From The Independent:
In the first official announcement from the Vatican that the head of the Roman Catholic Church will tour Britain, Pope Benedict XVI called on his bishops to continue campaigning against the Equality Bill which he said threatened religious freedom.
“Your country is well known for its firm commitment to equality of opportunity for all members of society,” he wrote. “Yet as you have rightly pointed out, the effect of some of the legislation designed to achieve this goal has been to impose unjust limitations on the freedom of religious communities to act in accordance with their beliefs.
“In some respects it actually violates the natural law upon which the equality of all human beings is grounded and by which it is guaranteed.” In a separate warning to any bishop thinking of deviating from the Vatican’s lead on such controversial issues, Pope Benedict also reiterated the need for the Church to “speak with a united voice”.
“In a social milieu that encourages the expression of a variety of opinions on every question that arises, it is important to recognise dissent for what it is, and not to mistake it for a mature contribution to a balanced and wide-ranging debate,” he said. “It is the truth revealed through scripture and tradition and articulated by the Church’s Magisterium that sets us free.”
I have commented on this Pope’s meddling in secular law and public policy before (see here, here, and here). And I use the word ‘meddling’ quite on purpose to counter the lie commonly put forth by faithists that religious belief ought to be left alone from criticism because it is merely a private concern and people are free to believe what they wish. The atheist response is that private belief is a freedom in need of protection, but that when that belief leaves the private domain and undergoes a transubstantiation from belief into the justification for actions counter to human rights and dignity, then the justifications are quite properly open to criticism. When organized religion – not just some private individual’s belief in god – inserts itself into the public domain where it has no justifiable reason to intrude and interfere in real world matters, then dishonest, misrepresented, and misinformed justifications need criticism.
This is certainly the case with Britain’s Equality Bill; if we are talking about codifying fairness and equality into secular law, rest assured that religious organizations will line up to fight any attempt to impose non-discrimination on their religiously inspired misogynistic and bigoted practices because it undermines the basis of their legal ‘freedom’ to do so. That is the talking point these clergy will champion, that equality in law isn’t really about addressing the blatant inequality that is omnipresent in such organizations as the catholic church, to misdirect criticism away from practices and pretend it’s really about freedom of belief. It isn’t. These church people will lie, misrepresent, and misinform others and pretend the issue is about freedom to believe rather than freedom to practice discrimination and bigotry. And they will do it by pretending to support that which they actively fight against: equality and fairness.
Let’s take a closer look at what this pope is really saying:
He argues that the Equality bill threatens religious ‘freedom’ in that it will insist on ‘unjust’ limitations – that is to say, that the limitation will impact how religious organizations act if that action is based on inequality and targeted bias. I’m not ‘free’ to drive a car at any speed in any direction I want, and reasonable constraints imposed by the state for the social good on the rules of the roads of the nation are hardly an infringement on my ‘freedom’ to travel but quite rightly address how I do so. The same responsibility for the public good does not affect the freedom to belief; the state has every right to insist on reasonable constraints on how these beliefs are put into practice. So the honest issue here is about what constitutes the ‘unjustness’ of the limitations.
The ‘unjust’ limitations are unjust, it turns out, because they run counter to “natural law.” And what might this law be?
Nobody seems to know. What we are told is that Natural Law is apparently the grounding as well as the guarantee upon which the very existence of equality rests. And here I thought it was constitutions and bills and declarations of rights and charters of freedom and other laws passed by legislation and enforced by the state… much along the lines of the Equality Bill, for example. Silly me. Natural law seems to be what the pope or any religious person says it is. And for anyone to go against such a natural law and insist on equality in secular law is, according to this pope, undermining equality.
Isn’t that a lovely piece of circular reasoning? It smacks of relativism, when white means black and inequality means equality, doesn’t it? And we know this pope doesn’t think much of relativism… unless it belongs to him, in which case a miracle occurs and some relativistic piece of nonsense uttered from the source of papal bulls suddenly is ordained as a bill of truth… co-signed by god, no less.
But it is still dishonest.
To add insult to intellectual dishonesty, the pope wishes to describe any voice that dares criticize his dishonesty to be immature and unbalanced. Why so? Well, the proof for this is that the pope’s correct position is based on scripture, tradition, and the pope’s opinion, all of which is the necessary triumverate (or should I say troika)… for people to be free! Of course. Why didn’t I recognize this simple truth right away? Any idea whatsoever, in other words, that disagrees in part or whole with the church’s interpretation of scripture, the church’s actual practices, and whatever the pope decrees to be correct, isn’t a criticism at all: such disobedience is a crime against this so-called ‘natural law’ that informs people’s freedoms. And we don’t wish to be criminals and advocate the elimination of freedoms, now do we?
So the solution is obvious: if one wishes to support real equality and freedom, the natural kind sanctioned by god and not the artificial secular stuff passed by legislation and enforced by the state, then one must allow the church… all churches, actually, as well as any and all acts justified by some religious assertion that can call upon natural law and god’s special favour… to be exempt from secular law. It’s only right and proper. To suggest otherwise turns out to be a crime against god’s natural law, making those who support the Equality bill criminals who wish to undermine your freedoms!