Making Other People Live By Your Interpretation of the Bible is NOT Religious Liberty

These are the times that try men’s souls…..Okay, that’s a bit much. But there are definitely letters to the editor that try both my woman’s soul and my (very limited)store of patience. One of them was in the Sunday Indianapolis Star.

It was the all-too-typical complaint that, by requiring “religous-based ministries” to offer birth control coverage, the hated Obamacare was violating the writer’s “right to practice our faith and not be persecuted with onerous fines if we won’t deny our faith and worship the national religion of casual sex.”

The profoundly misinformed woman who signed this letter got nearly everything wrong. For one thing, “ministries” aka churches are not subject to the regulation she so completely misunderstands. The First Amendment Free Exercise Clause exempts churches from all manner of secular law–no matter how reasonable–that those institutions deem inconsistent with their beliefs.

The Affordable Care Act does require that other religiously affiliated institutions–hospitals, universities and the like– include birth control coverage as part of their comprehensive health insurance policies. Despite the letter writer’s assertion, this is not a mandate to worship Mammon, nor does the inclusion of an option allowing female employees to get reimbursed for the costs of contraception equate to a requirement that they use it.

What we have here is a longstanding dispute about the nature of liberty and the definition of discrimination. The letter writer and other shrill moralists–the ones who believe they know precisely what their version of God wants–define liberty as freedom to do the “right” thing.  And that they should get to define what the “right thing” is.

Furthermore, they believe that if government isn’t imposing their definition of right behavior on the rest of us, it’s discriminating against them. (Think I’m exaggerating? Read one of Micah Clark’s newsletters some time. Bet you didn’t know that government recognition of civil marriage equality is really a war on Christians, Western Civilization and (probably) helpless puppies.)

Unfortunately for the Puritans, and fortunately for the rest of us, that pre-Enlightenment view of liberty isn’t the definition  that informed the Bill of Rights.  In the system bequeathed to us by the nation’s founders, liberty means personal autonomy–the right of each of us to make our own moral and ethical decisions, free of interference by government or our neighbors, so long as we aren’t thereby causing harm to others.

There can be genuine and difficult disagreements about what constitutes “harm to others,” but it takes real chutzpah to claim that covering the costs of birth control for those women who freely choose to use it constitutes an attack on religious liberty.


  1. “In the system bequeathed to us by the nation’s founders, liberty means personal autonomy–the right of each of us to make our own moral and ethical decisions, free of interference by government or our neighbors, so long as we aren’t thereby causing harm to others.”

    The letter writer agrees “about being responsible for using the various resources concerning health insurance.” then somehow jumps to denying us those rights because some of those options don’t meet her religious beliefs. I copied and pasted the sentence from Sheila’s blog as a reminder to the woman and others of her ilk that she is one of those “neighbors” who would be causing harm to others if it were in her power by denying them their options to those resources. That quote is also a good reminder of the fact that the GOP (government) has taken stands against the rights of women’s health decisions and care based on their pseudo religious beliefs. Laws have been passed that are detrimental to women’s health by denying them access to clinics providing PREVENTATIVE care for women with numerous health issues. Birth control is often a preventive measure regarding women’s health and well being. In 1970, when I requested a tubal ligation it was a legal requirement to have my husband’s signed permission before the doctor agreed to the surgery. I was 34 years old and had five children. Repealing that law was a giant step forward for all women’s rights; during the past few years we have all but moved back to that obsolete form of control and are now controlled by politicians who are supported by misinformed and uninformed voters such as this particular letter writer. I doubt the Founding Fathers had thoughts of women’s vaginas when writing the Bill of Rights, Constitution of the United States of America or any of the Amendments and none of their writings were based on any form of religion. Their view was basically forward-looking and designed peventive measures to protect individuals from total governmental control.

    For those readers of my generation, the Medicare generation; I find it appalling that Medicare covers erectile dysfunction supplies for men but does not cover vision, dental or hearing testing or treatment for anyone. Fortunately, Medicare does provide mammograms annually as a preventive measure for women but many clinics such as Planned Parenthood and Naral clinics are being denied funding to diagnose and treat younger women regarding cancer diagnosis. This is more of those pseudo-religios based decisions that are harming others; primarily women of all ages.

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