Whenever I stop by the Corona del Mar post office to mail a package, the man at the counter asks whether it contains anything liquid, fragile, perishable, flammable, or potentially hazardous. If I’m mailing a book, I like to reply, “Well it does contain ideas.”
He never rewards me with a smile, but I leave satisfied that in a small way I’ve spread the gospel that ideas can be transformational.
Just recently I’ve encountered a minister whose ideas are just that. It has to do with the place of religion in society. As I write this, the Supreme Court has yet to rule on the Hobby Lobby case, whether a corporation can invoke its religious values to deny full health coverage under the Affordable Care Act to its employees. Of all that I’ve read on the issue, the most sensible, ethical opinion appears in the blog “Glass Overflowing” by Marci Glass, a Presbyterian minister in Boise, Idaho.
In “Religious Freedom: A Primer,” Glass writes, “There seems to be some confusion in our political and cultural discourse lately about what, exactly, constitutes `religious freedom.’”
No doubt about that.
“Religious freedom,” Glass argues, “means you and I and everyone else has the choice to worship, or not worship, the Divine creator however we may like to do that. It means I can go to a Presbyterian Church and preach from the pulpit (which I do each week), or it means I could determine to worship Allah in a mosque, or attend Shabbat services at the synagogue. It means I could worship Thor and Wotan and hope to end up in Valhalla. I could worship a tree. I could worship at St.Arbucks while reading the liturgy of the New York Times.”
Wherever we worship, we can “choose to use [our] religious freedom to attend, the particular religion can choose to impart particular rules or customs on its adherents. So the Catholic Church is allowed to declare women can’t serve as priests, even if the Idaho Human Rights Codes bar discrimination against women. That’s religious freedom,” according to Glass. Similarly the Roman Catholic Church “can … instruct its adherents not to use birth control or have an abortion. That’s religious freedom.”
As for the 82 percent of American Catholics “who believe birth control is morally acceptable, despite what their tradition dictates. That’s also religious freedom.”
“Religious freedom,” she continues, “DOES NOT mean the Catholic Church (or the church of Hobby Lobby, for that matter) can prohibit non-Catholics (or Hobby Lobby employees who do not share the owners religious tradition) from having access to birth control through health care plans. That is discrimination.”
I would add that we are also constitutionally entitled to freedom from religion. Unfortunately we are losing that freedom. As we see in Hoag Hospital’s affiliation with St. Joseph, religious values now trump the full freedom to make medical judgments.
So I lament the contingent of politicians and justices who advocate for their personal religious beliefs—most often against birth control and gay civil rights.
Glass asks: “What does it say about the God you worship, if you need to judge and discriminate against your fellow citizens in order to faithfully worship said God?”
It’s a question worth taking up during this Lenten season. Which is why I recommend “The Last Week: What the Gospels Really Teach About Jesus’s Final Days in Jerusalem.” It’s a compelling examination on what Jesus’s crucifixion was all about, told “against the background of Jewish high-priestly collaboration with Roman imperial control.”
The book shows the ghastly result of such collaborations, which continue today in our unholy alliances between politics and religion.
You can justify anything when you declare God to be on your side.
Jean Ardell is the president of the Newport Beach Women’s Democratic Party. She can be reached at [email protected].