There is little argument that the Constitution’s Framers intended religious freedom to mean exactly that; freedom to worship without government intrusion or interference. However, due to a deceitful plot by the United States Council of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) in the early 1980s, the concept of religious liberty has become a powerful tool to impose religion on the people and disregard the nation’s laws, including the Constitution. In an ironic twist, as a result of Catholic Justices on the nation’s highest court, for the second time in six months high-ranking Catholics are exercising religious supremacy over the nation’s judicial system.
Last November the Fort Wayne-South Bend Diocese claimed that according to its distorted interpretation of the Supreme Court’s definition of “free exercise” of religious liberty, it had no obligation and would not go to court; at all. The issue was over a Catholic -affiliated school violating Title VII of the Civil Rights Act that bans all employers from discriminating on the basis of race, color, religion, sex, or national origin. The school fired a female teacher for going through fertility treatments (in vitro fertilization) and informed the woman that because she wanted to give birth, she was “a grave, immoral sinner” and was also now unemployed. The woman rightly filed a lawsuit against the school for violating her Title VII Civil Rights. The Church said it did not have to acknowledge the lawsuit, or go to court for a discrimination jury trial on the basis that doing so violated its religious liberty; the same religious liberty granted by 5 Catholic Justices on the nation’s highest court just a few months earlier.
It is telling then, and no surprise, that the Church claims it does not have to abide by a court-ordered settlement to compensate victims of ‘priestly’ sexual abuse (apparently not a grave, immoral sin) because it is exercising its High Court-approved religious liberty. It is also likely violating bankruptcy laws; but the Church’s religious liberty means no federal laws apply and that is particularly true when there is the Church’s taxpayer-provided money involved.
The case concerns the Catholic Archdiocese of Milwaukee that hid $55 million to shield the money from compensation after at least 45 Milwaukee priests ‘allegedly’ sexually abused children; including one accused of molesting about 200 deaf boys. The diocese agreed to a $17 million settlement involving only 10 of the victims, but after a Wisconsin Supreme Court decision allowed other lawsuits to move forward, now-cardinal Anthony Dolan quickly transferred $55 million into a cemetery trust to “protect these funds from any legal claim and liability” according to a letter he wrote to the Vatican celebrating the despicable act.
Then, in 2011, the archdiocese did what any despicable business would do and promptly filed bankruptcy “due to the financial burden” of having to pay the agreed settlement to the sexual abuse victims. When the sexual abuse victims sought redress and the compensation the Catholics agreed to during the archdiocese’ bankruptcy proceeding, the Catholics said no way because it “had a Canonical obligation to properly maintain cemeteries and mausoleums funded through the trust.” The archdiocese complained vehemently that if it had to compensate the victims of sex abuse out of the funds Cardinal Dolan hid away, “there will be insufficient funds to care for the Catholic Cemeteries;” thus the archdiocese claimed adhering to the agreed settlement means it will be unable to fulfill its religious obligation and the victims were out of luck.
In 2013 a federal district judge agreed with the archdiocese that its religious freedom certainly included the right not to compensate sexual abuse victims, but last week a bipartisan panel of the Seventh Circuit reversed the decision noting there is still an unresolved “issue of whether the Archdiocese made a fraudulent, preferential or avoidable transfer” to avoid paying out the agreed settlement. The Court did not dare address the issue of accusing the archdiocese of breaking the law. It did, however, note that the “religious liberty” ploy the archdiocese proposed would lead to “absurd consequences” and “favor dishonest debtors by preventing courts from inquiring whether a religious entity made a fraudulent transfer” in order to dodge its debts, but it did not in any way say the Catholics were “dishonest” debtors. There is that unwritten American law that ‘thou shalt utter an unkind word about Christians” that no court or politician (except President Obama) dare violate. The Seventh Circuit said it could not allow the Church set a precedent that would “undermine the compelling interest of the [bankruptcy] Code by allowing a debtor who made fraudulent and avoidable transfers to intentionally harm its creditors,” or in the case of the Milwaukee Catholic archdiocese; hundreds of victims of “priestly sexual abuse.”
It is highly likely the nation’s High Court will have a much different opinion of Cardinal Dolan’s dishonest actions and preserve the archdiocese’s religious liberty to “not compensate sexual abuse victims” based on the Church’s religious liberty. This is in spite of the Seventh Circuit’s warning that “if an exemption to the Code is created in the name of religious beliefs, we can envision scenarios where individuals join religious sects to circumvent the law.” Obviously, the Seventh Court is as unaware the preponderance of state legislation giving religious individuals the legal right to circumvent the law as it is of the High Court’s predilection to give religious corporations exemptions to circumvent the law; all in the name of the fundamentalist version of the Christian religion.
It is noteworthy to repeat that the entire “religious liberty” ploy is a USCCB machination to exert theocratic control over every aspect of American society; not just to control women, discriminate against the LGBT community, or refuse to honor court settlements for “priestly sexual abuse” by illegally transferring taxpayer-provided welfare. It was a well-conceived, well-executed, and concerted effort to help the Southern religious right abandon a doomed racist and illegal school segregation program and embrace a desperately needed new cause célèbre for their theocratic electoral movement. It turned out to be the same moral majority movement that empowered Republicans power to install the Vatican-5 on the Supreme Court and push America closer toward a dirty Christian-extremist theocracy founded on an even dirtier definition of “religious liberty.” A definition the Constitution’s Framers never intended because they knew it would lead to exactly where America is heading; an ISIS-like Christian theocracy.
Audio engineer and instructor for SAE. Writes op/ed commentary supporting Secular Humanist causes, and exposing suppression of women, the poor, and minorities. An advocate for freedom of religion and particularly, freedom of NO religion.
Born in the South, raised in the Mid-West and California for a well-rounded view of America; it doesn’t look good.
Former minister, lifelong musician, Mahayana Zen-Buddhist.