Volume > Issue > Briefly Reviewed: December 2019

Briefly Reviewed: December 2019

Equality and Non-discrimination: Catholic Roots, Current Challenges

By Edited by Jane F. Adolphe, Robert L. Fastiggi, and Michael A. Vacca

Publisher: Pickwick Publications

Pages: 246

Price: $30

Review Author: Ligia De Jesús Castaldi

Present-day secular liberal democracies cannot in good faith ignore the fact that ideas of equality and non-discrimination originate in Christian, particularly Catholic, teaching on universality and the equality of all men in the eyes of God. Essays by Robert L. Fastiggi and Ernest Caparros illustrate how Catholic ideas, as reflected in Church documents and works of prominent Catholic thinkers, challenged Greco-Roman cultural paradigms of inherent inequality and inferiority of certain persons, and later contributed to the foundations of international human-rights law.

Fastiggi, professor of systematic theology at Sacred Heart Major Seminary in Detroit, explains how the Church helped undermine justifications for slavery and how those same ideas promote, today, respect for all human life regardless of its vulnerability. His essay also deals with the Church’s distinction between just and unjust discrimination, a much-needed nuance that is absent in most discrimination debates. Caparros, professor emeritus of law at the University of Ottawa, describes how the Second Vatican Council’s emphasis on the universal call to holiness allowed for proper distinctions to be made among different vocations and roles in Church governance. He stresses the contributions of Bl. Álvaro del Portillo to related canonical norms. Giving a nod to personalism, Msgr. Daniel B. Gallagher proposes a new understanding of the natural law as the ontological priority of ends over purposes as an antidote to contemporary trends in sexual ethics and morality.

Essays by Iain Benson and Paul Diamond denounce the manipulation and distortion of ideas of equality and inclusion by groups playing identity politics as lacking a real commitment to diversity and pluralism. Diamond’s provocative essay discusses situations in which human rights can be placed at the service of ideology, particularly in the case of non-discrimination policies in the U.K. affecting religious freedom and promoting animus toward Christians. He identifies a democratic deficit involved in judicial human-rights lawmaking and respect for the rule of law and the legislative function in human-rights legislation. Ryan Anderson similarly proposes alternatives to sexual-orientation and gender-identity anti-discrimination laws.

Essays by four authors illustrate the distortion of equality and non-discrimination ideas in the context of regional human-rights systems. Piotr Mazurkiewicz describes how European Union non-discrimination policy has recently evolved into an instrument of social engineering and how definitions of equality and non-discrimination have become politicized, while pointing out the danger in religious exceptions to said policy. Carmen Dominguez Hidalgo and Ursula Basset comment on prominent Inter-American Court of Human Rights cases Artavia Murilllo et al. v. Costa Rica and Atala Riffo and Daughters v. Chile. They point out their inconsistency with a Latin American understanding of human rights and discuss their corresponding implications for the future, such as the validation of discrimination against nascent human life and the special procedural advantages given to those claiming discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation.

Brian Scarnecchia analyzes the Association of Southeast Asian Nations’ Declaration of Human Rights and proposes the adoption of an interpretative declaration for states to retain the right to define their own policies on abortion and same-sex marriage. He also recommends the expansion of the public-trust doctrine to include human ecology, in addition to Laudato Si’s focus on natural ecosystems. Geoffrey Strickland discusses Islamophobia and Christianophobia in the Middle East and North Africa in light of Pope Francis’s related comments.

Equality and Non-discrimination is an important read for those interested in equality issues such as those brought up by the Equality Act debates in the U.S. or the Vatican Congregation for Catholic Education’s document on gender ideology. A translation of the book into Spanish would be useful, not only because it discusses the Inter-American and European system’s non-discrimination decisions and policies but because most of its contents would appeal to a broad audience in Spain and Latin America.


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