The Corner

What’s Bigotry?

Andrew Sullivan takes issue with my complaint about the DC judge who refused to sentence the gay Catholic activists convicted of trespassing, or somesuch offense, having to do with their refusing to leave a church after having been denied communion. The three were part of a protest against what they believe are the Catholic Church’s unjustly discriminatory policies against homosexuals. The judge said she was sympathetic to the protesters’ plight, and apologized to them for what the Church is doing to them. This is bigotry because it’s none of the state’s business how the Catholic Church decides to distribute communion. In Catholic teaching, churchgoers are not to receive communion if they are in a conscious state of mortal sin. In practice, most people who receive communion are improperly disposed, but the fault lies upon the communicant in that case. The priest assumes the communicant is in good standing. A judge may think this is crazy, but it’s none of her business. The fact that she made it her business is to me evidence of prejudice against Catholicism.

In the case at hand, the three gay would-be communicants were attempting to use the holiest sacrament of the Catholic faith to make a political statement. The priest was right to deny them communion. The analogy is imperfect, but if, for example, Jesse Helms turned up at a parish of the homosexual Metropolitan Community Church on Sunday morning, and demanded to take communion (assuming they have communion), and the minister decided that Helms was either a notorious public sinner (for his right-wing views on gay rights) or was abusing their sacrament to make a political statement, she would be well within her rights to refuse him. More power to her.

And if Jesse Helms had to be dragged out of the church, and was charged with and convicted of trespassing, the judge should give him a fair sentence. If the judge said from the bench, “Jesse, I don’t like that gay church any more than you do. I’m not going to sentence you at all. I’m sorry you had to go through that. It’s a shame how those people are” — Andrew would scream his head off about how a judge has no business telling a religion how to operate. And he would be right to do so. Andrew — and anybody else — has a right to protest practices in his religion he finds offensive. But as long as no law is broken, churches should be free of the interference of the state in their practice.

Technically, I suppose, this judge didn’t interfere with the practice of the Catholic religion in this parish, but if the state were to refuse to punish those who broke the law in attempting to interfere with the freedom of Catholics to worship according to their rules, the effect is no different, because it encourages lawbreaking.

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