Fortnight For Freedom Is a Dangerous Sham. Let’s Celebrate Real Religious Freedom for All People


This summer, Americans of every faith and of none have been subjected to the propaganda machine of the US Conference of Catholic Bishops and their “Fortnight for Freedom” campaign. By all measures, the fortnight fell flat. There was no religious persecution to decry; Catholics were too busy living their lives and planning their summer vacations to show up en masse for the bishops’ rallies; and the Affordable Care Act, the threat to religious liberty (according to the bishops), was upheld by the Supreme Court.

What we know, and what the bishops missed, is that religious freedom deserves more than a fortnight — and it’s about protecting more than the interests of a small group of men whose demands don’t reflect the needs and desires of the people they claim to represent.

Throughout history, good people — religious and secular — have been harried, hunted and harmed because of their religion or in the name of someone else’s. Irish Catholics lost the right to worship, and many their lives and livelihoods, to the English crown merely because they were Catholic. European Jews, for no reason other than their faith, were persecuted for centuries, and the Shoah remains an appalling testament to the capacity of human cruelty and religious repression. But religious persecution isn’t only history. If you adhere to the Baha’i faith in Iran today, you live in fear, monitored by a government that has a history of arresting, torturing and killing members of your faith. In Indonesia, the refusal to confess a belief in God will land you, badly beaten, in prison—in 2012.

Today’s American Catholic bishops would have us think they are the latest victims of religious persecution. Their claims denigrate the suffering of those who know the true meaning of that term. A few powerful conservative religious leaders, not joined by the majority of their faith or even of all their fellow bishops, have opened their coffers to sue the government to allow them to force others to live by their rules and to deny them what everyone else is guaranteed by our society. This isn’t about religious liberty. It’s a sham. And a dangerous one.

It’s been said that perception is everything, and it’s a lesson some American Catholic bishops have taken to heart. Claiming religious persecution and wrapping yourself in a flag on the Fourth of July in an election year is sure to get you in the paper. It doesn’t make what you’re saying true. Having failed to convince Catholics, clergy and laity, that the use of birth control is a moral offense, the bishops have set their sights on the law that guarantees healthcare to all Americans, and some have also openly criticized the president who signed it. This is what the bishops’ campaign is really about. You can be sure their bogus claims about religious liberty will be fanned by those who share these and other more political and partisan concerns, especially as the election draws nearer. They’ll say it’s about religious freedom, but it’s up to all of us not to fall prey to the tawdry abuse of a principle that is dear to us.

It is the rights and health of men and women of every faith and of none that hang in the balance with the bishops’ latest grandstanding. When the demands of a powerful religious minority are privileged over the rights of every citizen in a society, the results are never good. We can expect the same if we acquiesce to the bishops’ demands. Hard-working families will not be able to afford contraception; with a shrinking safety net, more children will grow up in poverty. Victims of sex trafficking will not receive unbiased counseling and will endure a forced pregnancy. Lesbian, gay and transgender people will be refused jobs and services; committed couples will be denied the rights and benefits of marriage. Men and women won’t be able to get their prescriptions filled if their employer or pharmacist judges the use or provenance of the medicine immoral. People at risk of contracting or spreading HIV won’t learn that condoms can help save their lives and the lives of people they love. Women who need abortions, even to save their lives, will be turned away. This is not what Americans want, and it’s not what America is about.

This isn’t a battle for religious freedom — at least in the way the bishops and their allies have styled it. Religious liberty is, and should be, sacred to us all. Equal justice under the law should be more than a slogan. We know that one’s conscience must lead each person to a judgment about how to act, and that conscience must not be subverted by someone else’s demand. It’s up to our leaders in government to ensure that these principles, the freedoms each American is guaranteed, are not compromised for a political gain by an influential minority — even, perhaps especially, when that minority claims a religious mantle.

For far too long, too many people have enjoyed neither the freedom to believe as they choose nor the freedom from living according to others’ beliefs. On Independence Day, we recall the American promise of both of these freedoms—for every single person in this country. It would be a shame to throw away this ideal just to appease a few disgruntled clerics who think the rules shouldn’t apply to them.

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  • hoya05

    At least attempt to recognize that the nature of religious liberty is more complex than threat of death or martyrdom imposed by government. The people who founded our country placed more guarantees on freedom than simply promising not to kill people for freely exercising their conscience (quite a low bar to hold Obama to). Even if the courts rule against the bishops, it’s debates like this on which our nation was founded, and to minimize religious freedom issues like this article does is nothing more than delusion at best, deception at worst, to get an agenda passed.

  • jim-schumacher

    The conflict over contraception is not between church and state; it’s between religion and science. Scientific fact #1: Spacing births is necessary to avoid underweight or premature babies. Scientific fact #2: The rhythm method is one the least reliable of contraceptive methods.

    Society has an interest in encouraging people to have healthy babies.

  • hoya05

    There is no conflict between religion and science as put forth here- those adhering to the religious belief do NOT dispute the science- they know contraception stops babies. They know having babies makes people and helps continue their nation’s population in the future. They know it decreases cancer rates. (not so sure having kids close together necessarily makes premature babies…) At other times they put their own health at risk and that they and the kids could be healthier by only having one kid- or no kids- or spacing kids. But…they have a religious belief that tells them happiness lies in putting their trust in God and accepting His will rather than putting all their hope in their own plans (and rather than putting it in obama?)The point is that they would like the freedom to practice their religion in peace and not violate their conscience: thus, the church-state conflict. Promote healthful practices for babies, hopefully, yes. But, society has as much or more of a fundamental interest in protecting religious freedom AND in people actually reproducing…

  • jennifer-starr

    But…they have a religious belief that tells them happiness lies in putting their trust in God and accepting His will rather than putting all their hope in their own plans (and rather than putting it in obama?)The point is that they would like the freedom to practice their religion in peace and not violate their conscience: thus, the church-state conflict. 

    I’ve missed the part where the government is forcing these people to actually use contraception themselves. 

  • colleen

    But, society has as much or more of a fundamental interest in protecting religious freedom AND in people actually reproducing…

    Just because most women don’t like to have sex with social conservatives that does not mean most women will not have children.

    We prefer to have children with decent, non abusive men who don’t demand  a yearly pregnancy and a lifetime of constant, cheerful servility and submission.

     

     

  • cleanairmeister

    These religious overlords want to have the “freedom” to dictate and discriminate.

  • crowepps

    There is no conflict between religion and science as put forth here- those adhering to the religious belief do NOT dispute the science- they know contraception stops babies.

    Unfortunately, many ignorant religious people are under the impression that all contraception works by ‘killing babies’ when actually most of it works by preventing conception from occurring in the first place.

    They know having babies makes people and helps continue their nation’s population in the future.

    Having babies at the wrong time and in the wrong circumstances increases the number of poor and ignorant people.

    They know it decreases cancer rates. (not so sure having kids close together necessarily makes premature babies…)

    Teenage pregnancy is associated with a slight decrease in breast cancer rates — are you promoting teenage pregnancy?

    The science clearly shows that closely spaced pregnancies result in premature and disabled babies, as well as a higher stillbirth rate and a higher maternal mortality.  Didn’t you start your post out by asserting you were aware of the science?

    At other times they put their own health at risk and that they and the kids could be healthier by only having one kid- or no kids- or spacing kids. But…they have a religious belief that tells them happiness lies in putting their trust in God and accepting His will rather than putting all their hope in their own plans (and rather than putting it in obama?)

    So they put their trust in God and He rewards them by ruining their health and that of their children?  Maybe God helps instead those who use the brains He gave them?  Sounds to me like they are just afraid that any decision they make might be ‘wrong’ and so they are burying their ‘talents’ instead of putting them to work.

    The point is that they would like the freedom to practice their religion in peace and not violate their conscience: thus, the church-state conflict.

    I’m not aware of anyone who is forcing anyone to personally change their own actions regarding reproduction — rather they are being prevented from violating the religious freedom of others by forcing those who disagree with them to follow their peculiar religious practices.

    Promote healthful practices for babies, hopefully, yes. But, society has as much or more of a fundamental interest in protecting religious freedom AND in people actually reproducing…

    I just feel so sorry for the women raised in your cult.  “Promote healhful practices for babies” but if the women’s health is destroyed or they die of complications, no problem, there’s no reason for anguish in disposing of a mere ‘container’.  I also feel so sorry for the children born into your cult.  You make being a mother such an onerous burden for women that apparently none among you actually wants to have children.  Wouldn’t it be a wonderful thing for children to know that they exist because their mother WANTED to have them instead of her regarding them as something that she is ‘stuck with’ as the ‘consequence’ that punishes her for having sex?

  • crowepps

    “Freedom” for the Bishops to order others as they will – “Obedience” for the 99% whom they regard as mere peasants needing guidance.

  • catholic-defender

    The end game for Catholics is to save souls, including their own.  According to the Catholic Catechism,

    Title: CCC Search Result – Paragraph # 2272
    Keywords: -None-
    Description: -None-
    Body:

    2 Formal cooperation in an abortion constitutes a grave offense. The Church attaches the canonical penalty of excommunication to this crime against human life. “A person who procures a completed abortion incurs excommunication latae sententiae,” “by the very commission of the offense,” and subject to the conditions provided by Canon Law. The Church does not thereby intend to restrict the scope of mercy. Rather, she makes clear the gravity of the crime committed, the irreparable harm done to the innocent who is put to death, as well as to the parents and the whole of society

     

    The Catholic Church has been pro-life since its foundation.  If you don’t agree with a core belief of the Church, WHY DO YOU WANT TO BE CONSIDERED CATHOLIC? 

  • jennifer-starr

    I’m not sure who you’re talking to. Personally I don’t wish to be considered Catholic because I’m not–consequently I don’t wish to be compelled to follow your particular rules by being denied something which I have no moral objection to. 

  • jennifer-starr

    Newt and Callista Gingrich claim to be ‘devout Catholics’, though she was his mistress for a number of years. Interestingly enough, though she’s young enough to be his daughter, they have had no children. 

     

    Things that make you go ‘hmm’…..

  • dee-g

    You who claim to be Catholic are not – you are Protestant.  You do not believe what the Catholic Church teaches.  You are your own interpreters.  So, why do you claim to be Catholic?  If you do not believe in or adhere to the teachings of Jesus as given to us by his bishops (apostolic succession) through the Magisterium, you are NOT Catholic!

  • prochoiceferret

    You who claim to be Catholic are not – you are Protestant.  You do not believe what the Catholic Church teaches.  You are your own interpreters.  So, why do you claim to be Catholic?

     

    Because maybe the Catholic Church is wrong—as it has been in the past—and the claimers would like to set it straight again?

     

    If you do not believe in or adhere to the teachings of Jesus as given to us by his bishops (apostolic succession) through the Magisterium, you are NOT Catholic!

     

    You actually think that what the bishops are spouting is in line with what Christ taught?

  • prochoiceferret

    The end game for Catholics is to save souls, including their own.  According to the Catholic Catechism,

     

    Wait a second. Does this “Catholic Catechism” come from Christ, or from fallible human bishops?

     

    The Catholic Church has been pro-life since its foundation.  If you don’t agree with a core belief of the Church, WHY DO YOU WANT TO BE CONSIDERED CATHOLIC?

     

    Remind me… was the Spanish Inquisition before, or after the “foundation” of the Catholic Church?

  • ack

    The Catholic Church has been pro-life since its foundation

     

    The Church has changed its views on abortion throughout its history. It’s mostly been about sex for them, actually. At first, it treated it as evidence of sexual sin, which required penance, but didn’t care too much about the fetus. Later, it figured that abortion was totally ok up until ensoulment, and even then wasn’t homicide. According to everything I’ve read on the topic, the excommunication threat didn’t enter the picture until about 150 years ago.

     

     

     If you don’t agree with a core belief of the Church, WHY DO YOU WANT TO BE CONSIDERED CATHOLIC? 

     

    I could imagine that a lot of Catholics just don’t see abortion as a core belief. I grew up Catholic (confirmed and all) and I never heard a single priest, nun, or religion teacher mention it until recently, and even then, it was super vague.

     

    The actual core beliefs that differentiate Catholics from Protestants are much deeper than these controversial social issues. The belief that mortals can become so holy as to become saints, for instance. The belief in transsubstantiation. The worship of the Virgin Mary. The belief that good works are a result of free will, not divine providence.  The rituals. I can understand how people can hold onto all of those core differences while still thinking the bishops are wrong on certain issues. Perhaps the question is: why do you want to kick people out of the Church for disagreeing on a single position that no Pope has even declared as infallible?

  • crowepps

    Remind me… was the Spanish Inquisition before, or after the “foundation” of the Catholic Church?

    Surely the Roman Catholic Church was being established in 317 when Roman Christian sectarians filled the well outside the Donatist church in Carthage with the bodies of their Christian opponents, and cemented its grip on power between 372 C.E. and 444 C.E. through the huge extermination campaigns all over the Roman empire as it slaughtered those those holding to the Manichaean heresy, which shockingly asserted that it was Good for people to think!  As his post demonstrates, the RCC has done its best ever since to stamp THAT out!

  • cactus-wren

    I’m reminded of my favorite scene in L. Sprague de Camp’s Lest Darkness Fall.  The hero, a young American grad student named Martin Padway, is struck by an Auctorial Fiat in the streets of Rome and magically flung from 1938 to roughly the year 535.  There’s a bit where he falls into conversation in a tavern, with a man who asks him how he likes Rome:

    “Fine, so far,” said Padway.

    “Well, you haven’t seen anything,” said the man.  “It hasn’t been the same since the Goths came.”  He lowered his voice conspiratorially:  “Mark my words, it won’t be like this always, either!”

    “You don’t like the Goths?”

    “No!  Not with the persecution we have to put up with!”

    “Persecution?”  Padway raised his eyebrows.

    “Religious persecution.  We won’t stand for it forever.”

    “I thought the Goths let everybody worship as they pleased.”

    “That’s just it!  We Orthodox are forced to stand around and watch Arians and Monophysites and Nestorians and Jews going about their business unmolested, as if they owned the country.  If that isn’t persecution, I’d like to know what is!”

    “You mean that you’re persecuted because the heretics and such are not?”

    “Certainly, isn’t that obvious?  We won’t stand — What’s your religion, by the way?”

  • catholic-defender

    The Catechism of ther Catholic Church states as follows:

    2270 Human life must be respected and protected absolutely from the moment of conception. From the first moment of his existence, a human being must be recognized as having the rights of a person — among which is the inviolable right of every innocent being to life.(71)

    Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, and before you were born I consecrated you. (72)

    My frame was not hidden from you, when I was being made in secret, intricately wrought in the depths of the earth .(73)

    2271 Since the first century the Church has affirmed the moral evil of every procured abortion. This teaching has not changed and remains unchangeable. Direct abortion, that is to say, abortion willed either as an end or a means, is gravely contrary to the moral law:

    You shall not kill the embryo by abortion and shall not cause the newborn to perish .(74)

    God, the Lord of life, has entrusted to men the noble mission of safeguarding life, and men must carry it out in a manner worthy of themselves. Life must be protected with the utmost care from the moment of conception: abortion and infanticide are abominable crimes.(75)

    2272 Formal co-operation in an abortion constitutes a grave offence. The Church attaches the canonical penalty of excommunication to this crime against human life. ‘A person who procures a completed abortion incurs excommunication latae sententiae(76) ‘by the very commission of the offence’, (77) and subject to the conditions provided by Canon Law . (78) The Church does not thereby intend to restrict the scope of mercy. Rather, she makes clear the gravity of the crime committed, the irreparable harm done to the innocent who is put to death, as well as to the parents and the whole of society.

  • prochoiceferret

    The Catechism of ther Catholic Church states as follows:

     

    But it’s not Christ who actually stated all that, yes?

     

    2271 Since the first century the Church has affirmed the moral evil of every procured abortion. This teaching has not changed and remains unchangeable.

     

    Given that this is not what actual historians say, the Catechism appears to be a work of fiction… or at least wishful thinking.

     

    God, the Lord of life, has entrusted to men the noble mission of safeguarding life, and men must carry it out in a manner worthy of themselves. Life must be protected with the utmost care from the moment of conception: abortion and infanticide are abominable crimes.

     

    But not actual murder, it seems, with that whole Crusades and Inquisition thing…

     

    2272 Formal co-operation in an abortion constitutes a grave offence. The Church attaches the canonical penalty of excommunication to this crime against human life. ‘A person who procures a completed abortion incurs excommunication latae sententiae‘ ‘by the very commission of the offence’, and subject to the conditions provided by Canon Law . The Church does not thereby intend to restrict the scope of mercy. Rather, she makes clear the gravity of the crime committed, the irreparable harm done to the innocent who is put to death, as well as to the parents and the whole of society.

     

    Funny, I don’t see anything in there about trying to change civil law to reflect Catholic teaching.

  • jbarwilson

    “We know that one’s conscience must lead each person to a judgment about how to act, and that conscience must not be subverted by someone else’s demand.”

    Perfect reason for them not to comply.

  • jennifer-starr

    If you don’t wish to use contraception yourself, no one is making you. There. Conscience protected. 

  • jbarwilson

    True, they are not, but it is against my consience to provide the means to someone else.

  • prochoiceferret

    True, they are not, but it is against my consience to provide the means to someone else.

     

    Then I suggest you don’t pay your employees a salary.

  • jennifer-starr

    Poor old you, losing sleep over the uteri and reproductive choices of your employees. You don’t think that’s just a tad creepy? 

  • ack

    Then I suggest you don’t pay your employees a salary.

    This is the perfect example of the mental gymnastics people engage in when they’re opposed to contraceptive mandates. If you provide insurance to your employees, you aren’t directly paying for ANYTHING. No one is asking employers to have a bowl of condoms in the office or to have EC on hand. You’re contributing to a pot of money, as do the employees, which is then used to provide health care. In the same way, paying wages contributes to a pot of money in a household. That money is then used to provide all kinds of things, including contraception among those who use it. Furthermore, wages pay for all kinds of things that go against people’s religious beliefs. Catholic owned businesses are indirectly subsidizing rent and mortgages for unmarried couples engaging in pre-marital sex. They’re paying for nights out at gay bars. They’re contributing to pro-choice candidates. In all likelihood, they’re even (GASP!) paying for abortions.The fact that they’re complaining about contraception is an exercise not of religious freedom, but of spurious logic. Once that money leaves the employers’ account, whether it’s a payment to an insurance company or a paycheck to an employee, it’s not their money anymore.


    Considering the fact that the new mandate says that insurance companies, not employers, have to offer contraception, the argument becomes even more spurious.