The USCCB, for those of you who don’t know (and most of the time I wish I didn’t know) is the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops. They are the people with the pointy heads, er, hats, who comprise the leadership of the Roman Catholic Church in the United States. Their latest non-reality based proclamation is that by mandating that all employer-provided health insurance coverage must provide coverage for contraception and sterilization services. The USCCB says that such a rule, which has actually existed for years and which many if not most Catholic hospitals, universities, and other agencies that do business with the public at large already comply with (I should say that there is an exception for religious employers who employ mostly members of their religion), is an infringement on their freedom of religion.
No, it’s not. Here’s why: There is a difference between being free to practice your religion and imposing your beliefs upon others. Catholic hospitals, universities, and schools employ people from all religious backgrounds. The Catholic Church can indeed teach its members that using birth control is sinful, and they do – and the vast majority of Catholics robustly ignore that teaching, an irrelevant but amusing point. They can even tell the world that using birth control is a sin, and they do. The world, however, because of its freedom of religion – including the freedom to have no religion at all – doesn’t have to listen. There is no freedom to impose your religious beliefs, or lack thereof, on another.
You see, nobody is forcing the Catholic Church to provide birth control or sterilization services in their facilities. What they don’t get to do is attempt to stop people from securing those services elsewhere. Why not? Because, according to the EEOC, such practices discriminate against women. Why? Because it is women who bear the brunt of the consequences of pregnancy in the workplace and it was women who were discriminated against because employers were concerned they might get pregnant and miss work. Men aren’t faced with those consequences, and Roman Catholic Clergy aren’t faced with those consequences – though many of them seem to have proclivities that bring with the consequences of another sort, but that’s a discussion for another time.
This is the reason why you can’t put the Ten Commandments, or any other Charlton Heston movie, on display in a public space. Doing so imposes Christian beliefs on passersby. You can put just as big a monument to the Ten Commandments as you would like in your yard because it’s private property. Again, the difference between the freedom to believe what you will and the freedom to impose those beliefs on others. You can, as I do, put on nothing but a jock strap and sheep leggings and dance around a fire pit while casting small rodents into the fire screaming, “burn, baby, burn” every Friday night as your personal way to connect with God – but you can’t make anyone else do it.
Allowing employees to make their own decisions about health care, including birth control and sterilization, doesn’t restrict the Roman Catholic Church’s ability to teach or practice its religion. It does force them to recognize that people have freedom and that women have the same value as men do. Those are both issues about which it’s long past time for the Church to see the light.