In Western Europe and Canada, by contrast, the problem is an aggressive secularist majority that refuses to permit religiously informed moral arguments into public life. Recently Georgetown’s Religious Freedom Project held a major conference in Oxford on the rising tensions between religious liberty and assertions of homosexual equality. In his keynote address, Philip Tartaglia, the Catholic bishop of Paisley, Scotland, noted that one of his priests had expressed fear after watching a popular audience-based television program. The consensus was ominous: Once same-sex marriage is legalized in the United Kingdom, the audience agreed, dissenters should be “pursued by the law.”
Once upon a time (in the late 18th century), anti-Catholic penal laws in Scotland criminalized the mass and outlawed priests. While Scotland may not be moving in so radical a direction today, it would be foolish to presume that the growing intolerance of traditional Christianity in Europe and North America cannot devolve into persecutory laws and practices. In Canada, it is estimated that since the adoption of gay marriage in 2005, between 200 and 300 proceedings have been launched against defenders of marriage in courts, human rights commissions, and employment boards. The Catholic bishop of Calgary was threatened with litigation and charged with a “human rights violation” for circulating a letter within his diocese repeating Catholic teaching on marriage. (Intimidated, he settled out of court.)
At Oxford, Bishop Tartaglia (who seems unlikely to be intimidated) said that he expected one day to be standing before a judge because of his public defense of Catholic teaching. Some at the conference made it clear that they simply would not brook any “special” consideration for religious ideas, which they argued had no more relevance to human flourishing than any other idea under the sun.