2012-02-10

 

Religious Freedom or Political Stance?

U.S. Catholic bishops argue that the requirement to cover birth control in insurance plans offered by employers, including religiously affiliated hospitals and universities, constrains Catholic religious freedom. When it is pointed out that a majority of Catholics use birth control, the Bishops respond that there are also Catholics in prison and otherwise sin in various ways. For the sake of theological integrity and purity, they argue, birth control is against the teachings of the Church. Therefore, by forcing Catholics to pay for birth control is an attack on their religious freedom.

Such an interpretation of scripture is certainly based on centuries of theological work, though not obviously a universal conclusion, since many theologians have reached an opposing view---several Christian denominations accept birth control. But what is interesting about the Bishop's position is how they make a strong issue of birth control, but do not consider much more direct attacks on the sanctity of life. From "Thou shalt not kill" to the possibility of salvation and eternal life, the sanctity of life is the most fundamental concept of Catholic faith. So how is it that despite the Church's adamant opposition to the death penalty, we do not hear U.S. Bishops protesting against forcing Catholics to pay taxes that go towards executing the death penalty (thus disrespecting the sanctity of life)? Are not Catholics being deprived of a much more fundamental religious freedom when they are forced to pay taxes to execute people? When U.S. Bishops supported George W. Bush over John Kerry, after the former had started an unnecessary war in Iraq leading to the death of many thousands of innocent people, was this not a denial of this most basic and central Catholic tenet of Catholic faith? By emphasizing the sanctity of sperm and ova, over the sanctity of living human beings, U.S. Bishops make a mockery of religious freedom and a disservice to Catholic faith.

Finally, one should add that in countries that are predominantly Catholic, such as Portugal, Spain and Italy, birth control is covered under universal health care programs. In other words, almost entirely Catholic societies are perfectly fine paying taxes for birth control. Bishops in these countries do not rise up against that circumstance, preferring to focus on Catholic concerns such as social injustice and sanctity of life. This highlights how much of a U.S. political issue the alleged attack on Catholic religious freedom really is. By focusing on birth control while disregarding more fundamental Catholic tenets, U.S. bishops engage in a political discourse that is hypocritical and can only ultimately taint the Church.


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