February 8, 2012
Most Americans can hardly believe we’re having a national debate about birth control in the 21st century — more than 50 years after the Pill became available and decades after condoms became as commonplace as, well, balloons.
… The debate is about freedom of conscience. It ain’t about the Pill.
This particular episode is significant because the Obama administration has provided the narrowest conscience protection in our nation’s history, according to legal experts who are challenging the administration’s rule. We have a long tradition in this country of working around religious differences so that people are not forced to violate their faith to satisfy a secular mandate. This is the essence of the debate.
To women who merely want help paying for birth control, this may seem an obnoxiously silly discussion. Noted. But the larger issue is worth paying attention to even at personal inconvenience. That inconvenience, by the way, needn’t be permanent. The immediate problem of providing birth control to those who can’t afford it can be massaged — for instance, the government can hand out contraceptives to the poor, as is already the case in some states. But the issue of religious liberty is one of those foundational principles that isn’t really up for revision.
As to the separation of church and state argument that church critics keep raising, keep in mind that this separation was also intended to protect religious believers from state interference. When the state insists that one’s religious beliefs be supplanted by another’s, in this case by secularism, then might one argue that the state is establishing a religion in contravention of the Constitution’s intent?