The Stuff of Which Religious War is Made

About Frederick Clarkson

Gregory M. Aymond, the Roman Catholic Archbishop of New Orleans

Gregory M. Aymond, the Roman Catholic Archbishop of New Orleans

Gregory M. Aymond, the Roman Catholic Archbishop of New Orleans, has declared economic war on anyone who participates in the construction of a new regional Planned Parenthood facility in New Orleans.

Yet another Catholic prelate denouncing an abortion provider might seem to some like a small, if dramatic, moment in the so-called culture war—but I think this incident may be a bellwether.

The archdiocesan newspaper Clarion Herald front-paged Aymond’s open letter, in which he declared that the Archdiocese and its related institutions will not do business with anyone, Catholic or non-Catholic, “involved in the acquisition, preparation and construction of this facility.” Aymond makes clear that even in the era of Pope Francis, the theocratic impulses that drive the so-called culture war are undiminished. “The archdiocese, including its churches, schools, apartments for the elderly and nursing homes,” he decreed, “will strive in its privately funded work not to enter into business relationships with any person or organization.”

Here is the key section in which the Archbishop declares he will punish not only Catholics but non-Catholics, even to the point of economic ruin:

This policy applies to all businesses, regardless of religious affiliation or non-affiliation. Our fidelity to Church teaching and our conscience necessitates this stance.

There is no justification, including economic hardship that will make a direct or indirect relationship with Planned Parenthood, or any abortion provider, acceptable.

The significance of this should not be underestimated. Aymond is the leader of the majority religious institution in the state’s largest city, and he has made clear he is willing to use its economic leverage against any person or business that defies him.

This was treated as unremarkable in an account published by Catholic News Service (the ostensibly independent news agency of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops), and syndicated to Catholic publications nationwide. CNS reported that Benjamin Clapper, executive director of Louisiana Right to Life, was surprised but pleased by all of this.

“It should be a model for other religious leaders, not only in this state but in other areas,” Clapper said. “Most of the time, people expect the bishop to say things and to teach principles, but I don’t believe most people expect a bishop to make this real-life, declarative statement that actually impacts the corporate world.”

As dramatic as Aymond’s declaration certainly is, it is unclear how much economic leverage he actually has. Also, such tactics aren’t new, as businesses are often pressured by anti-choice activists not to do business with abortion providers. What is notable here, as Louisiana Right to Life leader Clapper observes, is that religious leaders don’t usually get directly involved, let alone lead the way.

Abortion is a legal and constitutionally protected medical procedure. It is considered a moral and responsible choice by many mainstream religious institutions and organizations, notably those affiliated with the Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice, most of them Protestant or Jewish.

Aymond and his church have the right to their view of abortion of course, but others—religious and non-religious alike—are not under any moral or legal obligation to agree. Yet Aymond’s decree targets people who conduct normal business activities in keeping with the law and their own religious and moral conscience, regardless of the economic havoc it creates. This fundamental lack of respect for pro-choice religious and secular traditions, and for the civil and constitutional rights of all Americans, shows that at least this Catholic culture warrior is escalating, rather than moderating, his approach to the culture war.

As unlikely as it may be, we can hope that Aymond’s newly aggressive anti-choice efforts will turn out to be a local tempest in a teapot. But it is worth noting that this is the stuff of which religious war is made.

Frederick Clarkson, a Senior Research Analyst at Political Research Associates, has written about politics and religion for more than three decades. He is the author of Eternal Hostility: The Struggle Between Theocracy and Democracy and editor of Dispatches from the Religious Left: The Future of Faith and Politics in America. Follow him on Twitter at @FredClarkson.