The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops is recasting its political agenda as a campaign for "religious liberty," which makes sense for some of its issues but not for others. In the first category: The bishops complain that New York's law recognizing gay marriages does not include a strong enough exemption for religious groups. While the government should treat heterosexual and homosexual couples equally, it has no business imposing that requirement on private individuals and groups, whether their objections to gay marriage are religious or secular. Likewise, the bishops are right when they object to ObamaCare's requirement that insurers cover contraception, which means that Catholic organizations have to provide such coverage to their employees. But the bishops cannot reasonably claim that respect for religious liberty requires legal restrictions on abortion or upholding the Defense of Marriage Act, which bars federal recognition of gay marriage. Religious liberty does not entail a right to have your religious beliefs enshrined in law.
Other issues raised by the bishops are a little more complicated. The Department of Health and Human Services, for example, recently decided not to renew a contract with the bishops' refugee services office, apparently in response to complaints that it was imposing "religiously based restrictions on reproductive health services" for victims of human trafficking. And A.P. reports that Catholic Charities will "no longer provide state-funded services" in connection with Illinois adoptions because of a requirement that agencies receiving taxpayer money recognize gay civil unions. The bishops understandably do not like conditions attached to government funding for social services that conflict with their religious mission. But the criteria for funding in these cases are religiously neutral (in the sense that they do not discriminate against Catholics per se), and Catholic groups can avoid the restrictions by forgoing taxpayer money. In these circumstances, I don't see how declining to give them money violates their religious liberty. The situation would be different if the government decreed that all adoption agencies, whether or not they receive state funding, must accept gay couples, or that all charities assisting refugees, whether or not they have federal contracts, have to help women get abortions.