Religion

Message to Biden: If You Want to Heal, Lay Off the Little Sisters and the Knights

Nuns of the Little Sisters of the Poor at the Supreme Court, March 2016. (Joshua Roberts/Reuters)
What’s necessary if we’re going to be the United States: A foster-care case puts it in perspective.

The morning after Election Day itself, the Supreme Court heard a case on foster care and adoption that puts a heck of a lot in perspective.

I listened with some frustration and bewilderment as a few of the justices talked with some hostility about the idea that Catholic Social Services in Philadelphia would dare to expect to be able to contract with the city to certify and provide ongoing support for foster and adoptive families. They were coming up with hypothetical situations and scenarios that had very little to do with the realities before them. There are children in the city of Philadelphia who need homes, and there are homes certified by Catholic Social Services with beds — and track records of literally saving lives. As justices considered a Catholic agency abiding by Catholic Church teaching on marriage, inevitable comparisons to interracial marriage were raised. One of the many reasons this drives me crazy is: If you look just a little into the life story of plaintiff Sharonell Fulton, she has spent her years on the front lines of what the phrase Black Lives Matter should be all about. It shouldn’t be a loaded political agenda or platitudes (albeit well-intentioned) on lawn signs. It should be real labors of love. This is what Fulton does. How dare the Philadelphia government stand in the way of her and the children she longs to help.

While everyone has been stuck on the presidential election drama, understandably, I fear we miss the most important things. Most of the headlines that covered the Fulton case set it up as a conflict between LGBTQ rights and the Catholic Church. Here’s how Becket Fund for Religious Liberty lawyer Lori Windham put it during an exchange with Justice Brett Kavanaugh:

[Catholic Social Services] is not going to prevent any same-sex couple from being able to foster in Philadelphia. There are many other agencies out there. They’re merely asking to be able to step aside and recuse if that situation ever to — were ever to arise. It also demonstrates the City doesn’t have a compelling interest here. This is a system that has worked effectively and worked well for many years. This is an unnecessary conflict. The City of Philadelphia had an easy option here, which is to allow Catholic Social Services to continue the great work that it’s been doing.

That, of course, brings to mind the ridiculous fight the Barack Obama-Joe Biden administration brought on to the Little Sisters of the Poor, most notably, who wound up before the U.S. Supreme Court not once but twice as their religious-liberty rights were attacked completely unnecessarily. Who would expect Catholic nuns to be involved in contraception and abortion-inducing drugs? This is what religious liberty is all about. But we see in the broader cancel culture, in some of the scenes of confrontation near me in the days after Election Day, that people are losing their grip on any sense that people should be allowed to have different political views than them. Let’s face it: It was the prospect of a Trump win that had New York City stores all boarded up. On some blocks, I couldn’t tell what was closed down for good or simply under disguise.

Joe Biden’s eloquent words about healing speak to my heart. Speaking Wednesday about being a president for all the people was certainly the right thing to say. But I have my concerns, to say the least. His partner on the ticket, Kamala Harris, is standing on the sidelines as one who has expressed that membership in the Knights of Columbus is intolerable if you’re going to present yourself as a judicial candidate before the Supreme Court. Given it’s a fraternal organization, that was mercifully one strike against Amy Coney Barrett that didn’t make the Democrats’ list of objections.

Speaking of the Knights of Columbus, I write to you yards from the tomb of Blessed Father Michael McGivney, the founder of the Knights, who died in a plague. I was here just a few days ago, after he made a major step toward official sainthood in the Church. I’m back so soon because one of my dearest friends in the world, Andrew T. Walther, has died, and will be prayed for and given thanks to God for. If you wonder about Catholics and saints, Andrew considered Father Michael McGivney a friend and looked to him for inspiration and intercession. And he worked to advance the work of the Knights of Columbus in the service of God — most notably by protecting persecuted Christians and other religious minorities in the Middle East and elsewhere. But the fact of the matter is he was a man who lived every day virtue courageously.

If we’re going to heal under one president or another, there needs to be some buy-in from the American people. Do we still understand that the purpose of the presidency isn’t to punish our political opponents? Do we understand, too, that politics isn’t meant to be a religion? There’s a blind, dangerous fervor I see on the streets and social media. My solace comes from people actually praying to God for peace and wisdom.

And the message of Fulton and the Knights of Columbus and the life of Andrew Walther is that real religious freedom and a robust civil society are essential. Anything else will drive us crazy — as we see in our politics and much else.

This column is based on one available through Andrews McMeel Universal’s Newspaper Enterprise Association.

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