A look at free trade and religious freedom

I would like to comment on a few unrelated op-eds, first on the Trans-Pacific Partnership free-trade deal then on religious freedom.

The first opinion piece is an editorial about the TPP. Specifically, the issue is whether or not to grant President Barack Obama fast-track authority to complete the negotiations on the deal. The second is a commentary on the trade pact by John Berry, the U.S. ambassador to Australia.

Both of these pieces make a strong case for the importance of this trade agreement. Many who oppose the pact have either downplayed or failed to recognize the importance of the TPP to our economic and strategic future in Asia, a critically important area of the world.

I would encourage the reading of both of these pieces, and I will only make a couple of brief comments.

First, simply because a deal may be positive for business interests does not automatically make it a bad deal. After all, without a strong business community, there is not much of a future for any of us. Certainly, every effort must be made to extract the best possible terms for the interests of workers and the environment. I don't believe that means it is responsible governance to work to scuttle this deal.

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The Baltimore Sun makes an important point. It notes that the failure of the TPP will "allow China to become an economic juggernaut. Trade that might have gone to the U.S. will end up in China. That could spell trouble not only for the U.S. economy but for national security as China wields its economic influence for political goals."

On an entirely different subject, Jon O'Brien and Barry Lynn mount a strong challenge to the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops' Fortnight for Freedom program.

While one could certainly quibble with some of the language used in the editorial, it does convey how the program distorts the true meaning of religious freedom. As the authors say, the reality is that "in true Orwellian style, the bishops beg for the freedom to discriminate against others while all the while wrapping their campaign in the language of flag, freedom, religion and country."

Again, the central point of the argument is that "religion should never be used to discriminate. We can't have freedom of religion without guaranteeing freedom from religion." In what might be a bit of an exaggeration, the authors note that 99 percent of Catholic women have used some form of birth control banned by the bishops. What this illustrates is that the bishops are not fighting for the freedom of the People of God, but for themselves.

Pope Francis has made clear that the church is about more than abortion, birth control, and same-sex marriage. The bishops still don't get it. The pope's vision for the church of Jesus Christ is about reaching out to the poor, stewardship of our environment, and justice and fairness to all without regard to race, sex, religion or sexual orientation. What are the U.S. bishops going to do about those issues? 

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