(Source: The Examiner)

For most of the United States 200+ years of existence, a great battle has been fought over who has civil and human rights. It has been waged in Congress and the courts, at the ballot box and the workplace, and for the four years between 1861-65, on actual battlefields. It is still being fought and, while there have been setbacks at times, the trend has always been towards greater enfranchisement of the individual regardless of race, sex, religion or any of the myriad other things that differentiate us one from another. Over the last couple of weeks another of these battles has been fought over a proposed federal mandate that businesses provide female employees with health-care plans that covered birth control expenses if required. While America’s 355,000 churches were specifically exempted from this provision, religiously-associated businesses like colleges and hospitals were not. This led some organizations, like the Catholic Church, whose tenets forbid the use of contraception, to complain that their religious freedom was being infringed on. President Obama then sought to defuse the issue by offering a new plan that transfers the payment obligation from the business to the insurance companies and that’s the subject of Bill Moyers’ Feb. 16 video essay. “How,” asks the journalist and political commentator, “do we honor religious liberty without it becoming the liberty to impose one set of moral beliefs on others.”

“The recent debate over contraception coverage in Catholic hospitals and other faith-based institutions brought this question to the forefront, but then something surprising happened — a reasonable, practical, and equitable solution from President Obama that took the political steam out of what some saw as a  holy war,” Moyers says.

By making the cost of contraceptive coverage the insurance companies’ problem rather than the Church’s, the president, says Moyers, has “skillfully negotiated the line between respect for the religious sphere and protection of the spiritual dignity and freedom of individuals.”

As a secular humanist, this has always seemed the most important issue even before the president defused the question of religious freedom. Individuals have rights. Groups and institutions don’t have the privilege of overriding them… and freedom of conscience too, is an individual choice, not an institutional prerogative. As Moyers points out, 98% of Catholic women of childbearing age have already used contraception and, “if an individual Catholic worker wants coverage, she should have access to it… just like any other American citizen.”

The Catholic bishops still don’t see it that way despite the fact that the revised proposal has been accepted by a number of other Catholic organizations. Predictably too, the Republicans are making a political football out of what they’re calling Obama’s attack on religion. Of course, the GOP thinks corporations are people (Mitt Romney said so and so did the conservative members of the Supreme Court in the Citizens United decision) so it’s hardly a big jump to think that religious institutions are too and that they have rights that trump those of real individual people.

That last bit is not Moyers’ opinion but mine. I agree with most of what he says but Moyers is more of a gentleman than I am. I’m not satisfied, as Moyer is in this video, to just say the GOP picked up this controversy “for reasons of its own” and I wouldn’t praise churches, as Moyers does, for having fought against slavery, without pointing out that plenty of them fought for it too… such as the Church of England in Great Britain and the Southern Baptist Convention in the US (the former was the largest institutional owner of slaves in the British colonies and the latter didn’t even renounce its past defense of slavery until 1995).

(Source: The Examiner)

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