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Friday, November 18, 2011

The common good in a pluralistic society

There's a post at dotCommonweal about religious liberty and some interesting comments to the post were made by Lisa Fullam, a professor of moral theology at the Jesuit School of Theology in Berkeley (and she's also a veterinarian :). The subject she commented on was whether it curtails religious liberty to require Catholic hospitals/clinics to provide contraceptives ....

[...] The USCCB itself estimates that something like 94% of sexually active Catholics of reproductive age use some form of birth control forbidden in Catholic teaching. That question is settled, at least in the minds of the Catholic faithful. For the bishops to make a big fuss over having to provide what they know their people use anyway, which is regarded as morally unproblematic–or even a matter of right–to many other people of good will is, well, quaint. The teaching on this matter has not been received by Catholics or others. To require separate insurance policies for Catholic institutions is a misguided attempt to have people think that, in fact, the RC teaching against birth control has moral sway over the consciences of the faithful. They’d do better just to stay quiet on that one ........

[S]hould publicly funded health plans not cover blood transfusion because the JW’s find it immoral? Should no hospital care at all be publicly funded because Christian Scientists believe that what is experienced as illness is in fact a deficit of prayer and study of their holy books? How about Scientology and anti-depressants–do they get to veto any coverage in public plans because of their different understanding of psychiatric illness? In sum–if religions get to veto aspects of publicly funded health care, whose religious sensibilities count? In a pluralistic society, public arguments must be framed in ways that appeal beyond one’s own religious circle, and refusing to pay for contraception simply doesn’t meet that standard, IMO. In fact, the arguments don’t even work inside the Catholic circle, on this one .......

My point is that the bishops not only have not made an argument about the evil of contraception that resonates with the consciences of most Americans, but in fact they have not made an argument that convinces even most Catholics. (And as I mentioned, this is not a do-or-die issue–for most people, funding their own contraceptives is not impossible.) Why not say “OK, we’ll fund it, but Catholics won’t use it”? Why make this divisive stance a hallmark of protection of conscience? Since the bishops don’t seem to have made any convincing arguments even to believers, contraception comes to be seen, rightly or wrongly, as merely a matter of religious discipline, not natural law. And we argue for the rights of religious groups to make their own religious discipline into law at substantial peril. Again–if we go down that road, whose religious convictions count, and why? ....



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