Mayor Seren should leave the Catholic Diocese alone
Mayor Seren proposes a Cleveland Heights government attack upon a religious institution. He wants government to do battle with the Catholic Diocese of Cleveland. This battle would be intended to advance gay rights.
The Diocese has adopted new policies in its Cleveland Heights schools. They will bar LGBTQ expression, use of preferred pronouns, pride flags, and same-sex couples at school dances. Parents voluntarily place their children in these schools. They obviously prefer such policies; otherwise, they would place their children elsewhere. But Seren believes children need “protection” from these Diocese policies and from their own parents. So, he proposes to make the policies illegal.
Religious organizations are exempt from provisions of the city’s “fair practices” law. Mayor Seren wishes to end that exemption. He wants new punitive laws. These laws would declare that the Diocese policies harm a “protected class.” The city then could police the Diocese. Violations of these laws would be determined administratively by the government. The city’s so-called “Fair Practices Board” could levy large civil penalty fines against the Diocese.
The only surprise is that Mayor Seren has not yet proposed levying fines on the parents.
The U.S. Constitution bans an establishment of religion. It does not explicitly mention the “separation of church and state.” However, that phrase expresses a generally accepted concept. It is understood by most Americans that a proper political distance should be maintained between religious organizations and the state. Governments must not take official actions to advance or promote religion.
But neither should governments punish religions. They should avoid even subtle forms of coercion.
Such forms of coercion could include officially sponsored social pressure that discourages acts of faith. It certainly would include potential monetary penalties that Mayor Seren favors. A religious community would be required by law to conform; otherwise, it would suffer government persecution.
Seren effectively urges adoption of a civic religion. This civic religion would condemn and punish non-believers. The Fair Practices Board would be its Inquisition. The new religion would affect adversely Catholics, Jews, Muslims, and members of other religious communities who do not agree with the mayor. It would be an unconstitutional establishment of religion. It would be an official expression of intolerance.
What Mayor Seren proposes is improper and offensive. Any candidate for CH City Council who agrees with him should be remembered for that at election time.
Alan Rapoport, a longtime resident of Cleveland Heights, served on CH City Council (1980–87) and as council president/mayor (1982–87).