The Church is changing its approach to LGBTQ Catholics

A worshipper sings during an annual “Pre-Pride Festive Mass” June 26, 2021, at St. Francis of Assisi Church in New York City. The liturgy, hosted by the parish’s LGBT Ministry, is traditionally celebrated on the eve of the city’s Pride march for the LGBTQ+ community.

by Christopher Lamb

Is the Church beginning to decisively shift its approach on LGBTQ matters?

Pope Francis has not formally “changed” any official teaching but he’s opened the way to a more inclusive and pastoral approach to gay and lesbian people, and his letters encouraging those ministering to them are highly significant.  It is the opening of a more “synodal” approach to this issue, where the Church listens, learns and opens up new pastoral avenues. Personnel changes at the Vatican’s doctrine office, announced on 10 January, also suggest movements are afoot.

The latest letter to emerge from Francis was sent to Sister Jeanine Gramick, one of the founders of New Ways Ministry, a US-based support group for LGBTQ Catholics, in which he praises her work. It comes despite a 1999 ruling by the Holy See’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF) which ordered her and Fr Robert Nugent to be “permanently prohibited” from pastoral work with gay people.

By endorsing the 50-year ministry of Sr Jeanine, Francis has effectively overturned this earlier censure, while his support for same-sex civil unions also supersedes the CDF’s 2003 document which declared that the “state could not grant legal standing to such unions”. In short, the Francis pontificate has made decisive steps in removing the “anti-gay” perception of the Church.

Fr James Martin, a Jesuit priest and writer who ministers to gay Catholics, says that while the Pope has not changed teaching he has “certainly changed the tone, the approach and the conversation around the issue.” Fr Martin has received his own letter from the Pope, which was the first written papal endorsement of a priest’s ministry to LGBTQ Catholics.

“Remember that the Holy Father has just praised a Catholic sister who had been under Vatican censure.  This could be the beginning of what church historians call a ‘rehabilitation’.  You could also argue that a change in tone is a kind of change in teaching. And the new teaching could be said to be, LGBTQ Catholics are worth listening to and ministering to,” the Jesuit priest explained.  

It could be argued the Pope’s letters and comments have little weight unless they are backed up with official rulings, and point out that last year he gave his approval to a CDF document blocking the possibility of the Church blessing same-sex couples.

Yet the Pope is demonstrating that official rulings alone are not enough to settle a contested issue. Time, as Francis says, is greater than space, and reality is more important than ideas. The critical test for any doctrine is how it is received by the Church community, and the Pope’s response opens up a space for the conversation to continue.

The winds of change are now blowing through the Vatican’s doctrine department, for so long the office which produced harsh rulings on the gay issue.

The Vatican has announced the Pope had decided to move the CDF official widely believed to be responsible for the document banning same-sex blessings out of his position. Archbishop Giacomo Morandi will now become the leader of the Diocese of Reggio Emilia-Guastalla, in Northern Italy.

While Francis approved the ruling on blessing same-sex unions, he later distanced himself from the language in the document and it was reported he would return to the issue at a later date.

Meanwhile, Archbishop Charles Scicluna, who leads the Archdiocese of Malta alongside working as a high ranking CDF official, has recently issued a formal warning to a priest for making homophobic comments. It appears to be the first time someone from the doctrine office has formally condemned homophobia.

At a broader level, the synod is also starting to have an impact and by throwing open the process to a broad range of voices it has already allowed small, yet historic, shifts to take place.

One of these came with the decision of the Synod of Bishops’ office in Rome to include both New Ways Ministry and Discerning Deacons, an English-language forum for discussion about the restoration of the female diaconate, on its resources page.

But this almost didn’t happen. A New Ways Ministry video, “From the Margins to the Center: a Webinar on LGBTQ Catholics and Synodality”, was removed from the synod office’s website after it had been made aware that New Ways Ministry had been censured by the US bishops’ conference a decade ago for its support of civil marriage for same-sex couples. The synod office then reversed its decision and apologised “for the pain caused” in what is the first time a Vatican official had apologised to LGBT Catholics.

The apology came after details of other letters that the Pope had sent to New Ways praising the group’s work and described their co-founder, Sister Jeannine Gramick, as a “valiant woman”. Francis also thanked Francis DeBernardo, the executive director of New Ways, for telling him the “full story” of the group as “sometimes we receive partial information about people and organisations.”

The rehabilitation of New Ways Ministry may seem like a small thing. Yet the apology and the Pope’s letters show a Church willing to listen and to learn from marginalised voices.

Sr Jeanine’s response to Francis’ letter and the 11-year investigation she faced also offers a model for what a synodal Church with different viewpoints looks like. She told America that when she received the correspondence from the Pope, she thought of the scripture from John’s Gospel: “I do not call you servants, I call you friends.”

Sr Jeanine added: “That’s how I felt, like I was getting a letter from a friend…I think that’s how Pope Francis wants us to live. And it’s what I hope we would be as a people of God: a community of friends.”

Even though she disagreed with Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, who oversaw the investigation into New Ways as prefect of the Vatican doctrine office, Sr Jeanine said she respected him as a “holy man” who believed he was doing the right thing.

“Cardinal Ratzinger is way out there on one branch, and I am way out there on a branch probably 180 degrees around that tree,” she said. “We couldn’t have been farther apart in our theological thinking. But we are rooted in that one tree. We have a common faith in Christ, and that’s what draws us together. We’re all around that tree somewhere.”

When it comes to LGBT Catholics, the tree is slowly being pruned and starting to bear new fruit.

Complete Article HERE!

Some US Christian schools believe religious freedom means they can fire gay teachers

Gay educators and their allies – including students and the ACLU – are fighting back

‘They said parents pay a lot of money to go to Valor, just so their kids don’t have to mentored by someone who is gay,’ Inoke Tonga recalls.

By

When volleyball coach Inoke Tonga was called in for a meeting with the leadership of Valor Christian high school in Highlands Ranch, Colorado, this fall, he thought he was about to be offered a promotion.

Instead, he was interrogated with a series of vague, leading questions that attempted to get him to admit he was gay.

Tonga had been out for years – and knew his contract never stated he couldn’t be gay and teach at Valor – but shame-filled memories of his closeted years as a young man rose up in that moment, as his job slipped away.

“They offered to help me stop being gay, with my ‘struggle’,” Tonga says. “They said I should take my time to decide if I will accept their help, and they’ll tell everyone I’m on a spiritual journey.”

The offer they made was for Tonga to attend some form of “conversion therapy”, and when he returned to announce he isn’t gay, cut off contact with his fiance, scrub his social media of any support for the LGBTQ community, and denounce his support for them before the school.

“They said a lot of parents pay a lot of money to go to Valor, just so their kids don’t have to mentored by someone who is gay,” he recalls.

Tonga declined their offer, and resigned.

Outrage on the part of students, parents, alumni and allies over Tonga losing his job for being gay is part of a decades-long battle between anti-discrimination laws and the right of private Christian schools (of which there are approximately 34,500 in the US alone) to religious freedom.

Ever since the 1964 Civil Rights Act threatened the tax-exempt status of Christian schools who refused to racially integrate, religious schools in the US have tangled with social justice activists seeking equal protections for minority students and employees.

Freedom to discriminate

In 2020, the supreme court ruled employment protections in the Civil Rights Act should extend to LGBTQ+ employees, thereby federally outlawing termination of an employee for their sexual orientation or being transgender. But buried deep within the Civil Rights Act is an exception for religious institutions who want to discriminate against employees of a different faith.

“So while a secular employer can’t say, ‘I’m not going to hire you because you’re Jewish, I only hire Catholics,’ the Catholic school can say that, because they’re exempt from the prohibition against religious discrimination,” says Joshua Block, senior staff attorney with the ACLU’s LGBT & Aids project. “And religious schools have argued that that limited exception should be interpreted broadly to mean that I can discriminate against anyone based on my religious beliefs.”

Courts have, for the most part, been saying no to this argument, Block says.

But Tonga’s story is far from an isolated incident – even at Valor Christian high school, where a lesbian teacher was pressured to leave under similar circumstances.

Earlier this summer, music teacher Todd Simmons claimed he was fired from Our Lady’s Catholic Academy in Queens, New York, after filling out health insurance forms that revealed he was married to a man. A nearly identical scenario involving a gay music teacher fired from a Catholic school played out only a short distance away at the same time.

The issue is further complicated in states like Florida – where the line between public school and private religious school is sometimes blurred. Steven Arauz, a sixth-grade history teacher, found himself fired from a Seventh Day Adventist school – which is publicly funded with $1m a year in tax dollars and credits – after he was featured in a Gay With Kids article where he discussed his adopted son.

“You are aware that this conduct, if true, does not comport with the Seventh-day Adventist church’s standards,” he was told in an email that terminated his $49,000 a year position. “Hand over your keys. Hand over your badge. You’re not allowed on Forrest Lake property.”

Block and the ACLU have found some success litigating these firings.

Last month, a federal judge ruled that the firing of the North Carolina teacher Lonnie Billard from a Catholic school for being gay was a violation of the Civil Rights Act, shutting down the school’s attempt to argue that they had a religious exemption from the law.

“After all this time, I have a sense of relief and a sense of vindication. I wish I could have remained teaching all this time,” Billard said in a statement released by the ACLU. “Today’s decision validates that I did nothing wrong by being a gay man.”

Predator myth

The work of Block and the ACLU is standing on the shoulders of decades of litigation that provides civil rights legislation the legal muscle it has today. Much of this played out in public schools, particularly in the south, where segregationists like the Alabama governor, George Wallace, stood blocking the entrance of a school that black students sought to enter.

Around this time, the marketplace for private religious schools – thought to be protected from integration laws – began to explode in size.

“Hoping to keep their racial purity, their white evangelical identity, a lot of rich churches created their own schools,” said Frances Fitzgerald, author of the Pulitzer prize–winning book, The Evangelicals: The Struggle to Shape America. “They thought they could get away with being segregated.”

This proved not to be the case when Bob Jones University – which gave Wallace an honorary degree – found itself stripped of its tax-exempt status as a religious institution due to its ban on black students.

Forced integration and taxation of private religious schools – along with bans on teacher-led prayer in public schools – created a narrative among conservative evangelicals that a liberal government was waging war on Christianity, galvanizing them into the political force known today as the Christian right.

“Before this, they weren’t terribly organized at all,” Fitzgerald said of the previously apolitical demographic. “When Paul Weyrich went around trying to enlist evangelicals and fundamentalists into the Republican party, they didn’t respond to any of his issues other than forced integration of Christian schools.”

This laid the groundwork for the following generation of evangelical leaders such as Jerry Falwell, Pat Robertson and Tim LeHay, who partnered with the Republican party to stir up anger around issues evangelicals previously cared little about, like abortion, drugs and the rights of women and gays.

Campaigns to overturn gay rights legislation like “Save Our Children” in Florida (led by evangelical superstar Anita Bryant), or California’s Prop 6, which sought to ban gay men and lesbians from teaching in public schools, both equated homosexuality with pedophilia and accused gay teachers of being sexually motivated in their career choice.

While the villains were new, the tactic of ginning up baseless fears had been the cornerstone of white flight to Christian schools a decade earlier.

Bob Jones University’s lack of black students was rooted in its ban on interracial dating. When the university eventually integrated in 1971, it allowed only married black students to attend, and in 1975 allowed single black students but denied “admission to applicants engaged in an interracial marriage or known to advocate interracial marriage or dating”.

While openly opposing racial integration eventually became an ineffective tool for galvanizing evangelical voters – replaced by racist dog-whistles – gays integrating themselves into the American family remained a potent touchstone for the Christian right.

“In 2004, evangelical leaders were running out of money and their voters had been falling away, so they all got in a room together to decide what issues would bring their flock back to the fold, and they decided on gay marriage,” says Fitzgerald. “And so they flooded the nation with anti–gay marriage ballot measures, and that not only helped get George W Bush elected to a second term, but the ballot measures sometimes performed better than he did … They were against gay people in principle, but they also thought gay teachers were a bigger threat to kids than anything.”

Think of the children

“He was awesome– he really cared,” says Skyler Daniel, a junior at Valor Christian high school, of his former volleyball coach, Tonga.

On a chilly November evening, Daniel was joined by dozens of classmates, alumni and LGBTQ activists outside a Valor high school football game, protesting against the treatment of Tonga. Cars honked their horns as they drove by, showing support with signs that read “God Is Love” and “Every 45 seconds one queer teen attempts suicide.”

This statistic comes from the Trevor Project, an advocacy group and crisis center for LGBTQ youth struggling with suicidal ideation. While the Christian right views gay teachers as a threat to students, the Trevor Project’s research shows that “LGBTQ youth who have access to an LGBTQ-affirming school report lower rates of attempting suicide.” Yet, “only half of LGBTQ youth reported having an LGBTQ-affirming school.”

Skyler Daniel and other students and alumni are laboring to make Valor an LGBTQ-affirming school through their organization, Valor for Change. Through their Gay Straight Alliance (which has to meet off campus) and a list of demands for school leadership, the group aims to make their school a place where all students can feel safe and supported.

The Guardian reached out to Valor high school to comment on Tonga and Valor for Change, but did not receive a response.

Who’s a minister?

While 81% of Americans say gay teachers should be able to teach at elementary schools, religious schools catering to the remaining 19% have been developing a varied strategy for keeping them out of their classrooms.

“There are constitutional arguments they make, that [being forced to employ gay teachers] violates their freedom of association, free exercise of religion, but those have been rejected,” says Joshua Block of the ACLU. “One thing that hasn’t been rejected is the ‘ministerial exception’ [to discrimination laws] which is also grounded in the constitution. It says that there are certain positions that are so close to the exercise of an organization’s religious identity that the government can’t interfere with them.”

So if Valor Christian high school wanted to say that because Inoke Tonga, for example, led his students in a prayer before a volleyball game, or spoke of the holy spirit guiding them during a game, could his firing for being gay fall under a ministerial exemption from discrimination laws?

“It hasn’t been tested at that level of specificity,” says Block, “but a lot of religious organizations are trying to incorporate religious duties into the jobs of their employees to have that sort of insulation.”

Protecting religious freedom is at the core of America’s history, identity and constitution. Over the course of the 20th century, many legal battles have been waged over when the freedom of an individual or persecuted minority should trump that of a religious institution’s freedom to behave in any way their theology instructs.

There are a seemingly endless number of lines to be drawn on this issue, but for Block and the ACLU, the freedom to seek employment is essential to individual liberty.

Block said: “It is one thing to have a belief that you practice in your own religious community, but when you go out into the public market and start hiring people, you are engaging with the public at large, and you have to respect that there are a lot of people out there who deserve equal treatment, even if they don’t share your religious beliefs.”

Complete Article HERE!

Study Finds Nearly A Third Of Millennials Now Identify As LGBTQ

By Stewart Perrie

A new study of millennials in the United States of America has revealed a third of those surveyed identify as LGBTQ.

The number of people who recognise themselves to be non-heterosexual or non-cisgendered has been slowly climbing over the years thanks to visibility, law changes and acceptance.

But the Arizona Christian University wanted to see just how many people are comfortable with their sexuality or gender expression.

They surveyed 600 people aged between 18 to 37 in the hope it would give them an insight into how these two aspects of identity are tracking in the modern age.

They found 30 per cent of millennials now categorise themselves as being lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender or queer.

A decent chunk of these millennials (39 per cent) are aged between 18 to 24.

According to the Daily Mail, the study concluded: “[Millenials are] redefining sexuality, their own and how to perceive and respond to the gender identity and sexual-orientation choices of others.”

But sexuality wasn’t the only focus of the study.

The Arizona Christian University’s investigation asked young people about the world around them and they found millennials are largely ‘anti-establishment, unpatriotic, pro-freedom of religion, and desperately trying to find a purpose in life’.

The age group said managing the coronavirus pandemic was the most important issue in the US.

They were split nearly down the middle when asked whether they prefer socialism or capitalism, with the former gaining a little less than half the vote.

Forty per cent of people listed themselves as progressive, while 29 per cent categorised themselves as conservative.

One in three millennials had been to a protest recently, highlighting how young people are particularly pro-activism.

However, this age group has largely admitted to being racked with stress, depression, anxiety and feelings of being lost.

Three quarters of those surveyed said they are still trying to find their purpose in life, which isn’t surprising considering a big chunk of them would still be in university and might be facing a crisis about whether they want to keep studying.

The Arizona Christian University’s director of research at the Cultural Research Center, George Barna, explained how this data is crucial to understanding young people.

He noted: “Rather than blasting them for a range of perceived inadequacies, perhaps we can support them with perspective, solutions, resources, and encouragement.”

Complete Article HERE!

Young evangelicals are leaving church. LGBTQ bias may be driving them away.

By Yonat Shimron

For Ethan Stalker, the break unfolded in a now familiar way.

On March 18, 2019, Stalker announced on a blog post he was gay. The next day, he got invited to a coffee meeting with a pastor at the evangelical church in New York City where he was serving as a lay leader. The pastor told him he no longer qualified to be a small group leader.

His life choices, he was told, were not “God’s best” for him. The church allowed the 25-year-old, who works in marketing for healthcare companies, to continue to volunteer on its broadcast production team.

Three months later, Stalker quit the church.

“They loved to tell me my sexuality doesn’t define me,” Stalker said. “But they shoved a handful of verses down my throat that completely sexualize me as a gay person and put a cap on what I can do. It dismissed who I am as a complex human being. That was a huge problem for me.”

Stalker’s story is one shared by thousands of LGBTQ young people who grew up in evangelical churches that deny them full participation. LGBTQ people are typically excluded from serving on church boards and from leading worship or other church groups. They are not ordained or allowed to marry same-sex partners in the church. That’s causing many younger evangelicals — gay and straight — to question the integrity of their church’s theology and the consistency of its biblical interpretation.

Amid widespread acceptance of LGBTQ people, evangelical church attitudes toward the group have not budged, and the consequences have been dire

A study last month by the Public Religion Research Institute found the number of Americans who identify as white evangelicals has declined dramatically, from 23% in 2006 to 14.5% in 2020. Those leaving in the greatest numbers are younger evangelicals whose attitudes toward sexual minorities are starkly at odds with their elders. Take same-sex marriage: While only one-third (34%) of white evangelicals age 50 and over favor same-sex marriage, 51% of younger white evangelicals ages 18-49 now favor it — a majority, another PRRI study found.

To be sure, evangelicals, like people of all faiths, leave church for many reasons: changing politics, shifting cultural tastes, spiritual restlessness. But among younger evangelicals, the church’s attitude on sexuality is emerging as one of the big causes for the decline.

“Most people know and love someone who’s openly gay,” said Julie Rodgers, a Christian writer, activist and lesbian whose story is featured in the new documentary on Netflix, “Pray Away.” “It causes them to wrestle with the implication of teachings that say, ‘We’re bad and wrong and sinful.’ It creates a significant conflict for them in a way that (evangelical allegiance to) the Republican Party more broadly feels like an abstraction, and they don’t see the effect of that on human beings they know and love.”

In contrast with most mainline Protestant denominations where LGBTQ members are routinely ordained and their marriages solemnized in church (the United Methodist Church being the exception), white evangelical denominations such as the Southern Baptist Convention, the Presbyterian Church in America, the Anglican Church in North America and dozens of others have resisted offering gay people equality. LGBTQ people are allowed to attend church, to be baptized and in most cases to take Communion — but not much else. All three denominations doubled down on their opposition to fully affirming LGBTQ people at their annual conferences this summer.

In evangelical circles, LGBTQ equality has become the litmus test. Churches that stray from those policies risk losing their evangelical bonafides.

“If you make space for marrying or ordaining queer clergy or parishioners, you’re now decidedly out of the evangelical world,” said Michael Rudzena, pastor of Good Shepherd New York, a non-denominational church that is welcoming for LGBTQ people, many of them fleeing evangelical congregations.

One of the hallmarks of evangelicalism is its high view of Scripture. Evangelicals take the Bible to be the literal or authoritative word of God. That leads them to highlight a handful of passages that condemn gay sex.

Yet many evangelicals have found a way to embrace and minister to divorced people, even though the Bible, and Jesus, specifically, frowns on it.

“There’s some selective literalism that ignores divorce and remarriage but can’t make the adjustment on this yet,” said the Rev. Fred Harrell, pastor of City Church San Francisco, a Reformed Church in America congregation that fully affirms LGBTQ people.

City Church decided in 2015 to be a fully inclusive church. Overnight it lost 300 members. Its $5.8 million annual budget shrunk to about $2.8 million today. It laid off staff, cut other people’s salaries and had to shut down one of its campuses. Yet, Harrell said he has no regrets. About 15% of the church’s 336 members (with another 360 who attend but do not belong) identify as LGBTQ. Harrell said they’re among the most active and dedicated members.

“They’re really solid people who have been an enormous blessing to the church,” Harrell said. “I tell my non-affirming friends, ‘You’re really missing out.’”

City Church is one of a handful of churches once considered evangelical that have offered LGBTQ full inclusion. GracePointe in Nashville and EastLake Community Church in Seattle are two others that broke from the evangelical pack at the same time. The toll was steep. In the four years that followed — years that coincided with the Trump administration — few others made the move.

That’s not to say there have been no shifts on the part of evangelicals.

Conversion therapy, the discredited practice of attempting to change someone’s sexual orientation or gender identity, has increasingly come under fire, as the documentary “Pray Away” reveals. At least 20 states have banned the practice among minors. Once a common approach embraced by many churches, conversion therapy has even been denounced by evangelical elites such as Russell Moore, formerly the Southern Baptist Convention’s top ethicist.

In addition, more Christian publishers — such as Convergent, HarperOne, Broadleaf and Eerdmans — are willing to publish books affirming LGBTQ Christians.

Those changes have been too little, too late for some.

Jake Dawkins, a 26-year-old software engineer from Greenville, South Carolina, who growing up attended evangelical churches, dropped out over the churches’ view on sexuality. A straight man, he lived for a while in New York City where he met lots of committed gay Christians.

“Meeting people with different viewpoints opened my mind up to what Christianity could be,” Dawkins said. “That started separating me from more traditional Christianity. That disconnect or discomfort that I felt with the church gave me the opportunity to recognize other things about the church I wasn’t a fan of.”

Jonathan Merritt, a senior columnist at Religion News Service and a contributing writer for The Atlantic, who recently came out as gay, said he foresees a gradual evolution in evangelical circles.

Churches might begin treating LGBTQ people as they do divorced people, directing them to support groups and allowing them to take on service-oriented projects.

“At the end of the day, the history of evangelicalism is a history of pragmatism,” Merritt said.

Just as the churches once opposed rock music — now ubiquitous in the form of Christian rock or praise songs — so, too, evangelical resistance to LGBTQ people may soften.

The question is whether that will happen quickly enough for the people who are fed up with the homophobia still tolerated in evangelical circles.

Elliot Rossomme, a 26-year-old gay man who had been attending a nondenominational evangelical church while studying for a graduate degree in chemistry at the University of California, Berkeley, made the break two years ago.

He had grown up in an evangelical church in the suburbs of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. When he got to Berkeley he noticed the church he was attending never discussed sexuality. So he proposed leading a support group for LGBTQ members. He was told he could start the group, so long as he forswore dating, promised he wouldn’t disparage the theological position of the church or advocate for other positions. (Some evangelical churches have accepted the reality of same-sex attraction but require gays to be celibate if they are to serve in leadership positions.)

“That day, I realized I couldn’t go to that church anymore,” Rossomme said.

Two years ago, he decided to try City Church San Francisco. At the end of the first service he attended, as the Eucharist, or the bread and the wine, was about to be celebrated, he said he cried.

“There was a sense that I don’t have to fight for my place at this table here, and they want me to come forward and don’t have qualms about me participating in this meal,” he said.

Here, he no longer felt like a theological outsider and could dedicate positive energy toward building a community he believes in. He joined the church

Ethan Stalker, the New York City marketer, has also found his way to a church — Good Shepherd New York, which welcomes a number of LGBTQ refugees.

But after volunteering all his life for various church projects (he was a theology major at Anderson University in South Carolina, a Christian school) and finding all his social connections through church, he’s more tentative now.

“I’m still recovering and working through the hurt and trauma I experienced being in leadership roles at churches,” Stalker said. “I’m not sure if I will ever be ready to step back into a leadership role. I’d like to think one day I will be able to, but only time will tell.”

Complete Article HERE!

Catholic Church bankrolling opposition to biz-backed LGBTQ rights expansion

FILE UNDER: Insulated, monolithic, callous, tone deaf church power structure

BY

The Michigan Catholic Conference has contributed nearly $240,000 to a campaign committee opposing a business-backed initiative to expand Michigan’s civil rights law to include protections for LGBTQ individuals.

Campaign finance reports filed on Monday show the Lansing-based Michigan Catholic Conference, which bills itself as “the official voice of the Catholic Church in Michigan on matters of public policy,” has made $238,874.80 in direct and in-kind contributions to Citizens for Equality, Fairness and Justice, an organization formed in April that has actively opposed the LGBTQ initiative. The MCC made up nearly all of the committee’s $204,175 in direct contributions this funding cycle.

The Fair and Equal Michigan campaign launched the ballot initiative to expand Michigan’s Elliott-Larsen Civil Rights Act of 1976 to enshrine protections in employment and public accommodations for LGBTQ individuals and ban discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity.

The Michigan Board of State Canvassers voted unanimously on Monday to reject Fair and Equal Michigan’s petition signatures, claiming the campaign didn’t have enough valid signatures to advance the proposal.

Fair and Equal Michigan officials have vowed to appeal the Board of Canvassers’ vote to the state Court of Appeals.

The Fair and Equal Michigan campaign has received widespread support from some of Michigan’s largest employers, including Consumers Energy, DTE Energy, Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan and General Motors, to name a few. Executives have said expanding the civil rights law is not only a human rights issue, but also a key component to attracting and retaining talent to the state.

Earlier this year, Citizens for Equality, Fairness and Justice filed a challenge against Fair and Equal Michigan before the Board of State Canvassers, as Michigan Advance previously reported. The newly formed committee had ties to attorneys who had previously fought LGBTQ measures, but it was unclear at the time who was funding the organization.

Campaign finance reports show the Michigan Catholic Conference directly contributed $200,000 to Citizens for Equality, Fairness and Justice on July 2, and gave another $38,874.80 in in-kind donations on July 7. The committee has also received $3,000 from issue advocacy group Michigan Future First, and $1,000 from the Lansing-based Michigan Family Forum. The committee reported $80,389.55 in expenditures, leaving nearly $124,000 in cash on hand.

Citizens for Equality, Fairness and Justice Treasurer Daniel Wholihan declined to comment for this story, referring questions to committee spokesperson and Republican political strategist Patrick Meyers.

Meyers said in an emailed statement to MiBiz: “The Board of State Canvassers got it right: the so-called “Fair and Equal” petition clearly submitted an inadequate number of signatures for their initiative. They got a fair and equal review by the Bureau of Elections, but fell well short, and we’re pleased that their poorly drafted, misleading proposal is now off the table for 2022.”

Officials with the Michigan Catholic Conference did not immediately respond to a request for comment. The organization issued a press release Monday about its effort to support challenges to Fair and Equal Michigan.

“The Fair and Equal Michigan proposal includes an unprecedented and likely unconstitutional provision to define religion only as a person’s individual beliefs and would restrict the ability for religious organizations to provide humanitarian aid and social services in the public square,” MCC Vice President for Communications David Maluchnik said in a statement. “The proposal would have a crushing impact on the poor of Michigan by harming many Catholic and Christian, Muslim, and Jewish organizations who daily and outwardly express their faith as a way of life out of love for their neighbor.”

Fair and Equal Michigan Spokesperson Josh Hovey told MiBiz: “When we have every major business group in the state … endorsing us, it’s not necessarily suprising but it’s transparent to see who’s out there funding the opposition. And unfortunately it’s the opposition.”

Complete Article HERE!