21 May 2012

Freedom of Religion is Good. Freedom in General is Better.

I, and I can only assume the rest of the alumni of Notre Dame, just received a letter from ND's President which begins:
A Message from Father John Jenkins, C.S.C.,

Today the University of Notre Dame filed a lawsuit in U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Indiana regarding a recent mandate from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS). That mandate requires Notre Dame and similar religious organizations to provide in their insurance plans abortion-inducing drugs, contraceptives and sterilization procedures, which are contrary to Catholic teaching. The decision to file this lawsuit came after much deliberation, discussion and efforts to find a solution acceptable to the various parties.

Let me say very clearly what this lawsuit is not about: it is not about preventing women from having access to contraception, nor even about preventing the Government from providing such services. Many of our faculty, staff and students — both Catholic and non-Catholic — have made conscientious decisions to use contraceptives. As we assert the right to follow our conscience, we respect their right to follow theirs. And we believe that, if the Government wishes to provide such services, means are available that do not compel religious organizations to serve as its agents.
On the one hand, I'm glad that ND is apparently willing to go to bat over this. I had half expected them to be bought off with some sort of waiver or "accommodation." I also appreciate than Jenkins draws a distinction between the State doing something, and it forcing others to do that thing for them.

On the other hand, I think Jenkins misses the point. To be fair, I think most of society misses the point on this.

It's nice that Jenkins wants religious organizations to be free from compulsion on this issue. But what about everyone else? And what about other issues?

If this really was an issue of asserting your right to follow your conscience then it shouldn't matter if you're a religious organization or not. Religious people are not the only ones with consciences. The ability to make moral judgements for ourselves is a capacity granted to each and every person by Nature, or if you prefer, Nature's God. It has nothing at all to do with working at a religious institution.

If you run Saint Helen of the Blessed Shroud Orphanage and you don't think it's your responsibility to pick up the tab for your employees' progestin, that's fine. But if you run John's Sandwich Shop and you don't think it's your job to pick up the tab for your employees' adult children's contact lenses, that's also fine. I don't see how Jenkins concludes that compulsion is fine in the latter case but not the former.

Once upon a time a man could only be granted conscientious objector status if he was a member of a recognized peace church. Now we recognize that COs have moral agency in and of themselves, and not due to some other group affinity.

Freedom from compulsion on this issue — and all others! — should not by tied to religion. I am a moral actor, entitled to my own agency and decisions, whether or not I am part of an organized religious entity.

No comments:

Post a Comment