Though the Bill of Rights was designed to protect the “unalienable rights” guaranteed to all men, the truth is we don’t see those any of those rights as absolute, including freedom of religion. For instance, though the First Amendment guarantees freedom of speech, something we all value highly, we recognize that we do not want to have total freedom of speech. The Federal Communications Commission has in place restrictions on freedom of speech that is broadcast over the airwaves. I, for one, am thankful for that so at least I don’t have to listen to constant F-bombs when I watch television. So though we all believe in freedom of speech we also recognize it must be within certain boundaries. If someone stands up and falsely yells “fire” in a packed auditorium creating a panic situation, that is not protected speech.
We all recognize, then, at some points there may need to be restrictions on even our most cherished freedoms. At times we must balance the good of the public with the individual’s freedom. Hence Mr. Kristof writes about accommodating religious beliefs where we can. That brings us back to the current debate about the President’s recent policy requirement. Yes, the state at times must prohibit the exercise of some freedoms, but this matter of requiring Catholic institutions to pay for contraceptives seems a curious place to draw a line in the sand. Is this so important a matter that it means limiting one of our most important freedoms? Is this really so crucial to the public good that we must demand that some people not be allowed to exercise their freedom of religion and live by their beliefs? For some it clearly is, and this tells us something that I find rather dismaying about our culture. In short, this decision at the end of the day appears to say that the ability to engage in unfettered sexual activity is a fundamental right more important than the freedom of religion for a large group of people. Some may say this is not the point of the decision. While we can debate that, it seems to me that birth control finally ends up being about engaging in sexual activity without the consequence of pregnancy. By this decision the current administration is valuing that “good” over the ability of many Catholics to freely live by their religious convictions. I will discuss this more in an upcoming post.