Freedom of religion used to be understood by one and all as the freedom to worship privately, and the freedom, within reason, to manifest that faith in the public square. It was taken for granted that one's work should not compromise one’s deeply held religious convictions.
In recent times, this notion of religious freedom has become more and more contested. Many secularists and governments now want to limit this freedom to freedom of worship. But in France some want to go further yet, and limit what we can and cannot pray about.
On Wednesday, the French Catholic Church launched the “Prayer for France” rekindling an old tradition of praying for the nation on the Feast of the Assumption.
For their trouble, they were accused by various groups of providing a "breeding ground for discrimination and homophobia" and having "no democratic legitimacy to become involved in the political debate in France".
Furthermore, news agencies reported that the prayer attacked government plans to legalise same-sex marriage.
France 24 said the prayer made a “thinly veiled reference to the (French Government's) proposed gay marriage bill”
So, what did the prayer actually say?
Here are the relevant sections of the prayer:
“2. For those who have been recently elected to legislate and govern, may their sense of common good of society outweigh special requests and may they have the strength to follow the instructions of their conscience.
3. For families, that their legitimate expectation of support from society is not disappointed, that their members support with fidelity and tenderness throughout their existence, especially in the painful moments.That the commitment of the spouses towards each other and their children are a sign of loyalty to love.
4. For children and youth as we help all people to discover their own path to progress towards happiness; they cease to be objects of desire and the focus of conflict of adults that they fully benefit from the love of a father and a mother.”
For a start, the prayer doesn't even mention gay marriage. Even the word marriage is missing.
But there is a reference to the importance to children of having a mother and a father. This should be common sense. But it undermines the core of the case for same-sex marriage, because same-sex marriage simply cannot provide a child with a mother and father. Therefore, uttering this common sense sentiment must be branded as hate speech.
For that matter, the reference to the conflicts of adults could well be reference to divorce. Aren’t Christians allowed to speak about divorce anymore?
Incidentally, the reportage on the story is reminiscent of the reporting of a statement made by Pope Benedict about ‘human ecology’.
In December 2008, the Pope talked about marriage and said that there was a need for a “human ecology”. He said: "We need something like human ecology, meant in the right way. The Church speaks of human nature as 'man' or 'woman' and asks that this order is respected.
“Rain forests deserve, yes, our protection but the human being - as a creature which contains a message that is not in contradiction with his freedom but is the condition of his freedom - does not deserve it less."
Reuters reported this as: “Pope likens saving gays to saving the rainforest,” and this reading of the Pope's comments was slavishly copied by news organisations throughout the world.
When it comes to the Catholic Church's stance on homosexuality, misreporting and distortion are too often the order of the day.