The US Conference of Catholic Bishops is trying to play the martyr once more. This time, they are trying to claim the mantle of James Madison and Martin Luther King Jr. as they self-righteously hold themselves up as the defenders of religious liberty.

What they really are doing, though, is the opposite. They are asserting their desire to take over the religious and moral beliefs of anyone with whom they come in contact. Their desire is not just to operate freely themselves, not just to restrict the freedoms of others, but to affirmatively take over the moral thinking of everyone else.

You’re LGBT and want to adopt? Unmarried and want to be a foster parent? “Sorry,” say the bishops, “but we’ve taken over your moral and religious beliefs, so the answer is no.”

You or a loved one want to come to a catholic hospital or nursing home and be able to unplug life support when YOU decide to, in consultation with doctors and according to your moral and religious beliefs? “Sorry,” say the bishops, “but you signed your moral and religious beliefs over to us (and so did your doctors) when you (and they) walked in the door, so the answer is no.”

You want to have your tubes tied after a C-section, following a difficult and dangerous pregnancy, according to your moral and religious beliefs? “Sorry,” say the bishops, “but you signed your moral and religious beliefs over to us when you walked in the door, so the answer is no.”

You want to have a pregnancy terminated after your doctor tells you the fetus in your womb will never live outside it and you are increasingly likely to die if you try to carry the fetus to term, a decision you’ve made in accordance with your moral and religious beliefs? “Sorry,” say the bishops, “but you signed your moral and religious beliefs over to us when you walked in the door, so the answer is no.”

This isn’t protecting religious freedom. It’s an attempt to coerce the political powers at every level to give legal cover to the discriminatory, patronizing, and highly parochial views of the USCCB, especially in situations where they are using public money to carry out these views. They want to enforce by law what they cannot accomplish by persuasion and preaching, even to the people in their own pews.

If the bishops were truly honest and transparent about what they are doing here, there’d be a revision of Dante’s sign, hanging over the door to every bishop’s office and over the entrances to far too many catholic churches: “Abandon all independent thinking, ye who enter here”.

Sorry, bishops, but the answer is no.

It appears I am not alone in this line of thinking, with the emphasis and delightfully direct language in the inimitable original of Mr. Charlie Pierce:

Are these idiots kidding me? The Letter From Birmingham Jail?

May god forgive them for such towering, impious self-regard, because I have no intention of doing so.

The Clan of the Red Beanie went celibate balls to the wailing wall on Thursday, issuing a Statement on Religious Liberty that turns the English language inside-out, repositions religious repression and pious bigotry as statements of freedom, makes a mockery of the informed consciences of a good slice of the American Catholic laity, and is a statement of meddling in the secular government that would be almost tragic, if it didn’t drip so garishly with lachrymose sanctimony about how heavily these ermined layabouts have been oppressed by the provisions of the Affordable Care Act, and by the fact that some states have decided that, no, they can no longer function as tax-free havens for discrimination on the basis of who does what to whom with their sexyparts. But, before we get to that, we have to deal with one representative passage which makes me wonder what exactly some of these guys were burning in the thurible during the Holy Week services . . .

Shorter Mr. Pierce: Sorry, bishops, but the answer is ‘HELL NO!’” (Do go read the whole thing — it is truly a work of religious art.)

Mr. Pierce ends thusly:

Religious people can contribute to “our common life” or to “the common good” as much as they ever have, and they don’t need government’s permission to do so. But the state alone can decide who provides what services under state contracts, and the state can decide the rules that will govern those contracts, and the state can decide to waive those rules or not. And the state can decide to what use, if any, religious organizations can put the state’s own buildings and facilities. It can decide who, if anyone, gets a waiver from the secular law. In most cases, it has decided in a democratic fashion that anti-discrimination statutes contribute more to “our common life” and to “the common good” than does the Catholic Church’s opposition to freedom for gay couples to marry. In most cases, it has decided in a democratic fashion that allowing women a measure of control over their reproductive lives contributes more to “our common life” and to “the common good” than the preposterous view of humanity found in Humanae Vitae. It is repressing nobody in having done so, except some career autocrats who dream of crowns and yearn for palaces.

And let all the non-Roman Catholic Bishops say “Amen!”