Morality vs. Religious Freedom

In the light of so much being said about the US healthcare ruling on birth control, I find myself pondering historical “moral” legislation.  It would seem that the people of the United States have a long history of defining what is moral and what is not.  By the very concept of “moral behavior” one must consider the relationship of religion on its definition.  Today’s debate on birth control seems to pit opposing definitions of what is morally responsible.  One side of the debate argues that it is immoral to not provide birth control equally to all women.  The other side claims that birth control, by its nature, is immoral.

This is not the first time that morality, and its connection to religious freedom, has been in the legislative focus of the United States.  Here is a short list of other “morally responsible” issues that have been debated. Some made it to law, some only to be overturned.

Polygamy, Gay Marriage, Interracial Marriage, Divorce, Marijuana, Peyote, Public School Mandates, Homeschool Rights, Alcohol Consumption, Voting Rights, Age of Consent, Immunization, Military Draft. I am sure the list goes on.

Let me state for the record, I personally support religious freedom and religious morality, but I also wonder who gets to decide what a “religion” is in order for it to be protected by the first ammendment.  As I belong to a faith that historically found itself to be under a state legislative order of extermination, I get anxious when religious fervor* becomes escalated to the point where it influences the legislative debate.

In a religiously free nation, I wonder if moral legislation should be defined by a consensus and not one religion’s precepts.  As the granddaughter (many generations removed) of polygamists who had to publically dissolve their marriages, I can sympathize with the Catholic plight on birth control.  However, I see the role of the government to be to govern all the people.  To do so, the rights, desires and practices of some are bound to be trampled on for the good of the whole. This is not a new practice, but is one at the very heart of avoiding chaos and most will agree that chaos is immoral.

End Note:  I am fully aware that many could use my final argument on chaos to support the ban on Gay Marriage, but I would point out that a broad definition of marriage is less chaotic than a plethora of terms to describe similar legal unions.

* See Also (on a lighter note): Spanish InquisitionCrusadesWitch Hunt, Birth Control Debate part 1, Birth Control Debate part 2

4 thoughts on “Morality vs. Religious Freedom

  1. Personally I think this was a tempest in a teapot.

    First of all- what was actually required here is that employers, including the tax-exempt catholic based hospitals, charities, schools, etc, which employ the general population- not just catholics, have their insurance cover birth control.

    Add to this the recent study from the Catholic University of America showing around 95% of catholics using birth controlm with 89% or so believing it was solely their right to choose. (I guess the other 6% accounts for the classic “catholic guilt”).

    Several states, new york and california among them already required this.

    How is this any different from laws affecting catholic/jewish/muslim/budhist owners of any other business? Once you hire outside of the faith, you loose your religious protection. These are businesses- not religious institutuions. And once again the church his hiding behind the constitution and screaming persecution.

    Personally- I feel it is time to end the power of the churches- and remove their tax exempt status. And prosecute them viguorously for violation of laws- I can think of no other business or organization that would receive such soft-gloved treatment over the pedophile priests as the catholic church has.

    • pioneerlady says:

      Thank you for your reply.

      It is interesting that you cited the Catholic University of America statistics, as I just read a good, although a bit boring, rebuttal of those statistics. Personally, I am not a big believer in statistics, as they are just too easy to skew.

      I am a big supporter of religion as a practice and as an institution. Based on your comments, I can assume that you agree that somethings do constitute “bad” vs. “good” and agree that laws need to protect people from the “bad”. I make this point because there is a growing world population that disagrees with the legality of moral laws. Be careful with wishing for less religious power. You don’t have to agree with them, but they do as a whole try to encourage more “good” in a troubled world.

      The problem with this birth control debate, is that it pits different moral beliefs. Neither is wrong and neither should be belittled. The real question the public should ask is whether it is really in our best interest to further subsidize birth control? Isn’t that why we have Planned Parenthood and other state and county clinics?

      Again I thank you for your post. – Pioneer Lady

  2. You make some interesting points.

    Who was it that said “Lies, damn lies, and statistics” ? Though I have seen a number of surveys of Catholics and while the numbers were probably within a margin of error- the catholic university numbers were on the lower side.

    I was raised catholic. and my parents are pretty devout. My parents started using birth control after I was born (no jokes please- and for the record I was the 2nd child). While I no longer pratice- I do still attend church with them a couple times a year. And I have noticed a huge change since the 70’s- namely the average family size dropping from 5 or more children to two or less. And while this may imply abstinence- I would wager it’s birth control.

    I will admit I do have some issues with religion. But to stay focused… I do not believe the catholic church- or any religion, has the right to force their beliefs on others who work for their businesses- especially in an economy where often one must choose between accepting something, or possibly being unemployed for quite some time.

    As to the comment about “isn’t that why we have planned parenthood” – I will say I know many women, including Catholics, who will not use planned parenthood or other similar groups due to the abortion issue- but will use their insurance company. I will also say that, right or wrong, I know women who rely on birth control from their insurance- because their husband is against it and controls the purse springs. And while it a ecision that should be made by both, ultimately it is the woman who can get pregnant- and as we see all to often- men all to frequently abandon their responsibility.

    But I think Obama did a good job of working out a mutually acceptable compromise.

    • pioneerlady says:

      Excellent point about the aversion to Planned Parenthood, controlled pocket books and benefit of insurance.

      One point that I think keeps getting overlooked is that while we are in a recession, the need for medical personnel is still in high demand. I would hate to be the institution that did not offer these benefits while everyone else did. They may find themselves short on staff. Taking a hard stand, could be costly in many ways. As for the president’s compromise, I agree that he did the best he could with the situation he faced. While I understand how other’s will disagree, I worry that continued fervor may result in a backlash they are unprepared to face. Without a concrete “bad guy” to hate, the populous seems ready to make one. I hope that the Catholic Church, does not become the focus of the next populous witch hunt. The people don’t deserve it.

      Oh and I am a middle child, so it was my brothers that made my parents stop, not me. 🙂

      And check back tomorrow for a short entry on the separation of church and state.

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