Freedom to Practice Religion is NOT the Freedom to Impose Religion

Beware Spin Doctors at Work

The definition of religious freedom is of significant importance today in the United States.  There seems to be quite a few different interpretations of what this phrase means.  It is worth taking a few minutes to hash this out.

The Catholic Church (and some other Christian Faiths) is claiming that their religious freedom is being violated in numerous different areas.  For the purposes of this blog, I am going to simplify the debate a bit and focus only on the HHS Mandate.  I have chosen that topic to discuss for the simple reason that it does seem to be the headlining issue on this score.

Numerous Catholic organizations have filed law suits against this mandate.  The basis for these lawsuits is that the mandate would violate the freedom of religion as it relates to Catholics.  The foundation for this argument is that it would violate the consciences of Catholics to be a part of any health care plan that would cover contraceptive services.  The Church is fully aware that they would not have to pay one cent of the cost in providing these services.  That is not enough for them.  The idea, of a Catholic organization being affiliated with these services as part of a comprehensive health care plan, is the main problem, as it violates the “consciences” of Catholics.

One of the organizations that has organized and helped to bring some of these lawsuits forward is The Becket Fund For Religious Liberty.  They have created a website with what they view as all of the pertinent information to their cases (and most of the other cases as well).  You can check that out here.  I see many issues what they are claiming as legitimate grievances.  I want to focus on the issue of “conscience”.  That word seems to be the “buzzword” that the Catholic leadership continues to use as a central theme of their complaint.  The following is from The Becket Fund’s website:

(5) What is the right of conscience?

James Madison famously said that conscience is “the most sacred of all property.” Conscience—particularly in the religious sense—is the right all of us have not to be forced by the government to violate our religion. It is a right that we have always recognized in this country—from religious exemptions for Quakers who could not fight in the military, to religious exemptions for those who could not work on certain days of the week, to religious exemptions for those who could not pledge allegiance to the flag, to religious exemptions for corrections workers who could not be involved in capital punishment, to religious exemptions for health-care personnel who could not be involved in abortions. It is a bedrock principle of our Constitution, our history, and our basic liberty.

There is a major problem with each and every example cited in that answer.  Each example involves an action on the part of the religious person in question.  A Quaker would have to fight/kill, an employee would need to go into work, someone would have to speak the pledge, a worker would need to be an active part of a capital punishment, a worker would need to be an active part of an abortion.  In each case someone is actively doing something—something that would violate their conscience.

This does not apply to the HHS Mandate.  No religious person has to actively do anything.  They are just being told that they cannot prevent someone else from doing something.  No Catholic is being forced to use contraceptive services. No Catholic is being forced to even pay for someone else to use contraceptive services.  There is no “action” that needs to be performed by any Catholic.  There exists no violation of conscience as defined by these lawsuits and The Becket Fund.

It is imperative that we not confuse the definition of freedom of religion.  The freedom of religion gives one the right to practice their religion—in many ways, as noted by the exemptions and examples stated in The Becket Fund’s answer.  Religions even have the right to preach and attempt to convert someone like me to their cause.  What they do not have the right to do is to force their religious views on others.  If the HHS Mandate is overturned that is exactly what will happen.  Millions of non-Catholic people will have their health coverage change simply because one religion (Catholic) dictated that be the case.

A commenter on my blog yesterday named Cephus (blogger at Bitchspot) made the comment that “r too many religious folk can’t differentiate between “freedom to practice religion” and “freedom to impose religion”. The two are functionally identical in their minds and therefore, if you infringe on one, you’re infringing on both”.  In this, I think he is very correct.  There is a major difference between the two.  The problem as I see it, is that the Catholic Church is purposefully clouding this issue through its propaganda and political campaign against the HHS Mandate.

It is up to those of us who object to the Church’s stance to fight to ensure that this “confusion” is not allowed to propagate.  Those of us who oppose the Church’s position need to take up the educational battle to stop the Church from spinning the definition of freedom of religion to suit their ends.

Thanks for Reading.  I look forward to your comments.


If you have a blog please feel free to promote it on my “Promote Your Blog” page above.

If you would like to share your story of how you became an atheist, please do that on my “Share your Atheism Story” forum.  Our stories may help to encourage others with similar feelings to know that life is more than just okay without god(s).

If you have not yet checked out’s Atheism Blogs….what are you waiting for?



11 thoughts on “Freedom to Practice Religion is NOT the Freedom to Impose Religion

  1. Cephus from Redlands, CA, United States

    The problem is, as I pointed out yesterday, that in some religions, particularly Christianity and Islam, forcing religion on everyone else *IS* a fundamental part of their religious practice. Any attempt to stop people from forcing their beliefs on everyone around them will be seen by many theists as a restriction on their religious practices. I don't know that you can get these people to separate one from the other.

    And, of course, you get big organizations like the Catholics who make use of this belief to get their way. I don't think for a second that the Catholic Church hierarchy believes this nonsense, but they know that if they make a big deal about it, they'll get all the wingnut theists coming out of the woodwork screaming about religious freedom.

    1. Sue Blue from White Swan, WA, United States

      Exactly. I was raised Seventh-Day Adventist, and their whole reason for existence (according to their mission statement) is to "spread the gospel to all mankind". They believe that until every human being on the planet has heard the Adventist version of the gospel, Jesus cannot return. In spite of the fact that this is obviously a futile mission, that's their primary goal. With evangelism such an integral part of most christian sects, it's no wonder that they chant "there's no such thing as freedom FROM religion in America" like a mantra. I get this argument all the time when they are confronted by my atheism. Religious freedom to them means being able to believe in and promote their version of God – not our right to NOT believe.

      1. Cephus from Redlands, CA, United States

        Nah, it really doesn't apply to Jews. Fundamentalist Christians only care about the Jews for one reason: Israel is a material component in their world-ending Summon Jesus spell. They only want to keep Israel around long enough for God to destroy it utterly and kill everyone living there.

          1. Cephus from Redlands, CA, United States

            That's because they think Jews are just misguided, not wrong. Sooner or later, the Jews will either come around to Christian thinking or they'll roast. Especially the fundamentalists rely on the second thing happening, they can pat the Jews on the head and play nice until then.

  2. Grundy from Dacula, GA, United States

    If the Catholic Church made a good enough case against contraception, it wouldn't have to worry about it's congregation using contraception…but it doesn't, so they do.

    The petition against the mandate is an admission of the church that they have no control over the actions of their employees, much less their congregation.

  3. fester60613 from Binghamton, NY, United States

    "…the Catholic Church is purposefully clouding this issue through its propaganda and political campaign against the HHS Mandate."
    Correct. What I cannot discern is the church's *purpose* in clouding the issue – other than to claim anti-Catholic discrimination… which is ridiculous.
    All I can think of is that the church believes it can repair the damage it's done to itself (through the sex-abuse scandals and anti-gay and anti-women campaigns) by garnering sympathy … ?
    Or is it merely a distraction from some other, larger purpose?
    Regardless, the church makes no sense in any respect these days. It is a grievously damaged institution that seems determined to damage itself even further.

  4. Pingback: Freedom to Practice Religion is NOT the Freedom to Impose Religion | Reason Being « Religious Leaders: Misogyny is NOT a virtue! And Civil Law trumps your faith! from Plano, TX, United States

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>

CommentLuv badge