Religion: How ABC Loathes Thee

The May 14episode of ABC's drama, Boston Legal, smeared many religions as bigoted and irrational in a tale about a woman suing the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Boston for gender discrimination because she couldn't become a priest. 

The woman wasn't demanding a court-mandated ordination, but rather a denial of the Archdiocese's “tax-exempt status if they continue to discriminate.”  Her argument rested upon a real-life case brought against BobJonesUniversity, “a religious educational institution” that lost its tax-exempt status because it did not allow interracial dating or marriage. 

Lawyer Carl Sack equated the Catholic Church's stance on women in leadership roles to Jim Crow laws while cross-examining a priest:  

PRIEST: We certainly teach that men and women are equal. But... but they have different roles that are divinely bestowed. This is an authoritarian teaching called complementarity.

CARL SACK: Complementarity?

PRIEST: Yes. It's not sexism. We believe in the plan of God. Men and women complement each other, and thereby occupy different positions.

SACK: Separate but equal?

Sack also swiped at Catholic doctrine regarding homosexuality and diminished Jesus Christ while trying to prove that doctrine can change to reflect public opinion:

…The church once defended slavery as willed by God -- you modified that doctrine. Then there was the persecution of witches, you know, with the big rocks... (whispers) torture. (Normal voice) And let's not forget the crimes of the Inquisition. All of those were Catholic Church doctrines adjusted according to popular opinion. And let's not forget that you once condemned homosexuality as an intrinsic and moral evil, but--oh, wait. That one still stands. Your holiness, I have great respect and well, appreciation for the Catholic Church. How could I not? After all, I'm a Jew. You made one of ours almighty.

The Catholic Church defended slavery?  Haven't heard that one before, but if it's true, it happened centuries ago – and Boston Legal's writers gloss over the Catholic Church's lengthy record of opposing slavery.

While it was open season on Catholics, Boston Legal's writers, through the voice of their character, Sack, proved to be equal-opportunity offenders by attacking a variety of religions:

It's not just the Catholics. Orthodox Judaism segregates men and women in the synagogue. Girls have to sit in the back or the balcony. They also don't allow women to be rabbis. Islam--forget about it. They don't even let women show their faces. The ugly fact is that we're okay with bigotry in this country as long as it's cloaked in faith. And the prejudice isn't limited to women. You think we'll ever eliminate gay bashing while giving tax breaks to institutions who declare that homosexuality is a moral sin, an evil? Whether it's persecution of the Christians in ancient Rome or the holocaust during World War II or Bosnia today, where we have an ethnic genocide in progress, religion has a mean legacy.

And of course, Hollywood can't talk about religion and homosexuality without dragging out its favorite evangelical bogeymen, Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson.  Sack continued:

Pat Robertson. He's a popular guy. He referred to Presbyterians and Episcopalians and Methodists as the spirit of antichrist. He's also rumored to have blamed Katrina on the fact that Ellen DeGeneres-- a lesbian-- lived in New Orleans. Jerry Falwell said that 9/11 happened because of God's wrath against homosexuals. (Sighs) I'm a spiritual man. I go to temple. I pray. I believe in God. But we cannot deny that religion is one place where we allow hate and oppression and discrimination to fester as it seeks safe haven in the Constitution.

The writers even use the closing argument by the lawyer defending the archdiocese to marginalize religious beliefs:

Does it really make sense that God got mad at the human race and drowned them all, including children and all the animals except two of each, which survived on a big boat?  Do Christians literally believe the earth was made in seven days?  Religion – some of it is out there.

With a defense like that, is it any wonder the judge ruled in favor of eliminating the tax-exempt status of the archdiocese? 

Colleen Raezler is a research assistant at the Culture and Media Institute, a division of the MediaResearchCenter