Religious Freedom Subverted

The Supreme Court is hearing a case about religious freedom. A baker in Colorado refused to make a wedding cake for a gay couple, but state law bars discrimination based on race, religion, gender, or sexual orientation. Whose sincerely-held beliefs should prevail—those of the baker or gays?
Is the issue religious freedom or discrimination?

This case addresses the same issue that the court sent back to lower courts in 2016. The Little Sisters of the Poor did not comply with the Obama administration’s mandate to provide contraceptive services for their employees. Their name—Little Sisters of the Poor—made it easy for right-wingers to accuse Obama of bullying.

My sympathies lie with women employees too poor to pay for contraception and for whom pregnancy would be disastrous for medical or economic reasons. The Sisters apparently do not know that moral theologians on the birth control commission in 1967 advised Paul VI to change church doctrine banning contraception. The Little Sisters should be educated, not encouraged in their rigid orthodoxy.

Their case was settled by having the insurance company pay for contraception and the sisters didn’t have to offer it in their health plan. But Donald Trump became president, zealous to overturn Obama’s legacy. With encouragement of his administration, the Little Sisters contend their own religious freedom is violated because their workers have the freedom to practice birth control that the Sisters consider immoral. Their argument defies logic.

Another company, Hobby Lobby, claimed religious grounds for denying coverage for certain types of birth control they consider abortifacients. The Supreme Court, now right-leaning with the addition of Neil Gorsuch, ruled in favor of Hobby Lobby. All three women justices dissented along with Stephen Breyer.
Hobby Lobby’s health plans will continue to cover vasectomies and Viagra!

I deplore the triumphal crowing of Catholic bishops over this decision.  From the time the so-called religious rights issue arose, I have considered the bishops’ naming of it ironic. What they call “religious freedom” denies others the freedom to follow their conscience. That the bishops disagree with women’s conscience is irrelevant. It is not the bishops’ bodies or their finances at stake.

How would this issue have been handled if women had decision-making power? Or if lay men and women in the Church did? Answers to these questions clarify our thinking about it. If ultra-right moral police sincerely want to reduce the number of abortions, they will let women do it with contraception.

Like the Little Sisters, religious officials want the right to force their moral judgment on others with different moral views. They claim "the right to discriminate against any class of people" who disagree with them, writes Pat Perriello in National Catholic Reporter.

Whose sincerely-held beliefs should prevail? All sides were accommodated by having insurance companies pay for birth control. It is no burden for them because birth costs them more than preventing conception.

The issue is not religious freedom. It is discrimination.  


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