By Susan Brinkmann, OCDS
The most liberal federal court in the nation, the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, has ruled that a City of San Francisco resolution defaming the Catholic Church for refusing to allow homosexual adoption does not violate the Constitution’s prohibition of government hostility toward religion.
The anti-Catholic resolution, which was adopted by the City on March 21, 2006, refers to the Vatican as a “foreign country” meddling in the affairs of the City and proclaims the Church’s moral teaching and beliefs on homosexuality as “insulting to all San Franciscans,” “hateful,” “insulting and callous,” “defamatory,” “absolutely unacceptable,” “insensitive and ignoran[t].”
The resolution was challenged by the Thomas More Law Center, a national Christian advocacy group, on behalf of the Catholic League for Religious and Civil Rights and two San Francisco residents.
“The policy of San Francisco is one of totalitarian intolerance of Christians of all denominations who oppose homosexual conduct,” said Richard Thompson, president of the Law Center. “My concern is that if this ruling is allowed to stand, it will further embolden anti-Christian attacks.”
The Law Center’s lawsuit claimed that the City’s anti-Catholic resolution violated the First Amendment, which “forbids an official purpose to disapprove of a particular religion, religious beliefs, or of religion in general.” The Board’s resolution went so far as to urge the Archbishop of San Francisco and Catholic Charities of San Francisco to defy Church directives.
Robert Muise, the Law Center attorney who argued the case, stated, “Our constitution plainly forbids hostility toward any religion, including the Catholic faith. In total disregard for the Constitution, homosexual activists in positions of authority in San Francisco have abused their authority as government officials and misused the instruments of the government to attack the Catholic Church. Their egregious abuse of power now has the backing of a federal circuit court. This decision must be reversed. Unfortunately, all too often we see a double standard being applied in Establishment Clause cases.”
The court, however, saw the issue through a different lens.
“An objective observer would conclude that the board’s purpose was to champion needy children, gays, lesbians, and same-sex couples within its jurisdiction; not to officially disapprove of the Catholic faith or its religious tenets,” the opinion said.
However, it is interesting to note that one of the judges admitted in her concurring opinion that there were serious Constitutional issues with the City’s stance.
Judge Berzon wrote: “ . . . In particular, I am acutely aware that ‘the Constitution assures religious believers that units of government will not take positions that amount to the establishment of a policy condemning their religious belief,’ . . . and that resolutions such as the ones in American Family and the one in this case are near – if not at – the line that separates establishment of such a policy.”
The Thomas More Law Center will seek a review by the full court and, if necessary, will bring the case to the United States Supreme Court.
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