Wednesday, February 01, 2012

civil persecution in the name of freedom of religion

Religious freedom is precious to Friends so when people begin complaining that theirs is being compromised our ears perk up.

I think that the Catholics who run hospitals currently complaining about the "unconstitutionality" of requiring them to follow federal law regarding birth control are confused about the concept.

Catholic hospitals, like all hospitals, are businesses.  They are not religious institutions.  Religion is incidental to the business.   Although people who run these businesses have the right to religious liberty, as do those who work there, the hospital, itself, does not.  The fact that a business, even a non-profit, is owned by a church does not mean that business can choose to ignore the laws that apply to all such businesses.

There are provisions to protect people who claim violation of conscience if they are required to dispense contraception.  The hospital, however, does not have a conscience--it has a business license.  If no one currently working for that business is willing to do work the law requires the hospital to do then the hospital has an obligation to hire people who are.

The Catholic church is not prohibited from hiring a priest who refuses to marry same sex couples, and cannot be required to hire one who will, but it cannot run a hospital that hires only doctors who refuse to treat patients simply because they are gay.  It's hospital--a business--not a church.

People most often think of freedom of religion as a way to protect churches from the state.  Actually, it's the other way around.   Most of the time it works (in so far as it does) to ensure freedom from religion, to keep the government from being corrupted into a tool one religious group can use to force others to conform to its orthodoxies.

And that's what's going on here.  Catholics want to run the businesses they own in such a way that they can refuse to provide services to those who don't live a Catholic life style, those who refuse to be a Catholic in form if not in content.

It's really a pretty clear cut example of why religion--all religion--needs to be kept out of civil government.

1 comment:

Daniel Wilcox said...

Hi Timothy,

On this, I do agree that the primary purpose in the U.S.(at least from Thomas Jefferson's perspective) is to protect the government from the church, a much needed historical corrective.

However, what about when government tries to force its ethical standard on people? Would you support the right of our government to require Catholic hospitals to perform abortions? To require hospitals to not allow parents who come to their birthing clinic if they have more than two babies?
Or require said hospitals to not treat a minority race? etc.

Also, I am not sure I agree with you that a religious hospital is the same as a secular business. This sounds too much like the kind of argument that has also been used in regard to religious schools.

I realize this gets the cases of R.C., Islam, southern Protestants, which have and do discriminate, etc. The government is to defend the rights of all

But generally, in my opinion, as bad as religion is, government usually is worse when it tries to force people to violate their conscience. In fact government is becoming way too intrusive in the U.S.

As good 'ol Thoreau said, "That government is best which governs least."