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Guest Column: Matter of perception

Marcel LeJeune: Religious freedom must be protected

Published: Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Updated: Wednesday, July 25, 2012 22:07

The Obama administration has mandated that insurance companies in the U.S. provide free contraception to all. The media has portrayed the debate as Catholics fighting against "women's rights." This is false and is an issue that should upset all Americans — believers and non-believers, women and men.

The real issue is about constitutional rights and the government's role. The government does not grant freedom of conscience and religious liberty. Rather, the job of the government is to protect our natural rights. If a right is granted by the state, it can be taken away by the state. Rights are above the government. This is why the power of our government was purposefully limited by the Constitution: to prevent oppression — ESPECIALLY religious oppression.

The U.S. was established in part because of the failure of other nations to grant the freedom of religion. This freedom is so foundational that it is addressed in the First Amendment listed in the Bill of Rights, and is why many non-Catholic leaders (Christian, Jewish, atheist, etc.) fear this intrusion into our constitutional rights and have voiced opposition to the mandate.

The debate is about basic human and constitutional rights. All have the right to believe as they wish, the right to follow their consciences and the right to religious freedom without coercion from the government. "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof."

The Obama administration is attempting to limit these rights by redefining the free exercise of religion as a "right to worship." Just recently, the Supreme Court ruled unanimously in favor of religious freedom. The Court upheld 9-0 the right of a Lutheran Church to decide who its ministers are. The administration argued the church had no more right to religious liberty than a secular group, overstepping its bounds and making the invented "right" to free contraception one that even trumps constitutional rights.

The mandate forces everyone to pay for chemical abortions, contraception and sterilizations, which many morally oppose, without a way to opt out. Churches should decide what "ministry" is, not a bureaucrat. We are told to "feed the poor" and to "aid the sick." Yet, the administration says that feeding the poor means we also have to pay for drugs that can cause abortions, even if we object. Exemptions are given for Quakers who do not want to serve in the military and Amish who do not pay Social Security — because of faith.

In this case, Catholics don't get an exemption. It seems getting $9 birth control from Wal-Mart is too much of a burden. If it really is about health issues or "women's rights," then why not provide free heart screenings, workout equipment, cholesterol medicine? Pregnancy is not a disease and fertility is not a disability. No "right" is violated by paying for your own contraception.

It pains me to ask, but if the right to religious freedom is disposable, what right is next? Freedom of speech? Freedom of the press? Take away the first right listed and anything seems fair game. This is an American issue.


Marcel LeJeune is assistant director of campus ministry at St. Mary's Catholic Center.

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