It’s the twenty-first century, and America is still debating contraception. Not even abortion, but contraception. The Obama Administration wants all employers, including religious organizations, to provide their workers with health care that includes access to birth control — and religious conservatives cry foul? Fine. The president proposes an utterly sensible compromise:
So religious concerns are acknowledged because faith-based organizations are no longer required to pay for contraception coverage — which will nevertheless be made available by private insurers as an option to all women, as a matter of health care and human rights.
Everyone happy now? Not a chance. Now the religious right is accusing the president of attacking “religious freedom.” Because, apparently, the right to your beliefs includes the right to impose those beliefs on others, and trumps the universal rights of diverse citizens in a supposedly non-theocratic society.
Skeptical blogger (and reformed evangelical) Libby Anne offers the clearest, most spot-on response to the religious right that I’ve seen so far:
Religious freedom means you are free to believe as you like. It does not, however, mean that you are free to do as you like. Here are some examples:
You are free to believe that infant sacrifice is the only thing that will appease the anger of the gods, but you are not free to sacrifice infants.
You are free to believe that God has ordained that the races must remain separate, but you are not free to refuse to serve interracial couples at your restaurant.
You are free to believe that fornicators and adulterers should be put to death, but you are not free to stone them.
You are free to believe that abortion doctors murder babies, but you are not free to assassinate abortion doctors or blow up abortion clinics.
And so on. The point is that while you are free to believe what you like, you are not free to do what you like if that action will harm others or violate the rights of others. [...]
Believe what you like, but don’t use your beliefs to justify violating the rights of others and then think “religious freedom” is some sort of get out of jail free card. It isn’t.
I’d add that, along with freedom of belief, religious groups also have freedom of speech — the freedom to preach from the pulpit, to go on talk shows and post on social networks and publish books, to argue their case in the marketplace of ideas and try to convince their listeners to think and act their way. The priests are free to try to persuade women to reject options like contraception. But the minute they bully legislators into taking that option off the table, that’s no longer a defense of “religious freedom.” That’s a violation of women’s rights. It’s brazen and it’s despicable and it is wrong.
Andrew Sullivan, a devout Catholic himself, exposes the Catholic leadership’s hypocrisy on this issue:
They’ve been dominating the news, haven’t they? And they are prepared to go down screaming over contraception in health insurance plans handled between patient and insurer. [...]
But ask yourself: where were they on a much more fundamental cause for Catholics: universal healthcare? Were they anything like as vocal?
Where were they when the Bush administration was practizing and authorizing the torture and abuse and robbing of human dignity of terror suspects? The Pope never obliquely mentioned these categorical evils when visiting the US and cozying up to the war criminals in the Bush administration?
Where have they been on tackling climate change — a sacred obligation for Catholics according to the Pope they follow so fanatically?
Why so utterly fixated on sex, especially the sex lives of women and gay men? Why so utterly indifferent to the whole range of public policies which Catholic orthodoxy has strong views on?
This kind of rhetoric is not about protecting religious freedom. It is about imposing a particular religious doctrine on those who don’t share it as a condition for general employment utterly unrelated to religion at all. And if that is the hill the Catholic hierarchy and evangelical right want to fight and die on, they will lose — and lose badly.
This is when I almost wish there were an afterlife, so that the ghost of Christopher Hitchens could return from beyond and smack these hateful fanatics down.
(Image via Feminist Majority Foundation)