Religious Liberty for Whom?

    By Edd Doerr | 10 April 2014
    Americans for Religious Liberty

    Here is an excellent short piece by Paul Simmons, a distinguished American ethicist and theologian. He was one of the principal speakers at Americans for Religious Liberty’s May 30, 1987, conference in Washington on “Abortion Rights and Fetal ‘Personhood’”, the papers from which were published by ARL in the book of the same title edited by me and psychologist James Prescott. The scientific papers from the conference were the basis for an amicus curiae brief to the Supreme Court in 1988, signed by 12 Nobel laureate biologists and 155 other scientists, in Webster v Reproductive Health Services. (The brief is included in John Swomley’s 1999 ARL book, Compulsory Pregnancy: The War Against American Women.) Kathleen Parker is a somewhat erratic syndicated columnist. (I am indebted to Charles Sumner for providing this piece.) — Edd Doerr, President, Americans for Religious Liberty (

    Religious Liberty for Whom? (An Open Letter to Kathleen Parker)
    — By Paul D. Simmons

    Kathleen Parker seems to have lost her capacity for making critical distinctions in that vitally important arena of law and religion. Specifically, though she admits it is “above my pay grade” but ventures into the swamp of First Amendment assurances where contraceptives are concerned. She is peeved that President Obama did not “practice what he preached” about religion and law where contraceptives are concerned. She sides with the Catholic Church and other religious groups against Obamacare’s insistence that contraceptives be available free of charge to any person covered for Health Care.

    An important distinction she glosses over is that between organizations/institutions and individuals where human rights are concerned. She swallows the anti-abortion line hook-line-and-sinker and says the issue is whether a business owner’s religious beliefs can be imposed on employees. She refers to Hobby Lobby and, by implication, the National Council of Catholic Bishops who are insisting on the right to withhold contraceptive coverage in the Health Care they offer employees or students! Hobby Lobby is a Baptist owned and operated toy store that also has an owner who believes strongly against contraceptives and in favor of his religious liberties as a corporate head.

    A little history is in order, dating to Griswold v. Connecticut (1965) which ruled that contraceptives were a matter of a zone of privacy which cannot be controlled by any institution. Up to that point, contraceptives had been banned in most states in America. About the only religious group the ban made happy was Roman Catholics and those Evangelicals who supported the Crusade led by Anthony Comstock to outlaw contraceptives. Griswold declared that contraceptive use is a human right, that is, individuals decide whether to use them or not. No one else nor any agency or institution may decide for the individual what ethic they must accept where contraceptives are concerned.

    We have already seen the quagmire of social policy to which an emphasis on the religious liberty rights of the Institution were implemented. The Catholic Church tried to wiggle its way out of the Priests- molesting-children travesty by proclaiming its prerogatives as a Church. The Church would handle its own priests! Sure! And look how long it took Americans to catch up in their thinking. Every child has a right not to be sexually abused by any adult, whether priest or president.

    Parker skips a cog when saying the problem is “abortifacient contraceptives” (which either prevent or interrupt fertilization/implantation). A fertilized ovum is being prevented, hopefully. But Ms. Parker’s religious sensibilities have a high level of proof. She declares problematically that President Obama is determined not to protect “unborn life.” Sperm and ovum are alive, to be sure. Is that what she wants protected? We are back to the dark Ages with Kathleen’s siding with the Institutional view of human rights.

    We should read the President’s statement again: “History shows that nations that uphold the rights of their people—including the freedom of religion—are ultimately more just and more peaceful and more successful.” He was not talking about institutions, but about people—individuals like us and the protections that should be ours to enjoy—unhindered and undenied by powerful corporate heads who want their money and power to deprive people of their personal rights.

    Edd Doerr was president of the American Humanist Association from 1995 to 2003, serving previously as vice-president and board chair under Isaac Asimov from 1985 to 1991. He has been executive director and then president of Americans for Religious Liberty since 1982. A former teacher of history and Spanish, he is the author, co-author, editor, or translator of twenty books, mostly on religious liberty and reproductive rights. He served on the governing body of the Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice from 1973 until 2004 and on the boards of NARAL, the ACLU of Maryland, and the National Committee for Public Education and Religious Liberty. More than 3,000 of his articles, columns, reviews, and letters have been published in The Humanist and many other publications. For over ten years he has been writing a column in the journal Free Inquiry from the Council for Secular Humanism.

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