Mirror of Justice

A blog dedicated to the development of Catholic legal theory.
Affiliated with the Program on Church, State & Society at Notre Dame Law School.

Saturday, March 1, 2014

Bigotry, Discrimination, Teaching, and Catholic Thought


A number of my friends here at the Mirror of Justice have recently addressed a variety of issues (e.g., the Arizona RFRA-styled legislative proposal just vetoed by the governor; new articles and editorials in America magazine discussing laws that are “crimes” and the Church’s attitude toward same-sex attraction and sexual activity; religious freedom; the role of government and law in society; etc.) dealing with the pressing questions that provide forums for the presentation of differing views on human sexuality and the legal protection that these views merit or may merit. A subtext pertaining to these issues from a legal perspective is the political idea and ideal of equality and the reality of equality. A further subtext is the role of religion—particularly Catholicism—in these issues and the discussions and debates that surround them.

It is assumed by some participants in the current political and academic debates on these matters concerning human sexuality that any difference in treatment or status between same- and opposite-sex is prima facie unlawful because it is discriminatory. But the notion of discrimination needs to be considered carefully so that it is understood accurately by society in general and by the law in particular. This is where the vocation of teaching and the discipleship based on Catholic thought have a crucial role to play.

The teachings of the Catholic Church condemn discrimination that is unjust (that’s a big modifier that will need more attention somewhere else, perhaps in another posting at this website). Why does the Church use in her teachings this crucial modifier? It would be illogical to condemn all discrimination across the board because human civilization and human nature rely on proper, i.e., just, discrimination. Those of us who are or who have been teachers discriminate in many ways. We discriminate in the evaluation of faculty candidates when we hire some but not others. We discriminate when we make substantive distinctions between and among student papers and final exams. We discriminate when we exercise our role in faculty governance by deciding which proposals before us we accept and which we reject. But these discriminations are not unjust because they are warranted, or should be, by substantive merits or their absence. In spite of some student protests, not all students will receive an A. Despite their aspirations, not all candidates for faculty positions will be offered teaching posts.

Yet, discrimination is not restricted to the world of the academy. Discrimination is exercised legitimately throughout human civilization when people make decisions about what cut of meat they can afford at the super market, or how big of an addition to their home will their budget permit, or how large a contribution, if any, can they make to alma mater. The list of discriminations that are admissible, perhaps even meritorious, goes on and on.

Nonetheless, some participants in the present day disputes concerning human sexuality press the argument that any difference of treatment between same-sex-this and opposite-sex-that is unlawful because some people are being treated differently from others. Therefore, such differing treatment is discriminatory and may very well be based on bigotry.

But this is not so because these claims are untrue.

They are untrue because the objective intellect, not political will and the might that often accompanies the will, comprehending the reality of the nature of the human person, human physiology, and biological differences can demonstrate that there are dispassionate distinctions separating and distinguishing the worlds of same-sex and opposite-sex. It is not bigotry to make this claim. Neither is it religious or other superstition. Rather, it is reality grasped by the objective and impartial intellect that makes and supports the distinction. But in the minds and resulting positions of some, the reasoned distinctions made between same-sex and opposite sex are impermissible because they are, from the outset, “bigoted” or “unlawful” without the need for further comment or justification.

This last point describes a vast element of the political and, therefore, legal world that we inhabit today and the supporting mentalities that faithful Catholics encounter that are forcing a dramatic and perilous change in the law and civilization. Thus, it is the duty of the Catholic teacher who remains true to the faith to point out with reason, with humility, with respect, and with resolve that this that claims about unlawful discrimination based on different treatment between same-sex and opposite-sex are wrong. It may well be that the time for the faithful Catholic teacher to pursue this responsibility is growing short, but the duty remains as long as these overwhelming errors persist. This duty can and should be welcomed where authentic dialogue exists. However, another hallmark of the present age is the attitude that relies largely on the success of one’s position, not because of reasoned argument but because of political clout and little else.


RJA sj


Araujo, Robert | Permalink