Lately there has been much complaining from certain quarters that ‘religious freedom’ is being infringed. I suppose that there is a case to be made… if those doing the complaining are Muslims. There have been widely reported instances of NIMBYism* when it comes to proposed building of mosques, or in one famous case, a community center.
Curiously, it is not Muslims who are complaining about trampling of religious rights, but rather Catholics and other Christians of a conservative stripe. And by Catholics, I do not mean regular members of the Roman Catholic Church, parishioners or worshippers. No, I mean the leaders. I mean the exclusively male members of the hierarchy.
In fact, rank-and-file Catholics frequently and routinely disregard or even defy the pronouncements of the leadership. For example, the Church (i.e., the hierarchy) has an official position on capital punishment, but members are split on the issue. Politicians of the Catholic faith who favor capital punishment are seldom called to account by the Church. When it comes to the issue of abortion, however, the Church has threatened excommunication to its office-seeking or office–holding members who don’t share its hard-line position.
Most prominently in recent months, and most pertinently for my writing, is the issue of birth control pills. Per polling, 98% of Catholic women of childbearing age use birth-control methods disapproved by Church doctrine, compared to 99% of the general population. The Catholic Church hierarchy can make doctrine and policy and rules all they want, but their members apparently do not feel particularly bound by it. They make choices as to when and whether to be followers and let their own consciences be their guides.
However, in the name of religious freedom, they (leaders) are not content to impose their doctrine on their own not-really-under-their-control members. No, they want to inflict their religious views on their employees of affiliated institutions – such as hospitals and colleges – whether or not those employees share their faith. Never mind that the cost of birth control coverage on health insurance policies has been taken up willingly by the insurers; that’s not good enough for the Church leaders. And never mind that they are, in fact, exempt from providing that coverage to church employees. This is a labor law (that they didn’t resist in 28 states where it already exists) that they want to break.
So the ‘freedom under attack,’ per their reasoning, is the freedom to impose their religion on people who work for them. So what then becomes of the religious freedom of those employees? Why does the boss’s religion win the day?
If your boss is a Seventh Day Adventist, could you be refused insurance coverage for treatment on a Saturday? If your boss is a Scientologist, could you be denied psychiatric care? If your boss is a Jehovah’s Witness, could you be denied a blood transfusion? Or a life-saving organ transplant?
As if denial of coverage for certain medical treatments on the grounds of religious objection were not enough of an overreach, some legislators proposed extending grounds for objection to moral ones. So an employer does not need to be a Catholic to deny birth control pills or IUDs to women: He or she could be any kind of Puritan with an inclination to pass moral judgment. An employer could deny coverage for treatment of Type 2 Diabetes on the grounds that the employee’s own lifestyle choices contributed to the manifestation of the disease.
For that matter, under a ‘moral objection’ clause, an employer could deny prenatal and maternity coverage for an employee (or spouse) who already has two or more children. The boss could have a moral objection to subsidizing the worker’s irresponsible reproductive choices. Maybe the boss could even require an abortion!
Okay, the required abortion scenario is highly unlikely. But I still want medical decisions to be made between patients and doctors, and I kindly thank medical insurers for respecting that. And, importantly, I believe input on my medical issues from my employer to be unwarranted, unwanted, and inappropriate. In fact, I find my boss’s nose in my medical business to be morally objectionable.
*NIMBY is an acronym for “Not In My Back Yard.”