Talking Points

Who should decide religious doctrine, Twitter or the church?

When a Catholic archbishop in San Francisco decided to withhold Communion from House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) because of her support for legal abortion, there were some strange responses. 

Twitter was filled with comments about this supposed breach of the separation of church and state, along with calls to tax churches. Noted theologian Whoopi Goldberg opined for The View's audience that "this is not your job, dude. That is not up to you to make that decision."

Who, pray tell (assuming the word "pray" doesn't violate separation of church and state), makes these decisions for the church? Politicians? Individuals, who are free to join other churches with doctrines more to their liking, or no religious body at all?

None of this reaction is the result of the Catholic Church favoring legal protection for unborn children against abortion as a matter of public policy and social justice — it does — but because religious authority figures exercised their judgment about participation in a private ritual, in which many of the detractors do not believe, in a nongovernmental setting. 

It would seem unsporting to dunk on random Twitter users and marginally political celebrities for confused hot takes. But then The Associated Press had this post on a Christian academic institution's policies: "A private Christian university is considering strictly limiting the free speech rights of its students when it comes to sexuality and gender, from how they behave to what they wear and what they can say on campus or online, according to published reports."

Such restrictions have been fairly common at religious schools throughout the history of the country. Today attending these places is entirely voluntary. Secular, state-run institutions directly supported with taxpayer funds can also be said to have orthodoxies and rules "when it comes to sexuality and gender, from how" students "behave to what they wear and what they can say on campus or online."

There are profound policy and political differences driven by religion in America. But it's also true that a relatively crimped understanding of religious liberty is gaining traction as people who don't know much about religion want to tell these institutions how to govern themselves, citing concepts that have traditionally been used to support religious freedom.

This is completely backwards. And it actually encourages illiberal traditionalist trends. If someone's values ultimately have to prevail, it may be asked, why not mine?