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Last month, the state House passed a package of bills that would allow faith-based foster care and adoption agencies to discriminate and turn away couples that are gay, unmarried, of another faith or threaten the “sincerely held religious beliefs” of a child-placing agency.

As a Catholic, I am writing to speak out against the discriminatory legislation embedded in House Bills 4188, 4189 and 4190. This proposal runs contrary to my Catholic beliefs about conscience and religious liberty, and to our American value of protecting the religious liberty of every individual, no matter what she or he believes.

Organizations like the Michigan Catholic Conference argue that adoption agencies elsewhere have been forced to close because government regulations “violate their institutional conscience.”

As a Catholic, I find it incredible to suggest that an “institution” has a conscience. Institutions do not have consciences. Individuals do.

In Michigan, religious organizations like faith-based adoption agencies and charities are woven into society by virtue of their activities as charitable organizations and service providers, as well as by the tax benefits and other public funds they receive. The faith-based adoption agencies that are lobbying for this legislation should be playing by the rules of society at large, rather than demanding that all of society play by their rules.

It is wrong that these faith-based agencies are seeking exemptions that hurt those they claim to serve, and which deny these vulnerable children the chance of loving homes. If these bills become law, there are 13,000 orphans and foster children in our state who could be denied permanent homes. With the well-being of so many kids at stake, Michigan just doesn’t have room for discrimination.

As a Catholic, I am called by my faith to follow my conscience in all matters of moral decision-making and to respect the right of others to do the same. It’s important to stress that Catholics recognize the human right of religious liberty for every person, and we are categorically opposed to discrimination.

When the Catholic hierarchy and Catholic Conference conflate their disingenuous views with the views of everyday Catholics by supporting legislation like House Bills 4188, 4189 and 4190, they are misinterpreting what the majority of Catholics believe, doing a disservice to everyday Catholics like me.

We overwhelmingly reject the use of religion as a tool for discrimination. And we are not alone: 3 out of 4 U.S. Catholic voters oppose laws that would allow companies or other institutions to use religious beliefs as a reason to deny services to employees or customers.

Unquestionably, religious freedom is a core American value. But true religious freedom, the kind that is emphasized in Catholic tradition, has two sides: freedom of religion and freedom from religion. Real religious liberty belongs to everyone, each of us by our own beliefs, by our own conscience, free to decide for ourselves what is right, what is best and how we exercise our freedom.

It is up to each of us to ensure that the religious liberty guaranteed to each American is not compromised for political gain by an influential minority — even, or perhaps especially, when the minority claims a religious mantle as a justification for its actions.

Montgomery Jones is a Detroit resident and member of Catholics for Choice.

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