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Australian philosopher, literary critic, and professional writer. Author of FREEDOM OF RELIGION AND THE SECULAR STATE and HUMANITY ENHANCED.

Sunday, January 29, 2012

Some papal gobbledegook

I'm going to link to this papal address to the American bishops without any detailed comment - it's one of those "look at what we're up against" moments.

Suffice to say that the Vatican concept of freedom of religion is a very long way from the concept that I advocate, which is a two-way street that includes freedom from the religions that you don't subscribe to. When the Vatican talks about freedom of religion, it gives its own meaning to the expression, and its supposed support for "freedom of religion" may not mean what you think it means if you don't delve.

5 comments:

Geoff said...

Nobody compelled the Catholic church to get into the business of community health care. Any prudent Bishop might have thought twice about establishing a dominant (often near-monopoly) position in a market in which the government might legitimately have interests which conflicted with the church. The solution is easy: divest all church-owned businesses which go beyond the spiritual interests of church members. It's just a matter of business; nothing to do with religion.

Verbose Stoic said...

Let me quote what I think are the two most telling parts of the letter, and that reflect issues that I agree are issues:

"The Church’s witness, then, is of its nature public: she seeks to convince by proposing rational arguments in the public square. The legitimate separation of Church and State cannot be taken to mean that the Church must be silent on certain issues, nor that the State may choose not to engage, or be engaged by, the voices of committed believers in determining the values which will shape the future of the nation."

...

"Many of you have pointed out that concerted efforts have been made to deny the right of conscientious objection on the part of Catholic individuals and institutions with regard to cooperation in intrinsically evil practices. Others have spoken to me of a worrying tendency to reduce religious freedom to mere freedom of worship without guarantees of respect for freedom of conscience."

Now, I think that freedom of religion does indeed mean that you should be able to -- as much as is reasonable -- act on the moral code that religion proscribes. I also think that freedom of religion is a fundamental right -- well, okay, to the extent that I accept rights -- and so will trump other rights a lot of the time. Thus, for example, if a doctor thinks abortion is murder they should indeed be allowed to refuse to perform one, no matter how much the mother "chooses" to have one. In cases where the mother's life is at stake things get far more complicated, but I'm not opposed to giving them the choice to refuse to perform the abortion rather than commit what they see as murder (I'd support extending that to non-religious moral objectors to abortion as well, but it isn't guaranteed by a right).

So, then, do you think that religions should be left out of or ignored in discussions of public policy, and that the State can coerce people to violate their religious precepts without good reason, without specific reasons (saying that we want a secular society doesn't cut it; you need a reason for the specific case)? If so, why?

Or maybe I should just read your book, I guess. I haven't bought anything for a bit, so maybe I should look into that ...

Michael Fugate said...

If an individual goes to a pharmacy for birth control and the pharmacist is a catholic who opposes birth control, should he or she be allowed to deny access? If the pharmacy is part of a network that provides prescriptions to the general public as part of health plans which include the general public, then the answer is clearly no. If the pharmacist or the pharmacy is against birth control, then they should not form an alliance with health plans that do. The problem is that catholic health care services want to impose their morality on others by denying services that are both legal and paid form by insurance premiums. Health care professionals should not work for companies that offer services that the professional do not want to perform.

Russell Blackford said...

Yes, VS, you should read the book. :)

Russell Blackford said...

I do intend to say more about this issue here, though - along with all the other issues that I've promised to come back to. For what it's worth, I think that the pope has things about 180 degrees wrong. Freedom of religion is perfectly consistent with being required to act in certain ways, even though they conflict with your religious beliefs, provided that the there is a good secular reason for requiring people to act in that way. E.g. the members of a neo-Aztec cult could not complain about being required to refrain from human sacrifice. The law against murder is there for independent secular reasons, not for the purpose of persecuting neo-Aztec cultists.

On the other hand, freedom of religion does not allow the state to impose a religion's canons of conduct on non-believers unless there is an independent secular justification for imposing that standard of conduct. E.g., the state might be able to ban consumption of alcohol on some secular ground, such as that consumption of alcohol leads to violence. But if it bans consumption of alcohol the justification that it gives to the citizens cannot be: "Alcohol is forbidden in the Koran." If the only basis, or the only plausible basis, for a law imposing a standard of conduct is that it is prescribed by some religion in its canons of conduct, then that law is a breach of the idea of freedom of religion. In those circumstances, religious doctrine is being imposed on non-believers ... and it's not just that an independently justifiable standard that happens to coincide with religious doctrine is being imposed.