In Support of Sanity
AlterNet / By Rob Boston
U.S. law is honeycombed with examples of special benefits that organized religions enjoy.
Many conservative religious leaders insist that houses of worship in America today struggle under intense persecution. To hear some of the Catholic bishops tell it, religious freedom may soon be a memory because they don’t always get their way in policy debates.
It would be highly ironic if the United States, the nation that perfected religious liberty and enshrined it in the Constitution’s First Amendment, had become hostile to the rights of religious groups.
But that’s not what’s happening. In reality, U.S. law is honeycombed with examples of preferential treatment and special breaks for religion. Some of these practices may grow out of the First Amendment command that the “free exercise” of religion must not be infringed. Others are traditions or were added to the law after lobbying efforts by religious groups. …
. Criminal Investigations
The sentencing of Catholic cleric Msgr. William J. Lynn of Philadelphia to three to six years imprisonment for knowingly covering up evidence of clerical abuse of children by priests captured national headlines – because it was so unusual.
Lynn is the only church official sentenced to date in a long-running scandal implicating Catholic clergy nationwide. Victims of clerical abuse have had to resort to civil lawsuits to get justice, and even there have encountered numerous roadblocks.
Plenty of evidence indicates that church officials knowingly reassigned offending priests to other parishes instead of alerting law enforcement. In one especially egregious incident, a year-long investigation by the Dallas Morning News in 2004 found that priests accused of child molestation were often given special treatment by law enforcement, and in some cases priests from other countries were allowed to return home.
Observed the newspaper, “Since the clergy sex-abuse scandal exploded anew in 2002, Catholic leaders have taken the brunt of the blame. Overlooked is the role of police, prosecutors and judges – the people expected to hold abusers accountable when the church itself will not. Law enforcement typically has helped through inaction, but sometimes the aid has been direct.”
Efforts by victims to hold top church officials accountable have been stymied by the U.S. government. When victims charged in one lawsuit that Pope Benedict XVI had helped cover up the sexual abuse of children by priests, the Bush administration filed a legal brief asking the court to dismiss the case, arguing in part that the Vatican is a sovereign nation. Similar lawsuits have been filed since then, and the Obama administration has taken the same stand.
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