a decade. It’s dishonest. But it works.

That leads to the key point I want to make here. The biggest problem we face as a culture isn’t gay marriage or global warming. It’s not abortion funding or the federal debt. These are vital issues, clearly. But the deeper problem, the one that’s crippling us, is that we use words like justice, rights, freedom and dignity without any commonly shared meaning to their content. We speak the same language, but the words don’t mean the same thing.

Our public discourse never gets down to what’s true and what isn’t, because it can’t. Our most important debates boil out to who can deploy the best words in the best way to get power. Words like “justice” have emotional throw-weight, so people use them as weapons. And it can’t be otherwise, because the religious vision and convictions that once animated American life are no longer welcome at the table.

I quoted most of this in a post the other day, but I wanted to do so again in light of a deeply troubling report from the Catholic News Agency revealing how deep-pocketed private foundations are working hard to fight religious liberty for those who dissent from the progressive agenda. Check this out:

Questions are being raised over two U.S. foundations that have poured more than three million dollars into abortion rights, LGBT activist, and legal groups to push the message that exemptions based on religious beliefs are “un-American” and an abuse of liberty.

The Arcus Foundation and the Ford Foundation have spent over $3 million in combined spending against religious liberty exemptions since 2013, according to a CNA review of tax forms and grant listings.

John Lomperis of the Institute for Religion and Democracy – a D.C.-based ecumenical Christian think tank – warned that the grants appear to understand the important role of “rhetorical message and framing” on religious liberty issues.

“The agenda of such groups in opposing basic conscience protections could hardly be more diametrically opposed to our nation’s great traditions of freedom of conscience and of religion,” Lomperis, who serves as United Methodist Director for the institute, told CNA Feb. 10.

He contended that the pattern of grants “serves a fundamentally totalitarian vision these foundations and their allied politicians have of ‘religious liberty.’” This vision is especially opposed to those who value traditional sexual morality and respect for unborn human life, he noted.

“Our society is now facing serious questions about to what extent Christians (as well as, to a lesser extent, followers of other faiths) will be allowed to have the same degree to live in accordance with our values without facing new and powerful coercions,” Lomperis said.

For example:

The Arcus Foundation is a major funder of LGBT advocacy, including “gay marriage” advocacy. The foundation had almost $170 million in assets in 2013 and gave out $17 million to organizations it considers to be working for social justice.

As part of this effort, the foundation joined with the titanic wealth of the Ford Foundation to back Columbia Law School’s “Public Rights / Private Conscience Project,” run by the Center for Gender and Sexuality Law. The Arcus Foundation gave $250,000 to Columbia University’s Board of Trustees to support the project, which the foundation says will “mobilize scholars, attorneys and advocates in order to develop and distribute new methods of framing perceived conflicts between sexual rights and religious liberty.”


The Ford Foundation’s 2013 tax forms and website indicate it has committed $650,000 to the same project, which the foundation says will “counteract religious exemption and conscience-based carve-outs to laws securing sexual and reproductive rights.” The grant money also supports “a symposia series on LGBT rights.”

There’s more; read the whole thing. 

Remember a few years back when people asked the naive question, “What does my gay neighbors’ marriage have to do with my marriage?” — meaning, in effect, “If they want to get married, so what?” Well, this is so what: powerful elites not happy with having won on nearly every front, spending lots of money to crush religious dissenters.

The Law of Merited Impossibility: It’s not going to happen, and when it does, you people will deserve it. 

It’s coming. The scope of the SCOTUS gay marriage ruling this summer may set the boundaries for religious liberty in the new arrangement. If not, then with Justice Ginsberg in frail health, the 2016 presidential election will be enormously important on the religious liberty front, given that it surely won’t be long before SCOTUS has to deal with religious liberty claims in light of its gay rights jurisprudence.