It is a terrible thing when a once-noble phrase gets beaten to a meaningless pulp. The time has now come to rescue the phrase "religious freedom" from its abusers. In the writings and speeches of Catholic bishops and evangelical leaders in recent months, "religious freedom" has come to mean something close to its opposite. It now stands for "religious privilege". It is a coded way for them to state their demand that religious institutions should be allowed special powers that exempt them from the laws of the land.
On 22 June, the US Conference of Catholic Bishops kicked off its "Fortnight for Freedom", a campaign of complaints about alleged persecution of the largest, most powerful and politically influential religious denominations in theUnited States. Religious freedom is "in jeopardy in America", says Archbishop Jose H Gomez in a prominent article in the theological journal First Things. Let's consider some of the alleged assaults.
At St Xavier University in Chicago, Illinois, the adjunct professors had not had a raise in five years, according to Tom Suhrbur, an organizer with the Illinois Education Association. In 2010, in hopes of securing higher pay and benefits, they sought to organize themselves into a union.
The administration of St Xavier, with the backing of many prominent Catholic organizations, opposed the effort on legal grounds. Why? Because, it claimed, theirs is a religious institution, and the unionization of its employees would involve a violation of its "religious freedom". The National Labor Relations Board sided with the adjuncts, pointing out that neither the university, nor its faculty, nor their courses were actually religious in any meaningful sense.