"Religious freedom" changing from freedom of religious
beliefs to freedom to hate, control, and discriminate.
Concern by U.S. Catholic church about limits on their
freedom and liberty to discriminate & control others.
2011: Conflict between Catholic Church and federal government over health plans:
The Roman Catholic Church is not only a religious institution, but is also an large employer of staff within their affiliated hospitals, social service agencies, etc. The health insurance plans paid for by the Church and provided to its employees are a fertile ground for conflict between the needs & wishes of the employees and the teachings of the Church -- typically those teachings related to human sexuality. Surveys have indicated that Catholic laity use birth control at approximately the same rate as the general population. The rate of abortions by members of the Church appears to be equal or slightly higher than that among the general population. Both practices are forbidden by the Church even if needed to prevent a woman's death.
During 2011, the Church organized an Ad Hoc Committee on Religious Liberty. It consists of ten bishops with a staff of three. The committee was partly in response by a new rule by the Federal Government's Department of Health and Human Services. The rule requires employee health plans to provide what the Church calls "preventive services" including contraceptive supplies with no co-pay by the employee. Thus, if an employee chose to use birth control to limit the size of their family, the Church would indirectly pay for those supplies or medication. 1
The new rule appears to be a response to a plank in President Obama's 2008 election platform to reduce the number of abortions in the U.S. by reducing the number of unwanted and unexpected pregnancies. About 40% of such pregnancies in the U.S. are terminated by abortion. By improving access to birth control, the government appears to reason that unwanted pregnancies would decrease and thus abortion rates would also decline. However, the Church teaches that the use of artificial contraceptives are a grave sin that can easily rise to the level of a personal mortal sin and relegate the user to eternal torture in Hell after death. The Church teaches that every act of sexual intercourse must be open to conception, regardless of the wishes of the couple involved. The only methods acceptable to the Church for a couple to intentionally control the number of their children are various abstinence programs. Birth control pills, or the use of condoms, diaphragms, or IUDs are forbidden.
Thus, the conflict arises:
- The church would like an improved exemption from the Health and Human Services rule for religious institutions and their affiliated groups so that they would not have to indirectly pay for "preventive services." There is currently an exemption for religious institutions, but it does not extend to Catholic hospitals, agencies, etc. that are affiliated with the Church. 2
- The government would like all employee health insurance plans to pay for these services.
- Probably close to 100% of employees who choose to use birth control would prefer their health insurance plans to pay for "preventive services" with no co-pay.
Obviously, not everyone involved can get their wishes granted.
Further developments on this topic.
Other conflicts over Church activities:
Other points of serious conflict in recent years have involved:
- The merger of secular hospitals with Catholic hospitals. This is typically immediately followed by the termination of reproductive health services, such as sterilization procedures, abortion services, family planning services, prescription of the "morning after pill," services for transgender individuals, etc.
- Church-affiliated adoption and foster care services. Catholic teaching requires that same-sex couples be discriminated against as potential adoptive or foster parents. These conflicts are particularly common in those states like Illinois and Massachusetts that have recently legalized same-sex marriages or civil unions. The Church has typically responded by disaffiliating its agencies or closing them down. The Church considers homosexual orientation to be a disordered state, and sexual acts between persons of the same gender to be a grave sin that can easily rise to the level of a mortal sin with serious consequences to the participants' immortal souls.
of the New York Times reported on Bishop Lori's speech at the USCCB's annual meeting in Baltimore, MD on 2011-NOV. He is chairperson of the Ad Hoc Committee. She wrote:
"... in an impassioned address to the prelates, Bishop William E. Lori of Bridgeport, ... said the church would urge priests and laypeople to take up the religious liberty cause. Bishop Lori said that in states like Illinois and Massachusetts, and in the District of Columbia, Catholic agencies that received state financing had been forced to stop offering adoption and foster care services because those states required them to help same-sex couples to adopt, just as they helped heterosexual couples."
"Bishop Lori said in his speech, 'The services which the Catholic Church and other denominations provide are more crucial than ever, but it is becoming more and more difficult for us to deliver these services in a manner that respects the very faith that impels us to provide them'." 2
The Church believes that the principle of separation of church and state as implied in the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution should give it immunity from:
- Human rights legislation that prohibits discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation, and
- Rules like that of the Department of Health and Human Services concerning "preventive services."
Other statements by the Catholic Church's hierarchy:
Some comments in which church leaders interpreted conflicts as restrictions on the church's religious freedom:
- When the Ad Hoc Committee on Religious Liberty was launched in 2011-JUN, Timothy Dolan, the Archbishop of New York and president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) interpreted the new health insurance rule as an infringement on the Church's religious freedom to control the sexual behavior of their employees in affiliated groups. He said:
"Never before have we faced this kind of challenge to our ability to engage in the public square as people of faith and as a service provider. If we do not act now, the consequence will be grave."
- Bishop William E. Lori, chairperson of the Ad Hoc Committee, testified at the House Judiciary Committee's Subcommittee on the Constitution during 2011-OCT. He linked the movement towards equality of lesbians, gays, bisexuals and transgender persons and attempts to access reproductive services as:
"... serious threats to religious liberty [that] ... represent only the most recent instances in a broader trend of erosion of religious liberty in the United States."
He continued by saying that the problem is like a disease that must be treated immediately:
"... lest the disease spread so quickly that the patient is overcome before the ultimate cure can be formulated and delivered."
- At the USCCB's annual meeting in Baltimore, MD during 2011-NOV, Archbishop Dolan told reporters that:
"We see in our culture a drive to neuter religion ... well-financed, well-oiled sectors ... [are attempting to] push religion back into the sacristy."
- Timothy Dolan is Cardinal of New York and president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB). He responded to:
- a Health and Human Services' mandate to allow some Church employees to freely decide whether to use contraceptives,
- to the use of embryonic stem cells in research,
- to the federal government's legal justification for torturing prisoners, and
- to support of marriage for loving, committed same-sex couples.
"In only the past few years, we've experienced rampant disregard for religious beliefs in this country. ..."
"We can see that there is a loss here of a sense of truth and objective moral norms—rules of conduct that apply always, to everyone, everywhere—an infringement of religious liberty and an 'eclipse of the sense of God and of man." 3
Reactions by advocacy groups:
Louise Melling, deputy legal director of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), refers to the Bishops' actions as:
"... really trying to put a spin on what’s happening, and they’re hoping that they can convince people that their rights are the ones being violated. ... [This argument is] ... not true as a matter of constitutional law on religion. It masks entirely what’s going on. ... What they’re really asking for is to use religion to discriminate and they’re asking that they not have to comply with laws at the expense of peoples’ health and equality and well-being." 1
John Gehring, Catholic outreach coordinator with Faith in Public Life, a liberal religious advocacy group in Washington, said,
"Some liberal Catholic commentators have criticized the bishops’ priorities, saying they are playing into the culture wars. The bishops speak in hushed tones when it comes to poverty and economic justice issues, and use a big megaphone when it comes to abortion and religious liberty issues." 2
Ms. Melling is taking a secular approach to the conflict. The Roman Catholic hierarchy teaches that one's eventual eternal destiny after death is totally dependent upon one's precise condition at the time of their death. If weighted down by unconfessed activities that the Church considers to be mortal sin, such as having murdered someone, assaulted a priest, kidnapped someone, or engaged in masturbation, pre-marital sex, the use of birth control, same-gender sexual behavior, etc. at sometime during their life, then their eternal destination will be the torture chambers of Hell. The Church apparently feels that a good case can be made that intrusions into the freedom of church members and employees, including restrictions on their activities, etc. is a moral act, if it saves its members from that horrendous fate.
The following information sources were used to prepare and update the above
essay. The hyperlinks are not necessarily still active today.
- Sarah Posner, "In 2012 Bishops Join Fight to Repackage Discrimination as 'Religious Freedom'," Religion Dispatches, 2012-JAN-02, at: http://www.religiondispatches.org/
- Laurie Goodstein, "Bishops open 'Religious Liberty' drive," New York Times, 2011-NOV-14, at: http://www.nytimes.com/
- Rachel Zoll, "Bishops take religious freedom fight to each state," Associated Press, 2012-JUN-21, at: http://abcnews.go.com/
Copyright © 2012 by Ontario Consultants on
Originally written: 2012-JAN-04
Latest update: 2012-JUN-30
Author: B.A. Robinson