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Letter to the editor by Clergy for Choice: It's every person's right to choose

Published: 03.02.12| Updated: 04.11.12

There has been much discussion in the news lately regarding “religious liberty”. The discussion centers on whether the Roman Catholic Church can exclude health insurance coverage for birth control for employees who work in the hospitals and the universities that it owns.  
            The argument posits that if a religious institution chooses to believe that the use of birth control is immoral, then any attempt to restrict its freedom to socially and economically impose this belief upon others violates the principle of religious liberty.  It holds that religions must be allowed, in the name of freedom of religion, to force their particular belief system upon all within their domain, regardless of the physical, mental or spiritual damage done to those impacted by their actions and regardless of whether those affected are members of their church.
            This issue raises an important question:  Where does religious freedom end and religious tyranny begin?  If a religious community believes that giving blood products is immoral, may they then disallow this insurance coverage from their domain?  If another faith community believes in pure vegetarianism, may they demand that their employees not be covered for heart attacks and strokes? Where does this end?  The Catholic Church is entitled to the exercise of religious freedom, but they do not have the right to impose their beliefs upon anyone who does not share those beliefs.
            The principle of religious freedom was put into the Constitution to protect people from the unsolicited demands of organized religion.  In colonial days, all colonists were required to pay a tax to the Church of England. Thank you, Thomas Jefferson, for rebelling against that practice and for setting the precedent in this country that freedom of religion includes freedom from religion.
            “Religious liberty” as used in the current debate demands the right of a given religion to impose its beliefs upon the lives of others.  True freedom of religion, which might be called spiritual liberty, recognizes the right of every human being to pursue the deeper questions of life in that fashion called forth by their own inner longing for spiritual truth. This may or may not involve voluntary participation in an organized religion. Spiritual liberty is free of coercion. The motivation to walk its path comes only from one’s longing for spiritual wisdom.
            We are members of Clergy for Choice, a group of religious and spiritual leaders who trust people and support their efforts to decide about their sexuality, about having children and planning a family.  We accept that religions differ about when life begins, and we believe that no single religious view on this subject should be forced upon others, let alone made into the law of the land.  We believe in every person’s right to pursue their own spiritual truth and to live by it, and to do no harm to those who believe differently. We believe that the divine speaks to all of us in our own way. That’s why we believe in every person’s right to choose to be a parent or not, regardless of race or creed. We consider access to birth control to be a blessing, an act of love and compassion for those in need.

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Signed by members of Clergy for Choice:  the Rev. Dr. Alicia Abell, Presbyterian minister; the Rev. Eric Duff, Episcopal minister; Nancy Dye, M.P.H., Ph.D. Clergy for Choice convener; the Rev. Steven Lundin, Church of the Joyful Healer, United Methodist; the Rev. Denise Reynolds, consulting minister, Humboldt Unitarian Fellowship; Scott Sattler, M.D., Universal Sufism; Carol Scher, Clergy for Choice committee member; Rabbi Naomi Steinberg, Temple Beth El; the Rev. Cindy Storrs, Arcata United Methodist Church; and the Rev. Carlotta Vallerga, Eureka UCC First Congregational Church.

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