What is Truly Religious Freedom?

Tonight, at the Vigil Mass, the Roman Catholic Church begins the Fortnight for Freedom – a time for Catholics to pray and act for protection of religious freedoms here in the USA. But what does this mean?

Well – the Bishops who planned it seem to feel that religious freedom means some immunity that would exempt religiously-affiliated institutions from complying with aspects of the HHS mandate that all other employers are required to comply with. In their eyes, it also includes opposition to the legal recognition of same-sex marriage.

But is that what religious freedom really means? Well – I’d say that it’s a very sad day when people in such high places in the hierarchy of the Holy Church have forgotten the distinction between the freedom to practice your own religion and the right to impose your religious views on others.

And this is an important distinction – because the very essence of what religious freedom means is that nobody else has the right to impose their religious views on you. How can that right be truly safe if you, on the other hand, are free to impose your religious views on others? The answer is – it can’t. If you want to keep your religious freedom in tact there is no way around accepting the responsibility to respect and honor the same right for others who’s religious views aren’t necessarily the same as yours. That is why it is important that when we as Catholics pray and act to protect religious freedom, we bear this in mind even though our very own Bishops are failing to do so.

How does this apply to the two issues I mentioned? For one thing, let’s start with the HHS mandate issue. Now, I agree with the view that the Church needs to stand up for the life of the unborn – and that includes opposing abortion. Of course, I also believe that this must start by ending the desperate conditions that prompt women to seek abortion – and that all other anti-abortion measures must (lest they be a most un-Christian hypocrisy) be imposed only once this is accomplished. But I won’t go into that – nor include it here in my arguments — because that would be off the topic of this blog-post. I also won’t go into how it’s high time that the Bishops get real about the fact that contraceptives (at least the true contraceptives that are designed to prevent conception) don’t destroy any life at all – born or unborn — because that, too, would be veering off topic.

Instead I’m going to focus on use of the “religious freedom” argument to deny an aspect of medical coverage that otherwise is required – be it rightly or wrongly required. And the issue is that an employee’s health coverage is part of that employee’s compensation for work done – and therefore must be under the jurisdiction of the employee’s religious conscience, not that of the employer.

I mean – just imagine what can follow if the precedent is set that allows an otherwise-mandatory aspect of medical coverage to be left out of a healthcare package because of the employer’s religious views! Does you believe that a Catholic who needs a blood transfusion on a life-or-death basis can rightly be denied coverage for it because the boss is a Jehovah’s Witness? Or maybe a Catholic who works for an employer who happens to be a “Christian” “Scientist” should be denied health coverage altogether – because they don’t believe in modern medicine.

Truth be told – you don’t want your employer imposing their religious views on your healthcare package. So what do you do? You refrain from imposing yours on the healthcare package of your employees – and drop the ridiculous complaint that being asked to do this in any way violates your religious freedom.

Then there’s the issue of the legal recognition of same-sex marriage. I won’t go into discussion on how the Church is betraying her mission by pushing discrimination against LGBT people, who (being among the oppressed) are among the very people whom the Church should be campaigning on behalf of — and I won’t go into that because, once again, that would be veering off the topic of this blog-post. Nor, for the same reason, will I be discussing how ludicrous it is to see same-sex marriage as the threat-du-jour to the more familiar opposite-sex marriage. Instead, I am going to be focusing on the issue of imposing your religious view on a legal institution that covers people who don’t even necessarily share your religious views to begin with.

I mean – say there are two Catholics in your parish who want to get married, one of then a man, the other a woman. Only one problem, the mother of the mother of the mother of the mother of one was Jewish, which makes that person Jewish too under Jewish law. The other has no Jewish ancestry whatsoever. That means that in Jewish eyes, this would be considered an intermarriage – which is both illicit and invalid under Jewish law. Does that mean that Jews are being persecuted if this marriage receives legal recognition? No, it does not. Jews are persecuted when synagogues are burnt to the ground on some nonsense notion of Jews having killed Jesus (despite clear records that it was Romans who did it) — but no, giving legal recognition to this marriage doesn’t count as persecution of Jews because (despite the Jewish ancestry of one of the members) this couple does not hold the Jewish religious beliefs.

Yes – everyone has the right to their views on what marriages are licit and valid before God. But nobody has the right to impose this religious view on others by denying legal recognition just because you hold a religious view against a coupling, because that religious view might not be shared by the couple in question.

So yes — I agree — Catholics (and everyone else) need to pray and act in protection of religious freedom – not just on this fortnight, but always. But we need to do so with a more sober understanding of what religious freedom means than what the Bishops are giving us.