Different River

”You can never step in the same river twice.” –Heraclitus

April 7, 2006

San Francisco Condemns the Catholic Church

It was just a couple of weeks ago that the San Francisco Board of Supervisors passed a resolution officially condemning “Christian fundamentalist[s]“, in what appears to me to be a blatant violation of the Supreme Court’s ruling in Epperson v. Arkansas (1968) — that “The First Amendment mandates governmental neutrality between religion and religion, and between religion and nonreligion.”

Now, it turns out that 10 days before that, they took it upon themselves to condemn the Catholic Church, as well — and to tell them to change their religious beliefs, and to tell local Catholics to “defy” (their word!) the Vatican:

Resolution urging Cardinal William Levada, in his capacity has head of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith at the Vatican, to withdraw his discriminatory and defamatory directive that Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of San Francisco stop placing children in need of adoption with homosexual households.

WHEREAS, It is a insult to all San Franciscans when a foreign country, like the Vatican, meddles with and attempts to negatively influence this great City’s existing and established customs and traditions such as the right of same-sex couples to adopt and care for children in need; and

WHEREAS, Cardinal Levada is a decidedly unqualified representative of his former home city, and of the people of San Francisco and the values they hold dear; and

WHEREAS, The Board of Supervisors urges Archbishop Niederauer and the Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of San Francisco to defy all discriminatory directives of Cardinal Levada; now, therefore, be it

RESOLVED, That the Board of Supervisors urges Cardinal William Levada, in his capacity as head of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith at the Vatican (formerly known as Holy Office of the Inquisition), to withdraw his discriminatory and defamatory directive that Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of San Francisco stop placing children in need of adoption with homosexual households.

Now, put aside your opinions on adoption for the moment, and take this as a pure First Amendment issue. Since when does the government have the right to condemn a specific religion, and to direct its citizens to “defy” their religious leaders?

Eugene Volokh suggests that the government:

… is quite entitled to express its views … and to condemn groups that, in its view, express “hateful” ideas.

But it seems to me that the right rule is that government officials must be able to comment on religious groups when their actions touch on secular matters, for instance arguing that terrorism is antithetical to the proper understanding of Islam, or that the Catholic Church’s views on adoption by homosexual couples are wrong.

In a rare [for him] oversight, he seems to miss the distinction between “government officials … comment[ing]” and an official resolution passed by an official governmental body. He also seems to miss the Supreme Court’s clear language in Epperson v. Arkansas (1968) — that “The First Amendment mandates governmental neutrality between religion and religion, and between religion and nonreligion.” This proclamation clearly violated that neutrality.

Clayton Cramer noted the non-neutrality by pointing out what would happen in the reverse case:

I guess San Francisco county government is free to express their opinion — although I would expect if the Butte, Montana city government passed a resolution praising the Southern Baptist Church, the ACLU would be looking through the precedents, looking for some way to turn this into an establishment of religion clause violation.

Frankly, I kind of hope that Butte, Montana, or some other place, does just that, just to prove the point.

One of the commenters on Volokh’s blog adds:

I think the Vatican would revoke the City’s right to use the name of one of their saints.

This might also present a solution to the banning of stuffed rabbits in St. Paul, Minnesota, on the theory that they are offensive to non-Christians.

And Dave Hardy, also commenting there, adds this (obvious?) point:

I suppose that, in light of the Mohammed cartoon affair, it is now mandatory that Catholics riot and break things and kill people in order to get a little respect?

The blatant religious discrimination only seems more blatant when you note the obvious fact that the San Francisco Board of Supervisors would never condemn an Islamic organization on such terms. It’s not that Islam is pro-gay — after all, in Islamic Iran, gays are publicly executed by hanging on the orders of Islamic courts.

No, the difference is, radical Islamicists are opposed to the United States in a way that the Catholic Church and Christian fundamentalists are not — and that gives the Islamicists immunity from criticism in San Francisco.

UPDATES:

  • The vote for the anti-Catholic resolution was unanimous. There was not one member of the San Francisco Board of Supervisors who thought it inappropriate for the government to condemn a religion.
  • The Catholic League is suing, claiming “that the First Amendment ‘forbids an official purpose to disapprove of a particular religion, religious beliefs or of religion in general.’” Thanks to Crescat Sententia for the pointer

3 Responses to “San Francisco Condemns the Catholic Church”

  1. Different River Says:

    San Francisco’s Nullification Declaration
    In 1832, the state of South Carolina passed an Ordinance of Nullification declaring that certain federal tariff laws were “null, void, and no law, nor binding upon this State, its officers, or citizens.” Thus began the first major effort to enforce …

  2. Brian Glaser Says:

    What are you all going on about? This resolution in no way condemns the Catholic Church.
    The Supervisors, as elected representatives of the City and County of San Francisco, have
    done nothing but defend their jurisdiction over the rule of law within their borders. As
    stated “Cardinal Levada is a decidedly unqualified representative” (i.e., he is neither a
    San Franciscan nor is he an elected official), and thus, he has no authority to interfer
    with San Francisco adoption policies. Would any of you actually suggests that the Church,
    or any other religious organization, has the rite to ignore, fail to comply with, or defy
    the laws of the communities within which they exists?

  3. Spinoza Says:

    Having grown up in the fine city of Butte, Montana, and having there been
    educated by the Sisters of the Blessed Virgin Mary and the Christian Brothers
    of Ireland, I can assure readers of two things:

    1) No self respecting Butte official would vote “aye” on a resolution praising
    Southern Baptists, and

    2) all thinking people having been taught by the aforementioned educators in the ways
    to analyze and think according to first principles, would roundly renounce this column for a
    failure of logic and suggest the author take Constitutional Law for Dummies.

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