The meaning of religious freedom

17 Mar

Much has been made of the extraordinarily short-sighted, clueless panel of religious leaders organized to testify before Congress in the ongoing  health coverage for women debacle. Not a single woman on the panel, and not a single woman allowed to testify: the Georgetown Law student Sandra Fluke notoriously being rebuffed.

But, I would like to mention something else regarding this catastrophe, something that has not been overtly noted as far as I have seen and read. Yes, as any slut can tell you, reconstructing the health coverage for women mandate as an attack on religious freedom is a brilliant political manipulation; but what’s getting left out here is the misinterpretation of the fundamental meaning of religious freedom.

Religious freedom is not the inherent rights of the major religions–be they Christian-based, Judaic, or Muslim, to flex their beliefs in the public sphere as much as their individual God mandates. Religious freedom instead regards the rights of individuals to practice their beliefs according to their affiliation and their spiritual investment—as long as her or his rights do not impinge upon the rights of others.

The enforcement of a broad-based health coverage plan for women who work is not an inducement to a rabbi, imam or priest to turn against his (!) God, but to insure that this other person receives the rights that she deserves. Neither Jesus, Abraham nor Muhammad would turn this down.

Further, to look at a church, temple or synagogue as having fundamental rights is to regard these corporations, these buildings, as possessing personhood. Like the corporation, like the teeny bundle of cells in a womb, these “persons” are more and more in possession of rights that are being stolen from the female person. Further, to consistently position the individual rights of individual females as in opposition to the rights of church dogma and clusters of cells is to re-frame the debate, rendering the rights of the former debatable. A woman’s rights as an individual are not debatable: she is a citizen under the state, a person; thereby her rights -not the rights of the church or the potential cell development in her uterus- are what matter.


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