"Must (or Can) the Religious Engage in the Secular Sphere 'Non-Religiously'?"

This is part 3 of a debate with Roman Catholic theology graduate student Mary. The broader topic of the debate is whether or not universities, hospitals, and social agencies run by the Catholic Church should be exempted from laws requiring employers to provide their employees health insurance that covers contraception. You can read part 1 and part 2 of the debate, but you need not read them to understand this self-contained discussion about how religious people or institutions should conceive of what they are doing when they act in the public or secular spheres as religious people.

Mary: I’m very curious about what you mean by “public” because it seems as if you define “public” as that which is not strictly religious. Do I understand you properly?

Daniel Fincke: I define public as anything that involves civil interactions. Even a private affair becomes public as soon as civil liberties or civil rights or other laws become relevant to the doings of the parties. We are having a private conversation but it is undergirded by civil laws which put constraints even on this. To that extent the public has an interest in what goes on here. To the extent that there are no civil law issues, this remains entirely private.

I would distinctly define secular as anything that is not strictly religious, anything which appeals to and subjects itself to common standards of reason and morality and practice. When a private church performs tasks which are secular in basic form (i.e., not strictly religious), then it is not doing a strictly religious activity.

Teaching actual science based biology or practicing medicine or administering public goods like adoption or soup kitchens means engaging in activities that the public can take a secular interest in either for employment or receiving services. Just as a religious person may constrain the religious character of the way she does these activities so may a church or mosque or synagogue or temple may be expected to do the same if it means allowing members of other faiths, or of no faith, to receive these services or employment without religious strings attached that would coerce their own consciences.

Mary: Well, it seems, then, that we have an almost insurmountable issue of different definitions. I fear that my responses to your questions will continue to be the same as the one’s I’ve already given because I operate under different ideas of what those words mean.

For me, something becomes secular when it’s not at all religious. In that case, no function of a religious institution is ever secular. Someone taking an interest in or participating in a religiously-run service or good does not then make it not religious, or secular. Allowing all homeless people into your soup kitchen and not just the Catholic ones doesn’t make it a secular activity. Serving the needs of the poor is a hallmark of most religions. A great example is the clergy coalition in Alabama suing the government for preventing their ministry—which consists of counseling, shelter, food, etc.—to immigrants by its harsh immigration laws. 

Considering the law suit has not yet been thrown out on legal grounds, it seems that even the law protects the ministries of these churches. Care of the sick and the idea of the hospitals were long-standing Christian traditions before they were secular ones. I can not agree that something becomes secular because it might be of interest to people with secular values.

For me, something being subject to civil laws doesn’t actually make it something in which the government can necessarily impose itself or interfere. For example, if someone says so to his children, “you cannot bring black people into this house” the government cannot interfere with that decision. Even though the public, i.e. someone outside of that man’s house, is affected. The government can’t say that John Smith up the street has a constitutional right to enter the house even though he is being discriminated against. However, the racist father in that story can’t kill black people because the law doesn’t allow it.

I fear that our definitions of public and secular are what will keep us from ever seeing eye-to-eye on this issue.

Daniel Fincke: Your definition is subject to criticism. It need not be thrown up as a shield from further thinking. How things “started” (if we even understand that accurately), or how the religious person interprets her activities, or how a religious organization interprets its activities are not determinative of a thing’s nature.

A religious individual or a religious institution may in their hearts or in their theological interpretations view an activity as infused with religious meanings but that does not make it distinctively religious in ways that allow religious judgments to trump secular ones when in interaction with people outside your religion.

For example, many religious people think every single thing they do should be infused with religion. Students and teachers at public schools, not just Catholic ones, may want to make all their endeavors “acts of worship”. That does not supersede others’ rights to be treated in distinctly non-religious ways by them when engaged in the fundamentally religion-neutral endeavor of studying biology.

You may interpret the activity as religious and pray to God for strength as you do it and theologically understand it in some larger context. But none of this can rightly affect how you teach the neutral, universal facts of biology or treat students who are non-adherents to your religion and who are only in a classroom with you for the purposes of learning biology. Otherwise religious people would be exempt from all secular laws that deviated in the slightest ways from their religious feelings since no activities could be properly understood as activities without God. On their view all of life is lived in service to God, so religious feelings are supreme over civil law and supreme over demands for respect for non-adherents to their religion. This is why religious people need to learn the difference between their secular and their religious spheres and learn to think in a fairly bifurcated way.

Mary: But the religious person at a public school, in the same way as you, consciously works for an institution completely committed to being non-dogmatic, non-evangelical and neutral in all matters concerning religion. The religious person understands this and must abide by it because that is the mission of the institution.

This isn’t about individual’s privately held beliefs but about religious institutions which are protected and which set up institutions that are private but service the public, optionally should the public want to be served, and which have religious commitments.

Daniel Fincke: But the point is that religious institutions become like religious individuals when they enter the broader political sphere. Just as some religious individuals may find it intolerable that they not let their religious interpretation of their teaching or learning bleed into what they teach, so a religious institutions’ arbitrary feelings about the reproductive habits of their employees need to be constrained when they act as a public citizen and provide employment to the general public.

Mary: And religious people don’t need to live in a bifurcated way—that’s not living in a religious way at all. There are methods of prudence that teach you that you shouldn’t be pulling your students at public school aside and saying “I just want you to know that Jesus loves you” because that doesn’t respect that student’s dignity in that institution. You’re also violating a contract made in good faith if you bring religious teachings into a public school when you acknowledged that you would not.

But a religious person is perfectly free to see all aspects of her life as pertaining to religion even when they act as public citizens. The constitution affords me the right to freely exercise my religion. And insofar as I’ve not made any commitments that I will keep my personal religious views out of certain things, I can be Catholic at my bank and my Church and I will be, thank you very much. I, personally, have no secular sphere. There is no secular world for me. There is one world. I live in one world as a religious person and carry religious commitments with me in that world.

I afford the people in my Church the same dignity as I afford people outside of it. I don’t ask you to pray with me not because I recognize the “secular” character of our friendship but because I recognize your human dignity and your freely-given choice not to pray to God. I ultimately believe that is a God-given freedom! If I were to teach at a public school, that wouldn’t be a secular activity for me.

I would keep my religious views completely out of the school not because I bifurcate things secularly, but because I recognize that societies and Churches flourish in world where there is a separation of Church and state and that the students at the school have a right to be educated in a way that allows their own religious commitments, if they have them or not, to be unviolated by the teacher. No truly religious person could ever commit to bifurcating their lives.

As for “public citizen” I don’t really know how to respond except that for me a public citizen is a politician or someone who works for the government. Unless we’ve committed ourselves in such a way to the public (such as running for office, vowing to protect the government’s public interests and accepting tax-payer funded payment for my services) we are all private citizens. The Church is not telling Rite Aid employees they can’t have birth control, it is telling employees of its institutions who came to work there knowing fully the commitments of that place. The Church-institutions are not saying that if you buy birth control you will be fired, but that they won’t buy it for you. Which is a distinction that you clearly disagree with but that I am committed to as an important one.

Daniel Fincke: Principles about respecting the dignity of students to be free of evangelism in public schools are not “religious”. They are matters of our specific secular civil institutions. If they depended on religious approval, then America could only tolerate those religions that shared this line of thought. As things stand, religions are entitled to exist which dispute this principle theologically as long as they follow the law civilly.

If you have managed to personally reconcile your private faith with your civic values by synthesizing them such that the separation of church and state is a “religious” value and not a distinctly civil one, then that’s great for you. But it’s not necessary of all religions. So either not all religions are fit for civil society or some people learn to bifurcate their religious wishes from their civil compromises for the sake of peace and civil justice and the protections it provides.

In other words, theocrats (which, privately includes not an insignificant number Catholics and Protestants in America) are legally entitled to their views, as long as they keep their theocracy out of public schools and other official actions of government.

I think the term “public citizens” describes expectations of corporations that they act in ways that respect their obligations to and effects on the broader populace. My point is that within the Church’s religious functions it has autonomy to set many laws and rules for its members which do not violate the civil law. When the Church interacts with the rest of the world though it acts as an agent (or agents) with others whom it must respect. When the Church employs such non-adherents it should not be able to implicitly subject such people to its laws about how they should govern their reproduction.

It risks indirectly forcing people into parenthood. That’s quite possibly a human rights violation. It troubles me they do this in private. When they do it in public they cross the line from troubling to illegal. Imagine a world where the Churches grew in power and so did other religious institutions such that they all did corporate functions like making computers and growing our vegetables and they all interpreted each of these functions as a “religious mission”. And imagine the vast majority of employers were religious institutions and they were subjecting employees who didn’t share their religion to their laws implicitly through their employment, then this would essentially collapse the separation of church and state. Here the issue is only the scale, not the effective principle.

You have the last word.

Mary: Ok, well first of all. I can imagine that world. It’s called the European West until about 1400. And many countries in the Middle East right now.

I think it’s absurd to call it “forcing someone into having children.” The only thing that produces children is sex and excepting the issue of rape, any one, including myself, who enters into a sexual union at any time for any reason should know that the first and foremost biological purpose of sex is reproduction. I’ve read the most amazing studies of how everything that attracts people to one another has to do with evolutionary factors in selecting someone who will give you desirable offspring.

In other words, it should come as no surprise to people if they become pregnant after having sex. The idea that we have a fundamental right to avoid the biological purposes of sex while still having it completely and utterly baffles me. Unless the Church-related institution you work at is forcing you to have sex, it is not forcing you to have children. If it is an issue of rape, that is another story which we can talk about at another time.

Furthermore, these employers are not saying that you can’t control birth. You can buy condoms, pull-out, use NFP, or walk into planned parenthood and get discounted oral birth control. It is simply saying that they are a religious institution that provides goods and services with a religious mission and that they will not provide BC because it is a violation of their teachings. It is not an act of discrimination to refuse to provide a method of birth control that is just one method among many. A religious institution does not cease to be religious when it enters the public sphere and its actions don’t stop being religious either. Any employee of a religious institution knows the commitments of that institution prior to being hired and should make the decision to accept employment based on that. So long as they are not being harassed, consistently abused or discriminated against based on their beliefs or non-beliefs, the Church has a right to deny paying for brith control.

Your Thoughts?

In case you have not read either of them, here again are part 1 and part 2 of our debate. Read bonus discussion with Mary on other issues related to Catholicism here.

About Daniel Fincke

Dr. Daniel Fincke  has his PhD in philosophy from Fordham University and spent 11 years teaching in college classrooms. He wrote his dissertation on Ethics and the philosophy of Friedrich Nietzsche. On Camels With Hammers, the careful philosophy blog he writes for a popular audience, Dan argues for atheism and develops a humanistic ethical theory he calls “Empowerment Ethics”. Dan also teaches affordable, non-matriculated, video-conferencing philosophy classes on ethics, Nietzsche, historical philosophy, and philosophy for atheists that anyone around the world can sign up for. (You can learn more about Dan’s online classes here.) Dan is an APPA  (American Philosophical Practitioners Association) certified philosophical counselor who offers philosophical advice services to help people work through the philosophical aspects of their practical problems or to work out their views on philosophical issues. (You can read examples of Dan’s advice here.) Through his blogging, his online teaching, and his philosophical advice services each, Dan specializes in helping people who have recently left a religious tradition work out their constructive answers to questions of ethics, metaphysics, the meaning of life, etc. as part of their process of radical worldview change.

  • Hazzard

    This would have been a more interesting debate if Mary had directly addressed your arguments, rather than ignoring them or talking around them. It’s as if she wanted to avoid taking responsibility for the implications of her own point of view.

  • Echidna

    It is abusing the power of the employer/employee relationship to impose religious constraints on health insurance.

  • Gwynnyd

    Mary is still doing the bafflegab and sidestep. So she does recognize that what she wants will lead to the world of pre-1400 Europe and parts of the current Middle East. And she’s OK with that. She doesn’t think… nah. I’ll leave it at that. I do not know how to counter that kind of indoctrination.

  • Echidna

    For a very long time, the church punished heresy with death. The abuses of the church are legendary, not just child rape, but sanctioned religious activity. Magdalene laundries come to mind. Pogroms. Mary, you can’t be serious about wanting to go back there.

    The principle that the Church is limited in its ability to act on its beliefs is in place for very good reasons.

    The church should not have the right to use the power of being an employer to impose religious constraints on non-adherent employees.

  • http://quoded.wordpress.com quoded

    Any employee of a religious institution knows the commitments of that institution prior to being hired and should make the decision to accept employment based on that.

    Any employee of a sweat shop knows the commitments of that institution prior to being hired and should make the decision to accept employment based on that.

    I know that the comparison is unfair, but honestly, this argument has been used for so many centuries to justify terrible working conditions. Admittedly, much more terrible than what we are talking about here. But that doesn’t make the argument suddenly right.

    • jesse

      Actually your comparison s more than fair.

      On my bad days, when I feel uncharitable and mean and nasty, I wonder if the Church should be prosecuted as a criminal organization the same way we do the guys that run brothels and put women into sexual slavery. The Magdalene Laundries were slave labor camps, no more than that. I guess Mary thinks that was perfectly okay.

      Mary has so little grasp of the power dynamic between employer and employee I seriously have to wonder if she has ever had to look for a job and if she has ever needed one really badly.

  • http://qpr.ca/blogs Alan Cooper

    The rights of an employer and employee to agree on terms of employment are legally restricted in many ways, and I see nothing wrong with this so long as the restrictions are motivated by values which are sufficient to override the freedom of conscience of the parties, and where there is no less harmful means of achieving those values.

    For example an employer may genuinely feel that she could do more good by hiring five workers at below minimum wage rather than just the four she can actually afford – but society in its wisdom has decided that her reasoning is faulty and that the social value of setting a minimum exceeds the harm of intruding on her freedom. An argument against the minimum wage might be made on the basis of the emotional pain she feels at not being able to provide as much employment as she might, but it would probably not be convincing.

    On the other hand, a law which required an employer to fund abortion on demand for all employees might reasonably be seen as causing unnecessary distress to an employer who was deeply opposed to abortion on any grounds – partly because of the much greater plausible amount of distress, and partly because of the availability of various other options.

    The question of forcing employers to fund health insurance which covers birth control falls somewhere between these extremes, but I can’t even try to weigh the alternatives in this case as it is just too hard for an outsider to comprehend the US situation – where apparently what the rest of the civilized world does is deemed not to be a viable alternative.

    But, at the risk of repeating myself, I must say again that whatever exceptions of conscience are granted to the religious should also be granted to all. There is NO justification whatsoever for assuming that the moral scruples of the religious are more deserving of respect than those of anyone else, and I would have expected that any intelligent community would see making such an assumption in law as being tantamount to the “establishment” of religion.

    • jesse

      I;ll help you out.

      Unlike other western democracies, health care in the US is not a right –it is a privilege granted to people with money. If you have no money, you die or go bankrupt. It’s really that simple.

      For most people in the US, the only way to get any health care at all is via employer health insurance or a patchwork of state and federal programs. The most obvious are Medicare and Medicaid, the latter of which is for people who haven’t got any money. Neither is optimal, tho.

      The other option is the emergency room where they are required by law to treat you, but the hospital has the option — and they use it — of collecting the money later. That can be a lot. Like tens of thousands.

      Now, since most people can’t afford private health insurance — it would be, for example, $6,000 per year or even more than that for a decent plan where I live — they have to get it through their job. If the job does not provide some service or fund something, tough luck.

      If an employer refused to buy a plan that covered abortions, then many poor women would simply not get them since even the clinics charge $500 or so. If you are working for %10 an hour that is a lot of money.

      I hope this clears things up. I know in most other countries this seems barbaric.

  • coldhope

    This right here

    The idea that we have a fundamental right to avoid the biological purposes of sex while still having it completely and utterly baffles me.

    is exactly the reason why this person will never understand that refusing to provide insurance covering birth control is, in fact, discrimination.

    Additionally I seem to recall she said something about the “if they don’t agree with it they can just not work there” angle as being insufferable, and here at the end of her statement guess what she comes out with, bold as brass.

    • http://www.nick-andrew.net/ elronxenu

      Yes, the “last word” that Daniel gave Mary was quite the opportunity taken. If this was chess, Mary somehow checkmated herself. Now we see where all this is coming from. Mary said:

      the first and foremost biological purpose of sex is reproduction.

      and I’ll quote a bit more than you:

      In other words, it should come as no surprise to people if they become pregnant after having sex. The idea that we have a fundamental right to avoid the biological purposes of sex while still having it completely and utterly baffles me.

      Basically, it’s all about punishing people for having sex. Those sluts should keep their legs closed if they don’t want to get pregnant. Never mind that we have developed technological means to avoid pregnancy; the Catholics don’t want us to use them because that would make sex fun, and safe, and take away the punishment.

      This is a wholly disgusting attitude. Daniel, you’ve done a good job here. Your arguments were well thought-out and well stated. Mary was eloquent and I was pleased that a debate of that length remained civil. So this is what a degree in theology can provide: the ability to justify an awful, immoral policy which one does not personally follow, and avoid addressing the direct arguments of one’s opponent.

      Mary, your attitude is repellant to me beyond my ability to articulate.

    • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=597316935 ashleybell

      Or You could simply call it what it is… sexual discrimination against women. Women are the only ones who this issue effects. (with secondary effects on men close to neglible)

  • James Thompson

    Maybe they don’t want to hire Jews or Blacks, or maybe if they do they can pay them less, or give them different benefits?

  • smrnda

    This line disgusted me:

    In other words, it should come as no surprise to people if they become pregnant after having sex. The idea that we have a fundamental right to avoid the biological purposes of sex while still having it completely and utterly baffles me.


    I think that we have a 100% fundamental right to use whatever technology we want to avoid pregnancy in having sex. There’s no law or principle that I can think of that means I’m required to accept as a consequence some law of nature if I can figure out a way to get around it. Why on earth shouldn’t I confound natural law if it’s convenient to me? We do it all the time.

    Is it wrong for me to be cool in the summer with air conditioning, in defiance of the natural law that summer is hot? Do I not have a fundamental right to use vehicles to travel faster than I could by foot? Just because biology implies a limitation of a normal consequence doesn’t mean I have to inherently accept it as the way things ought to be. By the same logic, we would be defying some natural law to avoid illness.

    • echidna

      Use of anaesthetics during childbirth was considered immoral on the grounds that suffering during childbirth was mandated by God until Queen Victoria made a point of using chloroform.

      The church really has no business dictating what medicines and technologies should be used or not used. The Church’s stance is about power, not morality.

    • Rootboy

      We’ve got the right of religions to practice what they believe vs. the right of women to access affordable birth control. The thing is, Catholics don’t think this second right even exists. So of course they don’t think they’re overstepping their bounds in blocking it.

      That this debate is happening is a great argument in favor of a single payer system. Requiring employers with their own diverse agendas to provide health insurance is asking for trouble if you want to ensure some minimum standard of care.

    • Another Commenter

      It makes me want to ask Mary if she:
      – Has any insurance of any type at all (not trusting in ‘God’)
      – Uses any of the following:
      – eyeglasses
      – antibiotics
      – soap
      – band-aids
      – clothing
      – any public accommodation of any type

      By her rules, living life in a religious fashion, she would have to eschew all relief from suffering that has been provided by secular science….which is ironic in that the discoverer of the birth control hormones, who also invented ‘The Pill’, was a devout Catholic who saw it as an extension of the rhythm method of birth control, only more certain and reproducible.

    • anat

      By the same logic, we would be defying some natural law to avoid illness.

      Indeed. By that logic there is very little insurance should cover. No coverage for communicable illness – it’s a risk one accepts when spending time in the company of other people. No coverage for breaking your leg while walking down the road – it’s a risk you accepted when you left home.

  • http://whatloveteaches.blogspot.com/ Slow Learner

    “By the same logic, we would be defying some natural law to avoid illness.”

    THIS. Exactly this.

    Basically, the Catholic hierarchy has drawn a line in the sand, over one scientific advance out of millions, and said “THIS SHALL NOT PASS!” while merrily making use of all the other advances.
    Just because it gives women more power over their own lives. It puts women on a more equal footing with men, and that they cannot abide.
    I cannot see any reason that better fits the known facts.

    • karmakin

      Yeah, that’s what popped out to me from the first post in the series. It really is an arbitrary morality that draws lines in the sand with no real rhyme or reason. Contraception is bad because it interferes with the “natural” body order as opposed to other things which interfere with the “natural” body order?

      From top to bottom, it’s all arbitrary. Throwing darts at a dartboard.

  • echidna

    Mary says:

    I recognize that societies and Churches flourish in world where there is a separation of Church and state and that the students at the school have a right to be educated in a way that allows their own religious commitments, if they have them or not, to be unviolated by the teacher.

    And employees have the right to health insurance that does not reflect the religious views of their employer.

  • Ed S.

    Having a Catholic background, and having assumed that a theology student would be a bit better prepared, I’m more than a little disappointed in the outcome here. That being said, the answers to the three questions raised are, in order: All persons should be treated equally, superstition should have no authority in the public sphere, and (apparently) the religious can’t help themselves and must bother the rest of us.

  • JoeBuddha

    First thing I thought of is how I can get back the money I spent supporting the Iraq war in the guise of my taxes. We pay for a lot of things we may not believe in. It’s the price for living in this society. When you deal with the public world, you have to play by the public rules, whether you want to or not, morality be damned.

  • RW Ahrens

    On one hand, she says:

    I would keep my religious views completely out of the school not because I bifurcate things secularly, but because I recognize that societies and Churches flourish in world where there is a separation of Church and state and that the students at the school have a right to be educated in a way that allows their own religious commitments, if they have them or not, to be unviolated by the teacher.

    and then she says:

    For me, something becomes secular when it’s not at all religious. In that case, no function of a religious institution is ever secular.


    For me, something being subject to civil laws doesn’t actually make it something in which the government can necessarily impose itself or interfere.

    WTF? You don’t get to define the terms of the law to benefit your point of view. If something is subject to civil laws, it is THE JOB OF THE GOVERNMENT TO ENFORCE THE LAW!!

    In this case, if you are acting as a business, performing a function that is widely acknowledged to be a secular function, YOU CANNOT ARBITRARILY DEFINE IT AS A RELIGIOUS FUNCTION, just to avoid legal strictures. You still have to obey the law.

    A quick thought experiment:

    Just try defining yourself as a church, and your employment as a religious activity. See how long that prevents you from going to jail for tax evasion!

    In the first statement I quoted above, she seems to understand the terms of the First Amendment, but in the next two, she just loses the connection completely.

  • ACN

    I read the whole series, and all i could say about part 3 was that it was exceedingly kind of you to give her the last word.

    And what a ghastly closing it was.


  • Erp

    Hmm I wonder if she would agree that a Christian Science organization (let us say a school) could refuse to pay for any health insurance on the grounds that it is against their beliefs. Or a Jehovah’s Witness organization could refuse to pay for health insurance that covered blood transfusions. Nothing requires the individual employees or their families to use birth control or accept blood transfusions or ever go to a doctor (though the courts may and should in necessity override a parent’s decision against with regards to minor children) but not all the employees will even be of the same faith.

    Admittedly it would be easier if employers were taken out of the loop completely.

    • echidna

      As Greta Christina points out, there is no reality check with religion. A reasonable exemption on religious grounds paves the way for any and all exemptions, and the Catholic position is by no means reasonable.

  • Forbidden Snowflake

    You can buy condoms,

    Spend money on something which should be a right…

    pull-out, use NFP,

    More fun than a vacation in Las Vegas!

    or walk into planned parenthood and get discounted oral birth control.

    If you can get past the protesters who are baffled by “the idea that we have a fundamental right to avoid the biological purposes of sex while still having it”, that is.

  • Forbidden Snowflake

    Daniel, the nested commenting format makes tracking new comments very difficult. I hope I’m not speaking out of turn, but would you reconsider it?

    • http://freethoughtblogs.com/camelswithhammers Daniel Fincke

      You’re more than welcome to offer feedback, don’t be shy. I prefer the nested comments because they allow for clear discussions among commenters. I know it is hard to find the new comments though when you come back—it bugs me too. I’m weighing the pros and cons. My tip is to use the “find” feature in a clever way to search for comments since you were last there. Like so had you read yesterday but not today yet, I’d search for “February 7″ and quickly find all the overnight posts.

    • Forbidden Snowflake

      I do that, too, except that it doesn’t work for threads that aren’t so new (when one isn’t sure when the last comments one read were made). Anyway, I realize that the alternative can be confusing as well, when people fail to properly quote each other. Maybe it’s a matter of habit.

  • http://www.vitalmis.com Keith Harwood

    Daniel says:

    “Otherwise religious people would be exempt from all secular laws”.


    This is they way it used to be. Clergy were subject to Canon Law. Everyone else was subject to Civil Law. This is the way the Catholic hierarchy want it to be again. And if you look at the way the child abuse cases are handled, particularly in Ireland, the top levels of the hierarchy believe it is still the case even if they have to huff and puff about `we’re a sovereign nation’ to cover it up.

  • http://euroatheist.wordpress.com pelamun

    I would also like Mary to list the “many” countries in the Middle East, or do Catholic universities teach 2=many?

    This entire debate reminds me of the sorry state of affairs we have in many EU member nations, where we don’t have a proper separation of church and state.

    In Germany, for instance, the state churches (Lutherans and Catholics) fought hard for their right to discriminate on religious grounds, wrt church-run institutions like schools and hospitals. They (though it’s mostly the Catholic Church, as most Lutheran synods have become quite liberal) can fire employees based on religious grounds, or for violating church dogma, i.e. fire a nurse for getting a divorce, or “living in sin”. Their influence also extends into state schools: Catholic theology teachers, in universities and state schools, with salaries completely paid for by the state, need a venia docendi from the Church, which can be retracted should they run afoul of the Catholic dogmas..

    • http://freethoughtblogs.com/camelswithhammers Daniel Fincke

      Holy crap.

    • http://euroatheist.wordpress.com pelamun

      sorry, got my Latin mixed up: in Germany it’s usually called venia legendi, or less often, ius docendi. venia docendi seems to be a Swiss term.

      Anyway, in the United States, I’m sure a hospital discriminating against its employees would lose its eligibility for federal grants, right? (I know for sure that this would be the case for universities and Pell grants).

      I wish they would make that a rule in the EU: discriminate all you want, but you won’t see any state funding in return..


    This whole debate is in error. Using the church-state separation argument is a red herring. In 1854, Pope Pius IX condemned in the Syllabus of Errors the idea of church-state separation (an idea again refuted by Pope Leo XIII) in 1898, and it has never reversed this stance. Maybe the Catholic Church does not want the church and state to be separate, so attacking that the Church is not abiding by church-state separation is foolish. Also, one other error: we are not a secular country. We are a country where religion is free to pervade in public life. We are a country where people are allowed to act on religious beliefs (if you don’t like this, move to China). The Catholic Church has a system of law known as Canon Law. They have legally protected right to enforce that law within their church and church-run facilities. Also, if someone has some religious duties and some secular duties, the church could easily and legally prohibit them from their religious duties. Well, those religious duties might interfere with their performance of secular duties. They can therefore fire them (EEOC v. Hosanna-Tabor). Religion does have merits; we are not a secular society. The word religion is mentioned in the Constitution; religion is not devoid of public recognition and influence. There is a reason we have tax-exemptions for churches and other religious houses of worship (taxing them would likely cause some of them to shut down, therefore burdening or infringing on the free practice of religion, therefore violating the First Amendment and all 50 state constitutions). This, religion is no justification is garbage; the Constitution mentions it.

    My case is justified; let anybody who disagrees be declared a communist and leave this country.