In the last few days there has been a uproar regarding the Department of Health and Human Services decision to require employers, including church related service institutions including schools, universities and hospitals to provide FDA approved contraception in their health insurance benefits. Such benefits are already law in over half of the States of the United States. While many provide some exemptions for churches in eight States churches and related religious institutions receive no exemption in the State laws from contraception mandates.
The Roman Catholic Church as well as some Evangelicals such as Richard Land the President of the Southern Baptist Church have called this an assault on religious liberty. They have been joined by numerous politicians who with the exception of Rick Santorum seem more intent on using it as a rallying cry against President Obama because for years under Republican administrations they did not complain a bit about about this. It just seems disingenuous and I just have to wonder why now and not then?
However my purpose today is not to argue the particular merits of this case. I really don’t see it as a case of religious liberty but rather employment rights under the law which apply to all employers which religious institutions receive numerous exemptions that no secular employers receive in kind. Religious institutions receive tremendous amounts of tax exemptions, exemptions regarding employment rights and other benefits that secular institutions or employers do not. That is a product of our continued religious liberty and the place of privilege of religious institutions, particularly Christian ones in this country.
We Christians can cry out that we are being persecuted but we do so from a position of privilege that Christians in other countries where persecution is real and often involves prison and death. I find it hard to take seriously the cries of persecution on this issue by Bishops who preside over diocese which have universities and hospitals that already provide the contraceptive coverage to employees that is being mandated now. Likewise I have a hard time reconciling a claim of persecution by many who have been complicit in the cover up of massive numbers of sexual abuse crimes by clergy and religious and who have used the courts to try to deny the redress if these issues by the victims of these crimes.
The point I want to make is that it seems to me that Christians in the United States generally only rally to the cause of religious freedom when it benefits them economically, socially and legally. I seldom see conservative Christians be they Catholic or Protestant come to the defense of religious rights of minority religions. In fact more often than not it seems that they are all in favor of restricting the practices of those that don’t agree with them.
I respect the right of the Roman Catholic Church to its beliefs and practice. However it is hypocritical for it or other churches accept and lobby for special exemptions and privileges that no one else receives from the government and then cry that it is being persecuted when required to provide benefits that all other employers are required to provide. It is simply a matter of fairness.
Thomas Jefferson wrote to Horatio Spafford in March 1814 that “In every country and in every age, the priest has been hostile to liberty. He is always in alliance with the despot, abetting his abuses in return for protection to his own.” It seems to me that this is the case now.
I do think that the choice of Catholic bishops as well as the denominational leaders of churches which have no opposition to contraception to make this a major fight is a mistake. I believe that will harm the witness of the church and further increase the perception that American Christians care more about themselves and their rights than they do about those of others. Truthfully this kind of action is the opposite of the early church which in spite of real persecution never stopped loving or caring about those that persecuted them. But then those Christians didn’t have to worry about running the church like a business, political party or government. I guess that must make a difference.
I do expect some hate mail on this post but oh well, such it life.