In a religious freedom/liberty conflict among religious
employers, employees, and students, who wins?
The "Fortnight for Freedom" campaign
The Catholic Church's "Fortnight for Freedom" campaign:
- 2012-JUN-21: Catholic Bishops launches "Fortnight for Freedom" campaign: U.S. Catholic bishops have organized a campaign to fight what they regard as an attack by the government on the Church's religious liberty. It will last 14 days, starting with an opening mass on the vigil of the Feasts of St. John Fisher and St. Thomas More on JUN-21. It will end with a closing mass on Independence Day, JUL-04.
The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops states on their web site in an undated message:
"Our liturgical calendar celebrates a series of great martyrs who remained faithful in the face of persecution by political power -- St. John Fisher and St. Thomas More, St. John the Baptist, SS. Peter and Paul, and the First Martyrs of the Church of Rome. Culminating on Independence Day, this special period of prayer, study, catechesis, and public action will emphasize both our Christian and American heritage of liberty. Dioceses and parishes around the country have scheduled special events that support a great national campaign of teaching and witness for religious liberty. 3
They offer a "Prayer for the protection of religious liberty," which states in part:
"We ask you to bless us in our vigilance for the gift of religious liberty.
Give us the strength of mind and heart
to readily defend our freedoms when they are threatened; give us courage in making our voices heard
on behalf of the rights of your Church
and the freedom of conscience of all people of faith."
It may be significant that the rights of the Church take precedence over those of individuals. It also appears to negate the freedom of conscience of people who are unaffiliated with a religion. We call these individuals the "None of the Above" or "NOTAs" However, the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution guarantees the freedom of religion to everyone,
The campaign is focused on opposition to the HHS' requirement that church-affiliated hospitals, colleges, schools, social service organizations, etc. must extend to their employees the freedom to obtain birth control supplies as part of their health insurance plans, with no co-pays. The bishops want the religious freedom and liberty to control the personal decisions of their employees on moral, ethical and medical matters.
Archbishop William Lori of Baltimore is the Chairperson of the Ad Hoc Committee for Religious Liberty. He presided over the opening mass at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Assumption in Baltimore, MD. The mass was nationally televised on the Eternal Word Television Network (EWTN). He said that the HHS mandate:
"... will force conscientious private employers to violate their consciences [by making them offer] reproductive services that are morally objectionable. ... Friends: we must not allow the government -- any government, of any time, of any party -- to impose such a restrictive definition on our beloved church or any church."
His statement appears to be in error. Employers are not offering reproductive services to their employees. It is the insurance companies that will be making the offer in accordance with the HHS mandate. It is the individual employee who makes the decision whether to obtain a prescription for contraceptives. If she decides to use birth control, as 98% of Catholic women have done in the past and 70% currently do, 4,5 only the employee, her physician, and the insurance company are impacted. The employer
is not involved. The employer does not pay more to fund an employee who uses birth control, nor does the employer pay less to fund an employee who decides not to use birth control.
A new organization, the Catholic Association, has prepared a TV ad that is being featured on Fox News. According to the Los Angeles Times, the ad:
"... depicts the Catholic faithful and makes the point that faith is practiced outside churches, not just in the pews. Although it doesn’t mention the president by name, it features a glowering photo of Obama and a narrator intoning, 'We will defend our right to practice our faith, free from government coercion'." 1
Rev. Thomas Reese is a Catholic priest and a senior fellow at the Woodstock Theological Center at Georgetown University in Washington, DC. It is the oldest Jesuit and Catholic university in the U.S. He speculated on the effects that the Fortnight for Freedom program will have on President Obama's campaign for re-election. He said:
"It depends on how you think the campaign is going to be run. If the campaign is all about energizing the base and getting them to vote, who cares what the bishops think? If anything the issue could shore up support among those who see Obama standing up for women’s reproductive freedom. On the other hand, if you’re going after the independent swing voter, many of whom are Catholic, it doesn’t help the administration to have ... the bishops say negative things abut Obama." 1
- 2010-JUN-22: Guest writer Laura Murphy is director of the American Civil Liberties Union's Washington legislative office, Writing in the Washington Post she criticized the Fortnight for Freedom campaign. With both guns blazing, she wrote that it is:
"... a much-hyped campaign that purports to champion religious freedom, but in actuality distorts it by promoting the use of religion as a license to discriminate. The bishops have made headlines lately for their vociferous opposition to contraception. They argue that because Catholic doctrine opposes birth control, no woman should be guaranteed coverage of it in her health plan. But their agenda goes much further than contraception."
"Cardinal Timothy Dolan, who chairs the bishops’ conference, recently took the president to task for his support of marriage for same-sex couples, and the bishops have been forcefully advocating that Catholic agencies should be able to get government contracts while refusing to perform the required work. In other words, they believe that a Catholic charity that receives public funding to provide adoption licenses, for example, should be able to turn away otherwise qualified same-sex couples who want to provide loving homes to children in need. On all these fronts, the bishops claim that this is about religious liberty. Don’t be fooled. It’s about discrimination plain and simple. And it’s not the first time this has happened.
From the birth of the civil rights movement, some opponents of those rights argued that their religion required them to discriminate against others. Restaurants wanted out of laws requiring businesses that are open to the public to treat everyone equally regardless of race. They claimed that religion compelled them to segregate their establishments, and asserted that the First Amendment required the government to put civil rights laws aside." 2
She continued her theme by discussing:
- the miscegenation laws that prohibited interracial marriages,
- the defense of the institution of slavery, using biblical quotations,
- Excluding women from practicing law,
- Attempts by schools to be exempt from the Equal Pay Act because the Bible teaches that only men can be the head of the household.
- Religious schools firing unmarried teachers for being pregnant, and married teachers for using in-vitro fertilization to assist in becoming pregnant.
"Campaigns like the so-called 'Fortnight for Freedom' are all the more dangerous because they call upon and then distort the meaning of true religious liberty. We have the right to a government that neither promotes nor disparages religion generally, nor any faith, in particular. We have the absolute right to believe whatever we want about God, faith, and religion. And we have the right to act on our religious beliefs -– unless those actions harm others.
We can have the First Amendment and strong protections against discrimination. But we cannot allow the bishops or anyone else to redraft the terms of religious liberty according to the dictates of one set of religious beliefs. That would be the end of the First Amendment and religious freedom as we have all come to know it."
How you may have arrived here:
The following information sources were used to prepare and update the above
essay. The hyperlinks are not necessarily still active today.
- Mitchell Landsberg, "Catholic bishops step up protest of contraception coverage rule," Los Angeles Times, 2010-JUN-23, at: http://www.bendbulletin.com/
- Laura Murphy, "Fortnight for Freedom’ distorts true religious liberty," The Washington Post, 2010-JUN-22, at: http://www.washingtonpost.com/
- "Fortnight for Freedom, "United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, undated, at: http://www.usccb.org/
- "Most Catholic women use birth control banned by church," Reuters, 2011-APR-13, at: http://www.reuters.com/ [Interesting observation: on 2012-JUN-24, when we added this reference, Reuters indicated that "666 people recommended this" article.
- Rachel K. Jones and Joerg Dreweke, "Countering conventional wisdom: New evidence on religion and contraceptive use," Guttmacher Institute, 2011-APR, at: http://www.guttmacher.org/
- "Protecting Consciences," USCCB, 2012-JUN, at: http://www.usccb.org/
Copyright © 2012 by Ontario Consultants on Religious
Originally written: 2012-JUN-23
Latest update: 2012-JUN-27
Author: B.A. Robinson