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