The ACLU used to defend religious freedom. Now, they target Catholic adoption agencies.

Montse Alvarado, Opinion contributor
·4 min read

When protecting the freedom to worship, speak, and live out one’s faith, the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty has often found itself side by side with the American Civil Liberties Union. During my tenure at Becket we defended, for example, Abdul Muhammad’s right to exercise his faith in prison. But in recent history, we often seem to end up on opposite sides of the courtroom.

The ACLU built its reputation on championing the rights of those who disagree. Recently, responding to the New York attorney general’s attempt to crush the National Rifle Association, the ACLU rightly defended the NRA’s constitutional rights, explaining that the First Amendment forbids the government from penalizing an organization merely because it holds politically disfavored beliefs.

The ACLU ought to take its own advice to heart.

The morning after the election this November, Becket will be arguing on behalf of Catholic Social Services at the Supreme Court. The charitable arm of the Catholic Church in Philadelphia, Catholic Social Services, is the first choice of heroic foster moms like Sharonell Fulton and Toni Simms-Busch — single women of color who between them have fostered more than 40 children. They chose to partner with Catholic Social Services because of its stellar reputation and because if affirms their own religious beliefs. Their choice to associate with this ministry is as American as the ACLU.

Attacking a Catholic adoption agency

But now, with the ACLU’s help, Philadelphia officials are trying to shut down Catholic Social Services unless it violates its religious beliefs and endorses the relationships of both same-sex and unmarried couples by partnering with them. The Catholic Church, which has been serving Philadelphia’s abused and abandoned children for 200 years, has always been motivated to serve by its faith — the same faith Philadelphia is trampling on today.

U.S. Supreme Court on Sept. 28, 2020, in Washington, D.C.
U.S. Supreme Court on Sept. 28, 2020, in Washington, D.C.

A healthy democracy requires a robust, diverse, civil society — one in which people of different beliefs can come together to solve difficult challenges; in this case, finding foster homes for children in need.

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Today, roughly 70% of Catholic Social Services’ foster children are Black and other racial minorities, and all have suffered neglect or abuse. Catholic Social Services serves these children regardless of their race, socioeconomic status, sex, or sexual orientation. These children desperately need homes, and the Catholic Church can help them find one. It’s part of a network of more than a dozen foster agencies that together can help recruit and support all foster families — including LGBTQ families — to find loving homes for Philadelphia’s at-risk children. We’re asking the Supreme Court to keep this Catholic agency’s doors open.

Abandoning religious liberty

But this isn’t the only case where the ACLU isn’t living up to its historical commitment to civil liberties.

The ACLU is also sitting on the sidelines while three American Muslim men (Muhammad Tanvir, Jameel Algibhah, and Naveed Shinwari) are defending their own religious freedom before the Supreme Court. Perhaps it’s because that case relies on the Religious Freedom Restoration Act — a federal statute passed almost unanimously in Congress over 25 years ago and signed by President Bill Clinton — which the ACLU (originally a proponent) no longer supports.

Tanvir, Algibhah, and Shinwari were approached by FBI agents who asked the men to serve as informants, spying on fellow Muslims. But their religious beliefs prevented them from doing so. The FBI then punished these men by placing them on the “No Fly List.” When the men sued, the FBI promptly removed them from the list, effectively admitting there was no good reason to restrict their freedom.

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Governments do this all the time: they reverse course to avoid losing in court. Becket is fighting to hold the government accountable for its unjust actions, arguing that individual government actors can’t violate the law and then simply walk away scot-free, ready to do it again when no one’s watching.

Both cases have commonsense solutions. We shouldn’t let Philadelphia officials use pressure tactics to make the Catholic Church change its beliefs about marriage, and we shouldn’t let federal officials use pressure tactics to force Muslims to use their faith as a cover for espionage. Bullying someone into betraying their faith is unacceptable in the land of the free.

We at Becket continue to hold these beliefs and wish we could — just like old times — fight for freedom alongside the ACLU. In these divided times, standing up for our freedoms matters more than ever, for American Muslims, Jews, Hindus, Christians, Catholics, and everyone else. And I invite the ACLU to — just like old times — fight alongside us for the freedom of all.

Montse Alvarado is the executive director of the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty. Follow her on Twitter: @MmontseAlvarado

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This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: In Catholic adoption case, the ACLU abandons religious freedom