The Religious Denial of Aid and Charity

I wrote recently about the denial of emergency reproductive health care at Catholic hospitals, and I’m glad to see that this extremely important issue is getting media traction. There are two articles in the Washington Post this week calling attention to these clashes across the country (HT: The Wall of Separation).

As AU says:

The Maryland Health Care Commission voted unanimously to allow a Catholic hospital called Holy Cross to build a new facility in northern Montgomery County. The commission made this vote even though another hospital run by a group affiliated with the Seventh-day Adventists had proposed building a facility that would offer the full range of reproductive care.

It’s not just the denial of abortion to women suffering life-threatening complications of pregnancy, though that’s certainly the most critical issue. But Catholic-controlled hospitals restrict women’s freedom in other ways as well: for instance, by forbidding doctors to perform tubal ligation. This is usually done along with C-section for women who don’t want any more children, but since it’s not allowed at these hospitals, women who give birth there end up having to travel elsewhere and go through more surgery. There’s also the threat of these hospitals ignoring patients’ living wills if they’re deemed to conflict with Catholic dogma about end-of-life care.

AU has promised legal action in Montgomery County, which is as it should be. When hospitals are built on public land or with public money, religious gatekeepers have no right to come in and decree which kinds of care will be forbidden there. The old, celibate men who run the church can preach whatever they like to their own congregations. They may not enforce their beliefs on everyone who comes to a hospital, regardless of those people’s own beliefs or affiliations.

But it’s not just Catholics who value religious dogma over human well-being. There’s also this shocking story out of Georgia, where a church-run homeless shelter with the audacity to call itself the “House of Mercy” flatly refuses to serve gay and lesbian people:

Earlier this month, two women checked into House of Mercy along with their children. Soon, the operators of the facility began to suspect that the two women were lesbians, and promptly kicked them out. Both women told the local news that they weren’t even gay, and one of them said she came from an abusive home.

Is there even any point in citing the Bible? Probably not, but I’ll do it anyway:

“When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, he will sit on his glorious throne. All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate the people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. He will put the sheep on his right and the goats on his left…

Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. For I was hungry and you gave me nothing to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, I was a stranger and you did not invite me in, I needed clothes and you did not clothe me, I was sick and in prison and you did not look after me.’

They also will answer, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or needing clothes or sick or in prison, and did not help you?’

He will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.’”

—Matthew 25:31-45 (NIV)

I could point out that there’s no footnote saying, “Except when those people are gay, in which case I couldn’t care less about them,” but why even bother? It’s obvious that people like Elder Bobby Harris only care about the parts of the Bible that give them an excuse to hate.

And that’s really what’s behind all this, whether it’s evangelical-run shelters that turn gay people out onto the street, or Catholic bishops who demand that women with preeclampsia be left to die. Their charitable work isn’t done out of a genuine concern for human welfare – how could it be, given this evidence? – but out of a desire to enforce their brand of religious superiority on the population. They want to show, in a very public and visible way, which people they consider worthy or unworthy of their help, and by so doing, to prove that their beliefs and their edicts reign supreme. This cruel, theocratic desire for supremacy is something that an enlightened and secular society shouldn’t tolerate.

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About Adam Lee

Adam Lee is an atheist writer and speaker living in New York City. His new novel, Arc of Fire, is available in paperback and e-book. Read his full bio, or follow him on Twitter.


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