February 1, 2012
(Note, this letter appeared in the Columbus Dispatch’s Editorial Page on Saturday, February 11, at the top of page A11. You can see it also in their online edition.)
Dear Leaders of the Catholic Church in Ohio,
Religious Freedom. Freedom of and from Religion. How interesting that Ohio’s Catholic leadership and others are crying out that their religious freedom has been violated when the federal government mandates that their hospitals are not exempt from new requirements that employee health insurance must include birth control. With the surge of legislation in 2011 on the national and state stages limiting the reproductive rights of women based on a powerful religious minority, I was beginning to wonder if anyone had remembered that we do, indeed, hold religious freedom dear to us in this country.
As a leader of the Ohio Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice, and with the help of Catholics for Choice, allow me to explain why the federal government acted on behalf of religious freedom, rather than to restrict the religious freedom of the bishops, as they claim.
When a government or an organization moves to support religious freedom, we move to expand access and rights to enable more diversity in religious and moral freedom, rather than allow people to suppress rights to only allow one religious practice. The 600+ Catholic hospitals in this country, many of which serve areas for which there are no other alternative hospitals, serve a diverse population, and have a diverse workforce. Their current reproductive health practices (as outlined in onerous “Directives” from the bishops) limit the health care available to their patients and in their employee insurance plans based of the religious beliefs of a few powerful leaders. This qualifies as religious discrimination. The problem is exacerbated when you consider that these hospitals receive significant public funding.
Requiring birth control coverage as part of any employee health insurance plan is an important step toward respecting the moral, individual consciences of employees. Indeed, even if the majority of the employees in such a hospital were Catholic, this mandate would be important, because the Catholic leadership is woefully out of sync with the rest of the Catholic Church. 98% of sexually active American Catholics have practiced modern birth control methods as a matter of conscience. From a practicality perspective, the “natural” methods simply do not work.
As a deeply religious Christian, while acknowledging that my background in the Word is not as rich as that of the Catholic leadership in Ohio, please allow me to point out some Christian principles that also emphasize the importance of religious freedom. All of us, men and women, are created in the image of God, as decision-makers and creators (of life, technology and art), each with unique gifts and talents we might offer to God’s service. The doctors, nurses, social workers, technicians, administrators, and janitors in any hospital were created in God’s image with the ability to make thoughtful decisions about how to best be stewards of their own lives and their impact on their communities, in sync with their own consciences. Our conscience is interceded upon daily by the Holy Spirit. God gave us our free will to act in accordance with our conscience and God’s will or outside it, to follow God or to follow other ways. God grants us this freedom, and our wonderful country is at its best when it supports religious freedom. You see, a love freely given, in gratitude and with service freely offered, is much preferable to an allegiance garnered through force or fear. And truly, God’s will for each person’s life is only discernible through that person’s conscience, and therefore best executed through their own free will. Praise be to God! God Bless America!
Cathy Levy, Ohio Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice