Saturday, January 16, 2016

Today Is Religious Freedom Day

Saturday is Religious Freedom Day. While it’s not one of our most well-known or popular holidays, Religious Freedom Day shouldn’t be overlooked. Our country is in the middle of a campaign, spearheaded by far-right religious groups and their political allies, to redefine religious freedom. We cannot allow this to happen.

This campaign takes several forms. We see efforts by Religious Right groups and the U.S. Catholic bishops to take religious freedom, a key individual right, and turn it into something that allows one person to control or make moral decisions for others.

The birth control cases pending before the U.S. Supreme Court are a good example of this. Under the compromise crafted by the Obama administration, houses of worship are wholly exempt from the mandate to provide birth control to employees. Religiously affiliated colleges and religious non-profit groups do have to comply, but they are given a generous work around and don’t have to spend one dime of their money paying for contraceptives. They merely have to tell the government that they don’t want to pay for it. At that point, a third-party provider steps in and provides birth control only to those employees who say they want it.

Yet even this is too much for the tender sensibilities of some religious non-profits. They assert that the mere presence of contraceptives in a health-care plan, and the fact that this medication is made available to those who ask for it, is enough to violate someone else’s “religious freedom.” Such claims stand the concept of religious freedom on its head. Person A’s decision to use birth control in no way prevents Person B from attending a house of worship, praying, reading religious books, singing hymns and so on.

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