Posts Tagged religious freedom

Bishop Wester is Wrong: Religious Freedom is Not Under Attack

Yesterday, the Salt Lake Tribune published an op-ed from Bishop John C. Wester of the Catholic Diocese of Salt Lake City in which the Bishop claims:

More and more, I get the distinct impression that the voice of religion is not welcome in the public square. Even more troubling, it seems to me that the bedrock of religious freedom is being limited as our government wades into the dangerous waters of defining what is or is not a church.

The HHS definition of a church essentially creates a two-tiered structure — protecting the sanctuary while relegating works of charity to an inferior, unprotected status. For the Catholic Church, the works of charity we perform through our social service agencies, schools, and hospitals are deeply rooted in the beliefs we express in the sanctuary. To define us in any other way is to violate our right to practice what we preach.

With all due respect to Wester, he’s either being deliberately dishonest or disingenuous.  I’ll let you take a few moments and enjoy Stephen Colbert’s take down of the church’s position.  And interesting take on the contretemps at Andrew Sullivan’s blog reads, in part:

Birth control is for 98% of women the principal means of protecting a right central to their own liberty – the right to choose when to create a family. Chances are most women employed by Catholic universities and hospitals are part of the 98%. For these women, not having access to birth control renders a crucially important right meaningless.

Full insurance coverage is a critical part of the picture. Birth control is an expensive product – $81 a month is considered a steal with no contribution from your insurance, but that number still prices out many women. Even insurance plans that have copayscan be prohibitively pricey. Cheaper alternatives like condoms have significant failure rates. Insurance, overwhelmingly provided by employers in the American system, that covers birth control with no copays is a woman’s best bet.

Women’s freedom to control their reproductive lives should be, in my mind, a central value of a modern society.  It also touches on what John McGowan talked about in his book American Liberalism when he discussed effective freedom.  Denying access to or making access to contraception so complex and expensive as to effectively prohibit it is an attack on women’s effective freedom, on the ability of women to self realize their goals for themselves.

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Religious Rights and Wrongs

For a long time now, the ridiculous right has been ginning up pointless controversies over claims that religious people have the right to refuse to do their jobs on the basis of their faith.

From Rob Boston, at Talk to Action:

Stories abound in the media of “pro-life pharmacists” who refuse to fill birth-control prescriptions and Muslim taxi drivers who will not transport people carrying bottles of liquor. In one case, a Muslim grocery store clerk refused to ring up customers’ packages of bacon.

Are these legitimate religious freedom claims? Maybe and maybe not. The courts will sort that out. In any case, it’s important to remember that none of these services – the pharmacy, the taxi and the grocery store – is in the religion business. A house of worship is and thus can claim First Amendment protection.

I think Boston is being too nice. I don’t see these claims as legitimate religious freedom claims – I see them as an attempt by one person to impose their values on another. The woman going to the pharmacy being denied contraceptives is having her moral agency actively curtailed by someone who very likely has little actual knowledge of her life circumstances. I have heard accounts of rape victims being denied emergency contraception and forced to drive all over town to get it and is in fact suffering needlessly some so pharmacist can feel morally superior. The Muslim cabbies and clerks are equally fully of crap – and far more trivial.

The confusion these misguided religious zealots seem to suffer from is the distinction between their freedom to practice their faith as they see fit and forcing it on others. A clerk selling me bacon isn’t being forced to eat it – or even approve of me eating it. The pharmacist isn’t being asked to use por approve of contraception in his/her own life. Selling me a product in no way suggests you approve of me using it. In the case of the pharmacists, it’s difficult not to see such claims as sexist – I haven’t heard of pharmacists refusing to sell condoms to men but I have heard of them refusing to sell contraception to women.

If I go into the anti-choice Pregnancy Resource Center I won’t expect to get accurate information about contraception. However, if I go to Walgreen’s, I damn well better not get any crap about getting a legal prescription for contraception. If I go to a Halal or Kosher restaurant, I don’t expect to get bacon. By contrast, it’s on the menu at IHOP. If you get a job at IHOP, you better be prepared to serve bacon.

As same sex marriages become a more visible and ordinary social reality in the United States, conservatives argue they are losing their freedom to oppose same sex marriage – and worse, that they will be forced to engage in religious practices with which they disagree.

For example, the FRC and allied groups love to point to a case pending in Arizona that deals with a photography studio that is being sued because it denied services to a same-sex couple.

The Religious Right thinks this is a great horror story for their side, but they overlook one salient fact: a photography studio and a church are not equivalent entities from a legal perspective. Generally speaking, a secular business holds itself out as a “public accommodation” and pledges to serve all people. A church does no such thing. Churches, by dint of the First Amendment, have the right to refuse membership or services to anyone. Most businesses do not.

There was a time when blacks could not eat in certain restaurants, and when a wedding photographer could have refused service to an interracial couple. Anti-discrimination laws put a stop to that. Now, some gay-rights activists are arguing that secular businesses should be required to treat them equally as well. Such an argument might carry the day when applied to a business. It will fail every time when applied to a church.

There are other cases – for instance where a church is running a business – where the boundaries are less clear. If a church is running a reception center as a business, is it a public accommodation like any other business? Or should its status as a church owned entity provide it with protections? In some sense, though, these questions are already out there. Should the Deseret News be forced to accept advertising from an anti-Mormon group? Should a church run newspaper be forced to print wedding announcements for same sex couples if that church believes same sex marriage is wrong? If the church cites religious reasons and the same church refuses to recognize as valid, say, a marriage performed in a synagogue do they print announcements for Jewish couples? If so, the religious objection argument seems less valid. It’s a gray area.

But we’re not talking about employees in businesses run by churches. We’re talking about employees in secular businesses abusing their positions (and bullying customers) in that businesses and then justifying it on the grounds of their faith.


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