Welcome to the month of July; a month most notable for the celebration of our nation’s independence and freedom (or my birthday, depending who you ask)! Everyone tends to feel a bit more patriotic this time of year, and our attention is drawn to the reasons we love our country. This year’s Independence Day is an interesting one for sure, coming right off the coattails of a high profile and controversial 5-4 Supreme Court decision, one that seems to have divided people deeply over the nature and goals of our country.
If you are not familiar with “the Hobby Lobby case” here is
a concise summary
of the case and the decision. I do not wish to comment on the details of this case here, but rather to make a few observations about the reactions people have had to this decision. Some people were absolutely outraged when it was handed down in favor of Hobby Lobby. I have to admit that even though I expected some people to be upset, the extent of the negative reaction to this ruling surprised me.
What unfortunately did not surprise me, but I think should give us as Catholics even more cause for concern, was the growing disagreement over the meaning of some of the key terms involved here. We are in the midst of a cultural struggle to define our terms. There are many underlying points of contention that this case brought to the surface, but I would like to highlight two key concepts: freedom of religion, and human fertility. The way we understand these as Catholics is being vehemently challenged, and the implications are far reaching.
What I observed in much of the dissenting commentary is an understanding of the freedom of religion as the freedom to hold whatever beliefs you want, to pray to whoever you want, however you want, and in whatever kind of building you want. But most importantly, in this understanding, your religion properly belongs in your personal life and should remain there, not overstepping its bounds into the public domain. Some have termed this understanding the “freedom of worship” in attempt to distinguish it from a broader understanding of the term.
For us as Catholics, we maintain that the freedom of religion includes the right to
, not just to be free to go to Mass or pray in our homes. Our Catholic religion cannot be confined to our private personal lives. It must go out. Catholicism is inherently
). And fully practicing our faith must include the exercise of our conscience, which is rightly formed through the moral teachings of the Church. The right to do this is given to us by God and should be protected by our government.
The other struggle is for the appropriate understanding and treatment of human fertility. The Church has consistently put forth the beautiful understanding of our fertility as a gift from God that is sacred, and when used in its intended context (marriage), is an image of the Trinity in the world, an “icon of God’s love for us” (
that artificial contraception violates the dignity of this gift is a very unpopular one, and one that even many Catholics have trouble understanding. [For more on this see
or listen to
(skip to part 10 for how it applies to this blog).] It is however a teaching that is firmly grounded in nature and in the Gospel, which means that it comes from God… which means it’s GOOD for us. The Church continues to teach it, and we as Catholics are called to trust her teaching (as she is guided in a special way by the Holy Spirit) and to live by it.
From the language I’ve seen from people upset with the decision, a very different understanding of fertility tends to shine through. One that does not see fertility as a sacred gift from God, but rather as one of two things depending on perspective; when it is desired it is treated as a commodity, but when it is not desired it is treated as a disease. Those may sound like harsh terms, and I am not suggesting that people consciously and rationally assert that fertility is a disease (or commodity), but I do think it ends up being treated that way. Particularly evident in this case is the perspective of disease.
Much has been said about women’s rights to reproductive health care being in jeopardy by this decision. But fertility is perfectly healthy. Health care should aid or restore the natural function of the body and its parts, but artificial contraception does the opposite, it inhibits the body’s natural function. Speaking about artificial contraception as a basic right that women should have free access to, even at the expense of their employer’s conscience, treats fertility like a disease that requires medication if the good health of the employee is to be achieved. (see footnote 2)
Whether you think this case is about the freedom of religion, the reproductive rights of women, the proper role of government, the proper interpretation of the Constitution, the legal status of corporations, the balance of power in our government, the imposition of a particular morality, the aggressiveness of progressive secularism, the intolerance of the religious right, or any other slew of headlines that are out there; we must come to a place where we can discuss our terms before we can debate their implications. Much of the analytical fallout of this decision is people talking past each other (even among the Supreme Court judges themselves!) because we mean different things by the words that are being used. We must begin with these underlying principles, or we will only become more divided about
to achieve the good of our country and its people. As a culture in general, I think it would be a good idea to ask a lot more “why” questions, and less “how’s”.
I’m sure that this 4
of July will bring a sense of pride, and a renewed zeal to all those who love our country no matter how they felt about the Hobby Lobby case. Thankfully we can celebrate the fact that we can disagree, even vehemently, and still remain united as Americans. But let us not forget that as Catholic Americans, it is our solemn duty to learn, profess, and defend the beautiful truths of our faith (even in the public sphere), trusting that they are what will lead to a truly flourishing society. Let us together pray for our country, for the culture of life, and for the advent of a “civilization of love”.
"Today I believe the Lord is saying to us all: do not hesitate, do not be afraid to engage the good fight of the faith (cf. I Tim 6:12). When we preach the liberating message of Jesus Christ we are offering the words of life to the world. Our prophetic witness is an urgent and essential service not just to the Catholic community but to the whole human family." - St. John Paul II
- More from the USCCB on marriage
- Some women use birth control for medical reasons other than avoiding pregnancy, but that does not apply to the Hobby Lobby case. They only opposed certain types of contraception that may case early abortions (like Plan B) which are not used for other medical purposes. It also does not apply to the contraception mandate. Of the employers who previously declined to cover birth control, many of them already made exceptions for these other cases. The contraception mandate was not designed, nor was it needed, for women who use birth control pills for things like ovarian cysts. There were always ways to deal with those situations. The contraception mandate is specifically for women who wish to prevent pregnancy by using contraception. (From Matt Walsh)