This weekend on the Talking Heads programs, Newt Gingrich has decried the “War On The Catholic Church” that the Obama administration is supposed waging. I have to say that I had almost completely failed to notice this horrible threat to the American way of life!
The reason that I had missed it was that it was largely covered as what it was in the media; the administration has demanded that religious organizations, when they begin to compete in non-religious activities, compete on a par with the other entities already in that space. There should be no problem with this, as Jesus told the Pharisees when they try to trap him into heresy or sedition by asking whether a devout Jew should pay taxes.
The gospels report that he answered "Render unto Caesar the things which are Caesar's, and unto God the things that are God's." It would appear that even Christ believed in the separation of Church and State. In the times of the story’s setting, taxes were paid with coins bearing the image of Caesar. It was (according to Matthew and Mark) the hopes of the Pharisees to trap Christ. If he agreed to the payment of taxes, he was heretical – as the coins, it could be argued, bore graven images proscribed in the Torah. If he answered that they could not as it was proscribed by the law of God, he was trapped into sedition as he was espousing civil disobedience and incitement of tax evasion.
The “War” that the former speaker is talking about is a ruling that catholic hospitals must offer contraceptive drugs to their employees in the choices offered for health coverage. The religious right has couched this as an infringement of the separation of Church and State. But the problem is that this is not a religious issue at all!
If the church wants to believe that it is immoral to cover contraception, they are welcome to do so. The church may disallow the coverage all they want as long as they are talking about the church.
If the church should choose to spread into some other venture they must be bound by the rules covering that area of interest. You cannot extrapolate legislation covering commercial activity as in any way inhibiting religious freedom. If the church should happen to get into the car business, we should still be able to compel them to put certain safety devices that are required by law into their cars. If they decided to go into the airline industry, we could still compel them to take certain safety procedures. Companies doing business in certain industries are subject to the laws governing that industry. The alternative for the Catholic Church to offering health care to its workers that includes reproductive coverage is not to get into those industries in which it is required.
Why is it that this is important at all? It is sophistry to say that it is because there is biblical proscription against birth control. For one thing, there is no such proscription. There are proscriptions against lots of sexual practices and implied proscriptions against other. Forget, for the moment that most of these can be ascribed to the conditions that existed in the middle east in the pre-Christian world and you are left to wonder why this one topic seems to be so important to the religious right.
There is a clear biblical proscription against lending money for interest. (Exodus 22: 24-25, "If you lend money to one of your poor neighbors among my people, you shall not act like an extortioner toward him by demanding interest from him.") This must have been important to the biblical authors; it appears more than twenty times throughout the bible. And still, you do not see the religious right trying to put all the banks and credit companies out of business! It is because reproduction is inherently and inexplicably involved with sex that the prudish right takes an interest. It appears to be only because it offends the prudish sensibilities of their personal beliefs that they are opposed to it. I find it interesting that those so prone to trampling on other people’s personal rights scream so loudly when they think that theirs are being infringed.
Wherever you are today I hope you will show as much tolerance of others as you want them to show you!