Andrew Cuomo’s Religious-Freedom Problem

by Kathryn Jean Lopez

On Friday, a politician who professes to be Catholic said that Catholic teaching about the dignity of human life is extremist.  

The inviolability of innocent human life is not something you have to be religious to respect — it’s a human-rights issue. But it’s a human-rights issue that many of us are called by faith not to look away from.

Despite the slippery slope his father helped us slide down, Andrew Cuomo has got to know that Catholics in his state work to make the place hospitable to life. Many spent the better part of last year begging him to simply divorce abortion expansion from the rest of his “women’s” agenda. Many of them provide help and homes to women in crisis and would simply like the government of the state to refrain from doubling down on death and making it harder for mothers to see they have the support to choose life for their children.

When he wrote pro-lifers out of state politics in an ill-advised radio interview Friday, he insulted these good people and the lives they work to save. Like the federal government’s assault on the conscience rights of the Little Sisters of the Poor, this is a bizarre attack on the likes of the Sisters of Life, who make choosing life seem plausible, when it might not otherwise, to a scared mom who feels alone.

Governor Cuomo also contradicted himself. We all know, first of all, about the claims of sexualityism (to borrow a word often used by Helen Alvare) to be the standard of tolerance and non-discrimination. And yet here is the governor announcing that the Empire State ought not to tolerate New Yorkers who defend the most vulnerable’s right to life because these are, to him, extreme views. But there is also something else he said.

In 2010, when he was running for governor, Cuomo accused his opponent, Republican Rick Lazio, of religious intolerance because the latter voiced concerns about the Ground Zero mosque plans. Cuomo said at the time:

What are we about, if not religious freedom? What is the country about if not religious freedom? What is this state about if not religious freedom? Well, religious freedom except I don’t like this religion. But then, there might be another government, and they won’t like Catholicism, or they won’t like Judaism, or they won’t like Christianity, then what?

Debra Burlingame, who e-mailed me the video, commented: Apparently Andrew Cuomo is that government?

I happen to agree that religious freedom is paramount. It’s who we are and we need it. But this includes religious freedom for people who take religion seriously in an integrated way. It means that providing abortifacient, contraceptive, and sterilization coverage doesn’t trump religious liberty. It means that a photographer can opt out of taking on a same-sex wedding as business.

We don’t need religious Americans simply because they might be good neighbors, but because they have been the backbone of civil society and stewardship in America — often respecting differences before the culture does, because they have known discrimination and are sensitive to the suffering.

The fact that someone happens to believe marriage is about a man and a woman and children doesn’t mean they hate people who see things differently.

Pope Francis’s embodiment and communication of this has been a disarming cultural reality for many over the last ten months.

If a Christian truly looks at the Cross of Christ, he sees that Christ is drawn into a deep love that overwhelms. It makes it all the more difficult to be content with a nation that abandons the most vulnerable, and doesn’t share that love with women and men who are faced with unexpected parenthood. If we are more welcoming to the most vulnerable, working together to find ways to help life, rather than double down on a culture of death, insisting it is all about health and freedom, we might just be a healthier people, respecting dignity as we all help one another appreciate the love of the Creator.

Governor Cuomo is insisting he was taken out of context and has returned to use of the phrase “anti-choice” rather than “right to life.” But there’s more to this story than the governor’s words — there’s a secularism with tyrannical impulses that many have inadvertently surrendered to, and that they further feed by their indifference.

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