Culture & Religion
February Tue 14, 2012
The recent HHS ruling that would have required Catholic Institutions to purchase “health products” which they deem morally illicit -and the newer “accommodation” from the White House that would have them purchase them only indirectly (good try!) - have brought into the spotlight the question of religious freedom, a question which in many ways goes to the heart of the American soul. It is almost impossible to find anyone who doesn’t believe in “religious freedom,” which is why so many who couldn’t care less about contraception and abortion have joined hands together with the Catholic Church, and other religious authorities, against the ruling. It has been said over and over again that “it’s not about contraception (or abortion or sterilization), but about religious freedom.” At first glance, this seems to be true. And yet this begs the question about what exactly “religious freedom” consists in. Listening to the claims in favor of it, it would seem to be simply a matter of having space to hold and practice a set of tenets and moral prohibitions which are themselves nothing more than idiosyncratic (and irrational) “beliefs” (akin to belief in Santa Claus, or the prohibition on stepping on cracks in the sidewalk), none of which could hold any sway over anyone other than members of the religion itself. While religious freedom must also include such “private matters,” this very privatizing view of religion stands at the heart of the recent ruling against religious freedom which sees no reason why even a religiously inspired institution could implicate such “beliefs” in its public activity; but the same view also seems to underlie much of the defense in favor of religious freedom. Religious freedom is license to do and think what we will within our “free” little corner.And yet, with abortifacients, sterilization, and contraception, we are not talking about a ban on eating meat on Fridays during Lent, or fasting one hour before Mass (all reasonable practices, by the way, for those inside of Christianity). We are talking about something that the Catholic Church, (and most other Christian Churches until recently) claims to be a matter of the nature of health, which concerns everyone, in every society (regardless of who is supposed to guarantee it). Thus, if it refuses to become the direct (or indirect!) purveyor of “products and services” which would prevent the body from doing what it would do in a state of good health, and “take care of things” when it does manage to do it (“the morning after pill”), it is because it thinks that these have nothing to do with health - abortion not being healthy for anyone and pregnancy not being a disease! – and that, more importantly, they are at odds with it!
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