Joan Frawley Desmond, is the Register’s senior editor. She is an award-winning journalist widely published in Catholic, ecumenical and secular media. A graduate of the Pontifical John Paul II Institute for Studies of Marriage and Family, she lives with her family in California..
“A wind is picking up that is hostile to those with traditional moral beliefs,” Justice Samuel Alito warned in an address on Wednesday sponsored by Advocati Christi, a New Jersey-based group of Catholic lawyers and judges.
The justice pointed to two intertwined threats to the free exercise rights of Catholics and Church-affiliated institutions: progressive sexual orthodoxies that frame orthodox Catholics as haters, and an updated version of the old anti-Catholic bigotry that spawned resistance to the election of John F. Kennedy, the first Catholic president of the United States.
Alito recalled the excitement he felt as a boy, when Kennedy was elected president and Catholics believed that they had finally earned acceptance in mainstream society.
More than half a century later, Catholics and other religious believers now face new forms of bigotry sparked by the advancement of a new agenda of sexual rights.
The justice noted that when he wrote his dissent in Obergefell v. Hodges, the landmark case that struck down part of the federal Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), he predicted that supporters of same-sex marriage would “vilify those who disagree, and treat them as bigots.”
Indeed, as we witnessed during the past election cycle, those who have publicly opposed same-sex marriage for any reason are now framed as “haters”, “homophobes” or “anti-gay,” even when the person targeted has no record of animus or discrimination toward homosexuals, beyond the fact that they adhere to biblical teaching on marriage.
Liberals also attacked opponents of the Health and Human Services contraceptive mandate for conducting a “war on women.” Likewise, it’s rare for progressives to acknowledge the legitimacy of free exercise rights when the issue hinges on access to abortion, birth control, or bathroom rights for “transgender” students.
“We are likely to see pitched battles in courts and Congress, state legislatures and town halls,” said Alito, as he referenced Hobby Lobby’s legal challenge to the HHS mandate.
“But the most important fight is for the hearts and minds of our fellow Americans. It is up to all of us to evangelize our fellow Americans about the issue of religious freedom.”
Avocati Christi, the organization that sponsored the justice’s address, helps Catholic lawyers and judges “learn about the Catholic faith and Catholic social teaching and to help them integrate these into their life and practice.”
The professional organization is an initiative of St. Paul Inside the Walls, a program of evangelization sponsored by the Diocese of Patterson, New Jersey.
Justice Alito’s reflections on emerging threats to religious freedom mark a growing awareness that Catholics and Christians no longer feel at home in their own country.
This is the topic of Philadelphia Archbishop Charles Chaput’s Strangers in a Strange Land: Living the Catholic Faith in a Post-Christian World.
Similar themes are explored in Rod Dreher’s The Benedict Option, which outlines an array of political, moral and cultural problems faced by religious believers and then offers practical strategies for living an authentic Christian life and for making church outreach more vibrant and effective.
Ross Douthat, in a column that addresses the gathering storm for Christians, presented Dreher’s discussion as a good starting point:
If every Catholic high school or college were one degree less secularized and worldly; if every Protestant megachurch were one degree more liturgical and theological; if not every Catholic but more Catholics became priests and nuns; if not every Christian family but more Christian families decided to have a third child or a fourth or fifth; if not every young Christian but more young Christians looked at working-class neighborhoods as an important mission field; if Catholics and Protestants alike could imitate even part of Mormonism’s dense networking … all this would be a form of the Benedict Option in action, and both the churches and the common culture would be better for it.