Recently, living in America has reminded me uncomfortably of living in China.
First there was the proposal of the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) and the resulting uproar against it. There was that one day where you couldn’t access Wikipedia the normal way, and instead had to use various roundabouts to get the information you wanted. A lot of blogs were inaccessible, too. It was crazy! Oh wait, I did that for a year, paying $5 a month to have access to facebook, Wikipedia, CNN, and (for most of the year) blogs. The reasoning behind SOPA and the Great Firewall is different – I understand that. But freedom of speech once curtailed for one reason is easily enough thwarted for another.
Followed shortly by that issue was the announcement by the Department of Health and Human Services that religious institutions will be forced to supply health insurance plans that offer free contraceptives and other “family planning” services to their employees. This issue blew up so quickly that it seemed we bypassed some fundamental issues (birth control, really – out of all the drugs to make free? Have we really decided that pregnancy is the most threatening disease?) and have moved right on to a debate over religious freedom.
Today, across the country, people are gathering to “Rally for Religious Freedom”. Someone derisively asked, "Is someone keeping you from going to church?”. The answer, obviously (thankfully!) is no. But the rest of the answer is that the practicing of one’s religion is – and should be! – more than just going to church.
I confess that I thought the US Council of Catholic Bishops was being a little bit overdramatic when it warned about possible issues of conscience when the new health care reform was being debated. I don’t believe that Obama has anything particularly against Catholics or Christians or believers of any religion, and I believed that the freedom of religion guaranteed in the constitution was pretty secure. The death panels, forced sterilizations – I thought it was all hyperbole.
And now I’m scared. Because I see this mandate as a first step along the path that leads us to a place where the reproductive “rights” are valued higher than the right to religious freedom. And I think that China is somewhere along that path, further ahead than us. Remember,
Freedom of religion in the People’s Republic of China is provided for by the country’s constitution, with an important caveat. Namely, the government protects what it calls "normal religious activity," defined in practice as activities that take place within government-sanctioned religious organizations and registered places of worship. [From Wikipedia]
But China has clearly decided that its interest in curtailing the growth of its population is greater than its interest in protecting the practice of “normal religious activity”, which for some religions that I’m aware of prohibits abortion, sterilization, and contraception.
So yeah, I’m a little bit worried. Not sure what other rights will fall before this “right”. Not sure which Catholic institutions – or what still-practicing Catholic institutions – will be around when in 10 years. Not sure what US policy will next mimic China.
* Note: I think both articles I linked to make very good points, but I do take issue with the name calling they employ.