I recently opined on National Review Online regarding a Catholic citizen of Maryland, the original Catholic colony, censored and punished by that state’s Republican governor for exercising his rights to freedom of expression and religion on the subject of homosexuality.
Yanking the Governor’s Chain
As of this writing, not a word has been uttered in the defense of this citizen by any representative of the Baltimore archdiocese. A communications officer for the Archdiocese of Washington, DC, did offer verbal comments to the press indicating that citizens should not be penalized for expressing their faith-based opinions. But no written statement was issued since a new archbishop was just being installed at the time.
Ever vigilant, the Catholic League for Religious and Civil Rights did not mince words. Bill Donohue, the League’s president, said, “The First Amendment protects religious liberty and free speech, and Ehrlich respects neither.”
The occasion for this trampling of two separate clauses of the First Amendment, was the opinion or judgment expressed by this citizen that homosexuals were “persons of sexual deviancy.”
According to a story by Lena H. Sun and Matthew Mosk in the Washington Post (June 16, 2006, page A1), Robert J. Smith, a Maryland gubernatorial appointee to the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority (WMATA) board was fired by his political patron, Governor Robert L. Ehrlich, Jr.
The governor issued a statement that “Robert Smith’s comments were highly inappropriate, insensitive and unacceptable. They are in direct conflict to my administration’s commitment to inclusiveness, tolerance, and opportunity.”
Ehrlich’s action came after a WMATA meeting at which Jim Graham, another board member representing Washington, DC, and “an openly gay elected official,” issued a prepared statement calling for Smith to disavow his remarks, apologize, or for the governor to remove him. Governor Ehrlich complied almost instantaneously.
Does This Have Anything to with Trains?
According to Sun and Mosk, Smith acknowledged the comments on a cable show that aired the previous Sunday, a venue entirely removed from and independent of the Metro transit system.
“Homosexual behavior [emphasis added], in my view, is deviant,” he said. “I’m a Roman Catholic.” Smith said he made these comments as part of a discussion on a proposed ban on same-sex marriage. “The comments I make in public outside of my [Metro board job] I’m entitled to make.” Moreover, Smith stated that his personal beliefs “have absolutely nothing to do with running trains and buses and have not affected my actions or decisions on this board.”
Smith said he was a regular panelist on a weekly political round-table show, 21 This Week, a telecast on Access Montgomery [county] cable Channel 21 for 12 years. The show’s producer, Rodney Bryant, indicated that Smith appeared as a “Republican activist.”
On the show in question, Smith interrupted another speaker who was talking about federalism and Vice President Cheney’s daughter. Sun and Mosk, who evidently viewed or listened to “a recording of that portion of the show,” reported that the speaker said that the daughter would not want the government interfering in her life.
“That’s fine, that’s fine,” said Smith. “But that doesn’t mean that government should proffer a special place of entitlement within the laws of the United States for persons of sexual deviancy.”
The reaction to these politically incorrect opinions was swift and certain. Regarding the governor’s decapitation of Smith, Montgomery County Executive Douglas M. Duncan, a recent dropout from the Democratic gubernatorial primary, opined that “Smith’s hateful and mean-spirited comments suggest that he is unfit to serve the public, and his immediate removal is wholly justified.” And Graham was quick to compliment the governor stating, “The governor appreciated the seriousness of this problem.”
Dennis Jaffe, chairman of the Riders Advisory Council, who had worked with Smith on access for the disabled, recognized Smith’s dedication to his job but noted that “his comments that homosexuals are sexual deviants are most unfortunate and reflect poorly on Metro as an agency.” Finally, Dan Tangherlini, Metro’s interim general manager, sent an email to his 10,000 employees in which he took the opportunity “to reaffirm to all…employees that discrimination of any kind will not be tolerated.”
The use of the word “discrimination” is truly an abuse of language since it conjures up an image of homosexuals having to ride in the back of the Metro bus, or risk losing their jobs because of Smith’s opinions about their behaviors or lifestyles, which is absurd.
The Empire, as it were, strikes back. The only voice of moderation in this episode turns out to be that of Casey Aiken, executive producer of 21 This Week, who, when asked if Smith would be invited back to the show, told the Baltimore Sun: “We’re not in the business of censoring free speech and political debate.”
Tony Perkins of the Family Research Council made the point that “Sexual Liberty Trumps Religious Liberty” in his on-line column, Washington Update (June 16, 2006).
“Ehrlich’s removal of Smith shows he is willing to deny religious liberty and freedom of speech to believing Catholics to appease militant homosexuals,” stated Perkins. Taking the opportunity to criticize EPA’s recent observance of June as “gay pride” month, he notes a connection with Governor Ehrlich’s actions: “When the government affirms homosexuality, it must suppress religious freedom.”
Perkins is making the point that when government goes beyond tolerance or neutrality to a stance endorsing or legitimizing homosexual behavior, it inevitably violates the ethical, moral, and religious principles of believers as well as those who, on secular grounds, or for natural law reasons, demur from endorsing such lifestyles.
Betrayal of our Heritage
Governor Ehrlich, a moderate Republican, is running for re-election in one of the most Democratic states in the Union. A recent poll shows the governor behind. He seems to have made the calculus that offending the Catholic community is less risky than alienating the homosexual community.
Adding to the perplexity of the case is the fact that Governor Ehrlich has opposed homosexual marriage. Evidently, he draws the line at making substantive judgments on homosexuality per se.
The Smith episode illustrates that critical moral and ethical judgments on homosexual behavior, at the core of Catholic teaching for 2,000 years, with antecedents in the Old Testament and roots in classical natural law philosophy, are now banished from and de-legitimized in the public square in Maryland by a Republican governor, no less.
The judgment that homosexual activity (not the predisposition itself) is “deviant” is now equated with “discrimination” and “intolerance.” The failure to embrace a particular lifestyle deemed unethical or immoral by all the great monotheistic religions is grounds for ostracism from the political and social life of one of the original thirteen colonies, one that pioneered tolerance for Catholics when Britain and most of its colonies did not. This is a betrayal of the heritage of Maryland and a disastrous precedent for the nation.
Joseph Bottum, the estimable editor of First Things, writing on its website for June 21st, stated his belief that the Smith firing is “an early warning.”
“Unless things change in ways now quite unforeseeable, it will not be very long before the principle of traditional Western morality that homosexual conduct is immoral will be contrary to the public policy of the United States,” said Bottum.
The recent controversy in Boston, where Catholic agencies will no longer provide adoption services, because of state concerns with “discrimination” against homosexual couples who seek to adopt, is another case where the Church is being cabined off from the political and social life of the community due to disagreements over the morality of homosexual behavior. Some commentators have expressed concern that Church officials ceded the ground too readily to the radical secularists, but that is another story altogether.
To live to see the day when Neo-Nazis or Internet pornographers receive greater protection of their civil and constitutional rights than do orthodox Christians, Jews, or Muslims, speaking on issues of ethics and morality, is a sobering prospect, indeed.
Webster’s II New College Dictionary defines “deviant” as “differing from a norm or from accepted moral or societal standards.” The Catechism of the Catholic Church describes homosexual behavior as “intrinsically disordered” a more nuanced, careful phrase in that it focuses on the nature of the actions of individuals as opposed to their fundamental nature as human beings. Still, had Robert Smith used this latter formulation, it would have been greeted with as much disdain from Governor Ehrlich, Mr. Graham, and other bien pensant people as did the former.
Mr. Smith was expressing a personal opinion, specifically grounded in his beliefs as a Roman Catholic and part of a tradition which does not recognize any inherent contradiction between reason and revelation. Moreover, he did not suggest or endorse any steps to limit the rights of homosexuals, unless a refusal to extend to them the privileges of marriage is viewed as such, a view not even shared by Governor Ehrlich.
If Catholics, and orthodox believers of all denominations, are to avert total banishment from the public and intellectual life of the country, a situation close to reality in Europe and Canada, both the laity and the hierarchy must steel themselves, in fortitude and charity, for the challenge of dialogue and debate in the days ahead. As the late Pope John Paul II reminded us: Be not afraid.
In Maryland the issue has been joined between traditional morality and moral relativism, between freedom of speech and religion and oppressive, overweening thought control. Governor Ehrlich has made his choice evident in the cashiering of Robert Smith.
© Copyright 2006 Catholic Exchange
G. Tracy Mehan, III, served at EPA in the administrations of both Presidents Bush.