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.
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