Thomas More vs. Mary Dyer: The bishops don’t know what ‘religious liberty’ means

Thomas More vs. Mary Dyer: The bishops don’t know what ‘religious liberty’ means May 27, 2012

The U.S. Catholic bishops have decided to make Thomas More the central figure in their summer protests against the government guarantee of equal health insurance coverage for women.

Scott Paeth notes that this choice probably reveals more about the bishops’ agenda than they intended:

Thomas More died for the sake of his conscience. More also caused others to die for the sake of their consciences. He burned heretics at the stake and he pursued William Tyndale mercilessly (a fact that ought to give the Bishops’ Protestant allies some pause). Like the Bishops, what he wanted was not freedom of conscience regarding matters of religion, but for his own view of religious orthodoxy to prevail. And he was willing to make others suffer for the sake of that vision.

This is exactly why the bishops are full of it when they claim that they are fighting for “religious liberty” when they oppose equal health insurance coverage for women.

William Tyndale restricts the religious liberty of the good clergy of Brussels as part of his dastardly war on religion.

To fight for religious liberty, one has to understand what that means, and the bishops have made it clear that they simply do not. Like their patron saint, Thomas More, they think that religious liberty involves their liberty to impose their religion on others.

Their “Freedom Fortnight” campaign might be something I could believe or respect if they took for its symbol instead someone like, say, Mary Dyer.

But the “religious liberty” these bishops are fighting for is at the other end of that rope. They don’t care about or sympathize with Mary Dyer’s religious liberty. What they’re upset about is that, unlike the theocratic puritans of 17th-century New England, they are no longer free to do whatever it takes to restrain such uppity women.

Evangelical Republican activists like Richard Land are joining the bishops in their fight for this hangman’s version of religious liberty.

That’s a huge change. When I was growing up in American evangelicalism, William Tyndale was celebrated and revered as a champion of religious liberty. His English translation of the Bible provides the core of the scriptural and spiritual language still used by American evangelicals to this day. Due to that translation, and due to his support for Protestant theology, Tyndale was choked, impaled and burned at the stake in 1536.

But forget all that. For conservative evangelicals today, Tyndale must now be viewed as an enemy of religious liberty. As good partisans opposed to health care for women, those evangelicals are rallying with the U.S. Catholic bishops under the banner of the man who prosecuted Tyndale.

And then they have the chutzpah to say they’re doing so in the name of “religious liberty.”

Even the hangman, it seems, feels the need to achieve a sense of contrived innocence.

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  • aunursa

    Should a Jehovah’s Witness employer be able to say that insurance won’t pay for a medically essential transfusion for me? For an organ transplant?
    Should a Mormon employer be able to say that insurance won’t pay for liver cirrhosis treatment for me?…

    I was unable to answer this question when it was posed to me a few months ago.  In the interim I have determined how I would answer it. Alas, my computer broke down last week, and so I my time online is very limited until my new laptop arrives in a few days.  So I intend to answer this question when this issue arises in a future thread.

  •  Yeah, but here’s the trick. Because these insurance policies are directly purchased by the employer, they can choose to buy insurance policies that don’t cover certain treatments. It’s not so much that your employer is going to follow you to your doctor’s office and tell you that you can’t have Medication X or Prescription Y, but they can buy an insurance policy that simply doesn’t cover Medication X and Prescription Y. They’re not violating patient confidentiality because they never actually attempt to find out whether or not you’re using each prescription.

    (This doesn’t make it okay, of course. If you’re receiving a certain benefit from your employer in exchange for service, for them to just unilaterally degrade it like that is clearly wrong. It would be like if a company tried to pay its employees in gift certificates that were only redeemable for certain products. The fact that health insurance is more or less exclusively obtained through your employer puts employers in an unusual position of power and responsibility and things like the Blunt Amendment essentially encourage employers to exploit this responsibility as part of some exaggerated display of piety.)

  •  Yeah, that’s another thing too. If someone really has a Rush Limbaugh-level of understanding of women’s health issues (seriously, they didn’t even understand how the birth control pill is taken!), they’re honestly not qualified to speak on it. It’s like putting someone who is unfamiliar with the theory of gravity in charge of NASA.

  • AnonymousSam

    What about that cute little law that went up awhile ago in Arizona that would let employers ask employees what they were using contraception or other medications for, and terminate their employment if they disagreed with them on a religious basis? HB2625.

  • That’s another sleazy end run that works on the same principle. If that bill had been passed, it would have amended existing Arizonan law by permitting employers to question employees about what they are using their insurance benefits for and either approve or deny reimbursements for certain expenses (contraception) based on their — the employer’s, that is — religious beliefs. It doesn’t explicitly grant employers the right to fire employees who use contraception, but the thing about Arizona is that it is an “at-will” employment state (meaning that an employer can fire an employee at any time, for any or no reason, as long as they’re not violating any existing civil rights laws).

     The bill doesn’t say that you can fire a woman for buying the pill, but if she tries to use her company-provided health benefit for it,  you as the employer are given the opportunity to question her on it and approve/deny her request for coverage. And now that you have her affidavit saying that she’s using contraception, if you decided to fire her a couple of days later… well, legally, that’s your prerogative, and no one can even say for sure if you fired her because of the birth control thing or because her work was bad or because you didn’t like the way she did her hair one morning (all of which are perfectly legal).

  • This discussion of health insurance and contraeption reminds me of the phrase “Cuius regio, eius religio,”  the idea that a ruler had the prerogative of dictating his subject’s religion. Raising employers to the level of petty kings and reducing employees to serfs and subjects seems to sum up the conservative view of labour relations far too well.

  •  Give us something else to judge you by, then. Where are the reasonable Catholics saying, “No, this is not right!” Where are their voices? What we see and hear is the Pope and his Bishops, and they are the ones who are your superiors, quite literally, in the hierarchy of the church. They would tell you so, and they do. And they have assumed for themselves the right to speak for the Catholic Church, because *you gave them that right*, by investing and being a member of the Catholic Church.

    So why are you still a member of the Catholic Church, seeing as how they aren’t going to change, ever? How do you reconcile it to who you really are?

  • My observation is: Why should anyone pay any attention to what a group of withered, sexless old eunuchs have to say about anything at all, leave alone sexuality, women’s bodies, and the right to health care? Why are these wretched dregs of a dying religion given any credence whatsoever, by anyone? Because they say they are God’s voice on earth? I’ve met homeless people who said the same thing.