I haven’t commented on the whole Catholic Church/birth control brouhaha, just because I thought that it was likely that a compromise would avert the whole problem, and we could move onto more relevant problems. Alas, the said compromise failed to satisfy the American council of Roman Catholic bishops, and they’ll continue to fight it.
Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr. the former Supreme Court Justice, wrote a 1919 decision on free speech, arguing, justly, I’d say, that the right to free speech is not absolute, and that there are limits on it. Though I do so grudgingly, I agree with Holmes, as it’s hard to refute the example he cited of a man crying ‘fire’ in a crowded theater. And so it goes with the ‘freedom of religion.’ The only constitutional provision made for by the Founding Fathers was simply that there would not be an official state church, nothing more.
On top of that, there’s dozens of examples of the state intervening in the internal religious affairs of churches and communities that decimated their freedom, and it was all done in the public interest. Take, for example, the example of polygamy. Long prosecuted by the government for such outlandish religious beliefs, one of the reasons Mormons took refuge in Utah was that it was so far from federal authorities at the time, allowing them their ‘God given’ right to as many wives as they could lay their hands on. And it’s still an issue to this day in that community, with the recent conviction of Warren Jeffs, the leader of a fundamentalist sect of Mormons who still engaged in polygamy because they felt it was their religious calling.
Another example would be the instance of parents refusing medical care to their children, arguing that to treat the children medically is against their religious beliefs. In many instances, the children have died, and the state has pressed charges against the parents in a variety of cases. In those instances, doctrine doesn’t matter, the deaths of children do.
Or, take, for example, in France, the decision to ban face coverings, the niqab. If the religion in question weren’t a Christian denomination, I doubt we’d have the compunction we witness today to intervening. At the end of the day, civil governments all over the world intervene in internal religious affairs when the interests of the state are involved. Always have, always will.
The fact of the matter is that we’re dealing with one of the most bizarre institutions in the world, the Roman Catholic Church. I can’t think of another organization that’s so totally and completely dominated by men. That a bunch of celibate 80 year old men in Rome think it’s either fitting or proper to make a decision that every Catholic woman has already made is telling. These men are so out of their depth that it would be funny if the stakes weren’t so high. Compelling Catholic institutions to provide birth control to their employees is no more an infringement on religious freedoms than a stop sign is on my individual liberty. That is to say, it indeed is, but it’s part of the compromise that we strike in order to live in a civilized society.