Noted sociologist Peter Berger in his latest blog asks: "Is freedom of religion endangered in the U.S.? His own answer: "It seems to me that, empirically speaking, the answer is no," especially by comparison with many other areas of the world. But while he has criticisms of the "level of alarm" demonstrated by the USCCB, he thinks that there are some serious issues involved in the two cases of the insurance mandate and same-sex marriage:

It will be clear from the above that I am not in tune with the vehemence of the bishops campaign. Although there continue to be disputes over the balance between the free-exercise and no-establishment clauses in the first amendment, there are more painstaking protections of religious freedom in the United States than in just about any other country in the world. Nevertheless,the bishops are right that both issues raise questions about religious freedom. The fact that things are enormously worse in Iran or Saudi Arabia is beside the point: American standards should be enormously better than those prevailing in those two countries. On the fight over the insurance mandate, the bishops are right in saying that contraception is not the issue here, but rather the governments interfering in how Catholics understand and practice their faith (praying in church a religious act/nursing the sick a secular act). In the matter of same-sex marriage, the bishops are also right in separating the legal status of such a practice from the freedom of speech and symbolic action of those who oppose the practice. In both disputes, the core question is about government overreachan important enough issue to justify what will probably be a long trek through the federal courts to the Supreme Court.

After citing examples in which religious freedom and freedom of speech have been threatened here and elsewhere, he concludes:

Beyond the legal matter of cases that require new clarifications of the first amendment, there is a broader issue herethat of an increasingly intolerant culture of secularism, trying to use the state to enforce its valuesitself part of the even broader issue of government over-reach. The Roman Catholic Church has been a major target of this secularist agenda, because its sexual ethics has been repugnant to many people (the ever widening scandal of pedophile priests has clearly fed the repugnance). There is a very real issue of religious freedom herea good reason to support the Catholic bishops, even if one completely disagrees with their views on issues south of the navel.

Rev. Joseph A. Komonchak, professor emeritus of the School of Theology and Religious Studies at the Catholic University of America, is a retired priest of the Archdiocese of New York.

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