Columns, Opinion

RYAN: Is this church or Congress?

My occasionally Protestant mother sent her unreligious daughter (me) to Catholic school because it worked best with her nine-to-five schedule. One of my second grade vocabulary words was “reconciliation”. I learned all about John the Baptist and sang Latin chants in music class. I decided to be baptized when I was thirteen years old. Catholicism shaped my childhood and affected my development. It is a fundamental part of who I am. It affects my beliefs, morals and, to some extent, my political opinions.

However, just because my religion has affected who I am does not mean that it has a direct place in the political sphere.

Last week the Supreme Court heard arguments about Obamacare’s contraception policy. One of the plaintiffs (my fancy legal jargon is meant to impress you), Hobby Lobby, argued that the company should not be forced to pay for emergency contraception for their employees through the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act. The owner claims that he manages his business according to religious principles, and since things like Plan B and intrauterine devices (IUDs) are against his religious philosophy, he shouldn’t have to pay for it.

Brief side note: A Mother Jones (a proud member of the liberal media, but still credible) article from Tuesday reports that some $73 million of Hobby Lobby’s 401(k) retirement plan is invested in pharmaceutical companies that sell Plan B and other abortion-inducing drugs. Talk about irony.

The government has already given exceptions to religious institutions and religiously affiliated groups whose beliefs do not support contraception. This came after large amounts of backlash from the Catholic Church and like-minded groups. Personally, I wasn’t a big fan of this one either. It set a poor precedent that any religious group that makes enough noise can get its way.

Additionally, on the basis of religious freedom and right to privacy, I think it’s a little shaky. Sure religious institutions have the right to disagree with government policy, but does that mean they have the right to impart those beliefs on their employees? Doesn’t each employee have a right to make the decision about contraception for themselves without interference from their employers?

Now insurers are covering the cost of birth control for employees of the exempt institutions. We all know what that means: higher premiums for everyone, which definitely isn’t helping the “affordable” part of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act.

Hobby Lobby and groups like the Catholic Church are mere jumping off points for my swan dive into a larger topic. For the past two or three weeks, my Christianity class has been discussing the role of religion in politics. Since we started the debate, I’ve been going back and forth on the issue unable to take a firm stance. However, I think I’ve finally found some solid ground.

On the one hand, religion is often a key factor in a person’s socialization. It helps develop morals, beliefs, and political opinions. I don’t think I’ve ever sat (or slept) through a mass that failed to mention abortion, the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan or the death penalty. Lessons on honesty, responsibility and the moral high ground are also peppered in between all the kneeling and singing at 7:30 a.m.

It makes sense then that religion contributes to our government and its policies. However, at some point, it crosses the line. There is a difference between morality and religious beliefs. Just because Sunday school taught both tolerance and intelligent design does not mean they are equally valid in the “secular” government.

More and more we see religious arguments working their way into debates about government policy. I don’t know how relevant these arguments are in a country that is becoming increasingly diverse, ethnically, religiously and culturally. All of these different groups combine to bring us diversity in thought as well. To push through ideas that support a Christian doctrine just because it is currently the majority is wrong.

The minority has the right to have their opinions heard. Religious tolerance is pretty much guaranteed by the First Amendment. When James Madison (or some other rich, dead, white guy) wrote, “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof,” he meant that basically government and religion should have nothing to do with each other.

I think religion can have its place as a moral compass. It teaches values and principles. However, that is where the religious sphere of influence should end. Religious groups shouldn’t interfere in other people’s healthcare. They shouldn’t make it more difficult or more expensive than it has to be. There is supposed to be a wall between church and state. Let’s make sure it’s not just a two-way mirror.

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