Letters & Op-Eds 2012

Religious freedom in the crosshairs of Catholic bishops

Who should publicly funded community health programs serve, other than the needs of the community? In a cunning sleight of hand, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, with the creation of its new Ad Hoc Committee for Religious Liberty, wants to redefine freedom of religion to mean that the bishops are allowed to impose their religious views on all Americans.

Archbishop Timothy Dolan, president of the conference, summed up the committee’s mission as a “compelling responsibility to proclaim the truth of religious freedom for all” against federal policies that represent an “assault” against religious liberty. In other words, the U.S. Catholic hierarchy is offering to interpret this foundational American concept for lawmakers and the rest of the nation. Five of the bishops’ six areas of concern are related to sex and sexuality, and the other seeks permission to discriminate in employment. None reflect the views of most Catholics, who put a primacy on conscience.

Ironically, the bishops want to weight the dice against the individual conscience when government contracts are handed out. Seventy-nine percent of U,S, Catholics believe that using condoms is pro-life, but the Ad Hoc Committee alleges that Catholic institutions are being discriminated against by requirements that condoms and other forms of contraception be offered by international relief programs. The bishops claim that Catholic charities stand to lose some of their multibillion-dollar budgets, but only because the hierarchy seeks a double standard: having access to government funding in the same way other social service organizations do, but not having to be held to the same standard of providing adequate services.

The bishops are happy to prevent employees of religious institutions and their dependents from securing the contraceptive coverage that other Americans enjoy, although 63 percent of Catholics support contraceptive coverage in both private and government insurance plans and 98 percent of sexually active Catholic women use contraception.

The bishops also want Catholic hospitals to be exempt from providing emergency contraception to victims of sexual violence. But polls show that 65 percent of American Catholic voters believe that hospitals and clinics that take taxpayer dollars should not be allowed to refuse to provide medical procedures or medications based on religious beliefs.

The same disregard for constituents’ needs is behind New Hampshire’s bill prohibiting contracts with organizations that provide abortion services – the state or the bishops both want to take the ability to make moral choices out of the hands of individuals. The public only stands to lose by having its freedoms doled out by bishops or legislators out of touch with their needs.

The real question is: why do the bishops feel their protests are necessary?

The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops would seem to be reaping all the advantages of the American system. Maybe the problem is how it uses its resources – trying to convince the government that up is down and discrimination in the name of religious freedom somehow deserves special government protection. If the bishops are dead set on redefining the values that Americans – both Catholic and non-Catholic alike – hold dear, the bishops have an uphill battle of their own devising.


This op=ed was originally published in The Concord Monitor.

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