Judges on the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals now are deciding whether a formal government document condemning Catholics as “hateful,” “insulting” and “defamatory” and urging members to defy church beliefs is permissible under the U.S. Constitution’s ban on government hostility toward religion.
The city of San Francisco formally adopted a resolution that condemned the Catholic church specifically for its moral teachings. The resolution was challenged by the Thomas More Law Center, a national Christian legal advocacy group based in Ann Arbor, Mich.
Oral arguments were presented to the 11 judges of the circuit appeals court yesterday in a case expected to “flush out what the U.S. Supreme Court means when it proclaims that the Establishment Clause of the U.S. Constitution does not permit hostility toward religion.”
The formal statement from the San Francisco Board of Supervisers attacked the church’s belief because it prohibits the adoption of children by homosexual duos.
The resolution, adopted March 21, 2006, calls the Vatican a “foreign country” that is meddling in the city’s affairs. Further it states that the church’s moral teachings are “insulting to all San Franciscans,” “hateful,” “insulting and callous,” “defamatory,” “absolutely unacceptable,” “insensitive” and “ignorant.”
The resolution further references the Inquisition and calls on the archbishop of San Francisco and other Catholic officials to defy church teachings and beliefs.
“Homosexual activists have complete control of San Francisco’s board and over the years have intensified their anti-Christian attacks to the point of a totalitarian intolerance of Christians,” said Richard Thompson, chief counsel for the law center.
“A week after the anti-Catholic resolution, the board passed another resolution, this time condemning 25,000 evangelical teens who were gathering in the city to express their opposition to abortion and homosexual conduct,” he said.
Arguing before the judges was law center attorney Robert Muise, who said the resolution in question was a specific condemnation of religious beliefs, and just as the Constitution forbids government endorsement of religion, it also bans government hostility toward religion.
A lawyer defending the city’s statement about Catholic beliefs said city officials had a secular purpose.
But referring to the Supreme Court rulings prohibiting excessive government entanglement in religion, Judge Andrew Kleinfeld asked, “What could be more entangling than telling the cardinal to defy the Vatican?”
An opinion in the dispute will be issued later.
WND reported in June when a panel of judges on the 9th Circuit upheld a decision by officials in San Francisco formally to call Catholic beliefs “hateful,” “callous” and an “insult.”
The court panel concluded the criticism served a “secular” purpose. But the full court later abandoned that conclusion and scheduled yesterday’s rehearing by all of the judges on the court.
Thompson continued, “Our Constitution plainly forbids government hostility toward religion, including the Catholic faith. And we are fully committed to fighting homosexual activists who seek to promote their personal political agenda at the expense of our constitutional freedoms.”
Muise said the case is significant on a number of fronts.
“Should the full court ultimately render a decision in our favor, this case will establish much needed precedent for claims alleging government hostility toward religion. If the full court allows this government attack on Catholics to stand, it will likely further embolden anti-Christian attacks by government,” he said earlier.
“Catholic doctrine teaches, for example, that allowing children to be adopted by homosexuals would actually mean doing violence to these children, in the sense that their condition of dependency would be used to place them in an environment that is not conducive to their full human development,” the center explained. “Such policies are gravely immoral and Catholic organizations must not place children for adoption in homosexual households.”
The law center argued that the “anti-Catholic resolution sends a clear message to plaintiffs and others who are faithful adherents to the Catholic faith that they are outsiders, not full members of the political community, and an accompanying message that those who oppose Catholic religious beliefs, particularly with regard to homosexual unions and adoptions by homosexual partners, are insiders, favored members of the political community.”
The law center’s lawsuit said the resolution violated the First Amendment, which “forbids an official purpose to disapprove of a particular religion, religious beliefs, or of religion in general.”
In defending its statement, the city argued in court it was pursuing the “secular” purpose of advocating for adoptions by homosexuals.
Catholic League spokesman Bill Donohue told WND at the time the comments denouncing church doctrine were “incredible, invective and bigoted comments.”
“This is beyond belief. It clearly is a hostile environment,” he said.
He said it also, just as clearly, is a telling of what will be happening under a “hate crime” law recently signed by President Obama.
“No question about it. The Mormons spoke out on Prop 8 (which defined marriage as one man and one woman), as did evangelicals (and were attacked),” he said.
“If you had a Catholic using this type of inflammatory language maligning the character of the government, the entire city would be up in arms,” he said.