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Is It About Religious Liberty, or Really About Contraception?

Jeffrey Bruno

Brantly Millegan - published on 06/24/13 - updated on 06/07/17

Aleteia Experts weigh in on the USCCB's second Fortnight for Freedom

The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops launched their second Fortnight for Freedom last Thursday, June 21st to call attention to threats to religious liberty in the US, particularly the HHS mandate. As its name suggests, the campaign is set to last two weeks, ending on the 4th of July. The bishops ran the same campaign last year on the same days.

In responding to the HHS mandate, the bishops have largely made the argument that it violates religious liberty, rather than trying to argue that the use of the contraception and sterilization procedures is immoral and shouldn’t be supported by anyone. We asked our Aleteia Experts what they thought about the campaign and whether this was a prudent strategy.

"[T]he bishops need to be forthright," said Anthony Esolen, literature professor at Providence College. "The bishops need to affirm the correctness of the Catholic teaching and the damage that ignoring it has done to the common good. We do not wish to withhold coverage for the Pill because we have some arcane theological commitment to fertility. We cannot contribute to it, because it is an evil, and that it is an evil is abundantly demonstrable both by natural law reasoning and by the evil consequences which have exceeded even Pope Paul VI’s predictions in Humanae Vitae."

"Many are fond of saying that this fight isn’t about the issues of contraception and abortion," Fr Frank Pavone, director of Priests for Life, told Aleteia. "On the other hand, it cannot be disconnected from them. The other side doesn’t disconnect them."

Monica Miller, director of Citizens for a Pro Life Society, disagrees: "The issue is not ultimately about the practice of contraception. It is about all religious institutions being able to function free of inappropriate government interference."

"It is absolutely critical to focus on religious liberty and not on the immorality of contraception," Fr Joseph Fessio, founder of Ignatius Press, told Aleteia. "Trying to persuade the public at large, even the subset of Catholics, that contraception is immoral is futile at this time. If that is the focus of the opposition to the HHS mandate, there is no chance of prevailing. But if can be shown that a constitutionally protected freedom is being violated—and it is—there is at least a possibility for wide public support."

Allan Wright, Academic Dean of Evangelization for the Diocese of Paterson, NJ, has a similar sentiment: "We know that this freedom is valued by Catholics and non-Catholics, believers and non-believers, Democrats, Republicans and Independents for it is written in our Constitution. It is even valued by those who have no moral reservations about contraception, sterilization and abortion that are "non-issues" and accepted practice by many," he told Aleteia. "[The bishops] rightly focus on the bigger issues at hand which are conscience and the constitution."

Author John Zmirak strongly thinks that Catholics should focus on religious liberty rather than contraception: "This is not about the morality of contraception, but the freedom of civil society–and anyone who tries to use this as a ‘teaching moment’ on contraception is engaged in reckless grandstanding," he told Aleteia. "The only issues here are the freedom of religion, the freedom of association, and the freedom of contract. If the Feds insisted that kosher restaurants serve bacon cheeseburgers and lobster bisque or shut their doors, the proper argument for rabbis should not be to cite Leviticus, but to cite the Constitution. I think the people who are trying to refight Humanae Vitae while our liberties are at stake are behaving irresponsibly. They are unwittingly helping our enemies."

In a piece for the National Catholic Register, prolife advocate Janet Smith argues the Jewish-pork analogy that has been put forth by many, including bishops, is flawed: "Jews do not argue that eating pork is something no one should do, but Catholics do argue that using contraception is something no one should do; among other reasons, the Church condemns it as against the natural law; it is against the health of women, the health of relationships and the health of society."

Some experts simply think the religious liberty argument is the best chance the bishops have for success.

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ContraceptionReligious Freedom
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