Although I am solidly together with Cardinal Bernardin and the U.S. Catholic Conference in their commitment to the cause of civil rights, I am particularly concerned about their support of substantive amendments to the Civil Rights Restoration Act of 1985, amendments about which there are legitimate differences of opinion in the religious community. One such issue is abortion, on which Bernardin expressed his church's views (op-ed, June 13).
Many Protestant and Jewish groups view abortion from a different perspective than the U.S. Catholic Conference, and yet all of us hold in high respect the value of human life and do not take the question of abortion lightly. It is exactly the plurality of beliefs that leads us to the conviction that the abortion decision must remain with the individual to be made on the basis of conscience and religious principles, and free from government interference.
The Civil Rights Restoration Act of 1985 is not the appropriate place to attempt to reverse this nation's laws and policies regarding abortion. In fact, to add an abortion amendment or any other substantive amendment to the act is to endanger its passage.
In his article, Cardinal Bernardin, who is the chairman of the Committee for Pro-Life Activities of the National Conference of Catholic Bishops, does not write about the issues contained in the original Civil Rights Restoration Act of 1985. The issue is: Should institutions that discriminate be given public funds? Instead, he writes about the Catholic Church's position to "reaffirm . . . opposition to including in any way the right to abortion as a civil right." I would urge that the Catholic Church choose another arena in which to thrash out this issue, leaving the Civil Rights Restoration Act of 1985 to stand on its own very strong restorative merits.
Ironically, the original Title IX legislation for almost 15 years has had a "religious tenet" exemption, which has supported the right of Catholic institutions not to perform abortions. That exemption remains in place even with the passage of HR 700. Indeed, no Catholic institution has been denied the use of this exemption since 1972, when Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972 was passed. It is, therefore, difficult to understand why the Catholic Church expects more protection from this specific piece of legislation, or why it is supporting an equally damaging amendment on "religious tenets."
This amendment would broaden the existing exemption for educational institutions "controlled by religious organizations" to include institutions "affiliated with religious organizations." This would mean that many institutions, by merely claiming a loose affiliation with religion, would be able to discriminate at will in the admission and treatment of students in school. I maintain that the real issue here is neither abortion nor "religious tenets" but discriminatory practice.
The 1985 Civil Rights Restoration Act has one purpose: to restore the original civil rights legislation to the intent of Congress when it was passed. The 1985 act once again makes it mandatory for an institution that receives public funds from the government to provide equal respect for men and women of all races, creeds, ages and physical condition. It is an excellent piece of legislation. Ample safeguards already exist to guarantee that those who oppose abortion will be protected. Let us pass this legislation at the earliest possible moment without substantive amendments.