Is access to birth control a barrier to religious liberty? Bishop Edward Burns apparently believes so, while Reverend Susan Boegli expresses a well-crafted counter opinion in her My Turn of June 14. In his Juneau Empire column of June 10, the Bishop repeats his lament against the federal directive to provide health care insurance for contraception. He fails to mention that churches are specifically exempted from the directive, though this law does apply to other religious organizations, such as hospitals and universities, that serve the general public and employ people regardless of their faith.
While the religious right expresses grave concern over the “loss” of religious freedom in the USA, they may also wish to be equally concerned about how their views are seen as intolerant by rapidly-growing numbers of young people. As recently reported by professors at Notre Dame and Harvard, the percent of 20-somethings who have rejected all religious affiliation today stands at 33 percent, compared with 12 percent in the 1970s. More and more adults of all ages — 70 percent in the Notre Dame/Harvard surveys — believe religion should stay out of public debates over social and political issues. It is time for conservative Christian leaders to listen to their followers and especially to their followers’ sons and daughters who have left the “flocks” due to the Sunday sermons’ outdated views on family planning, women’s rights, gay rights, and other contemporary social issues. Day by day, these leaders’ views are increasingly out of step with those of most citizens of the USA. There is perhaps no more vivid testament to conservative leaders’ outdated thinking than the fact that sexually-active Catholic women use birth-control in the USA to the same extent that their non-Catholic counterparts do.
There is no debate that religion has historically played a significant role in American public life, as is to be expected in a country where the majority of the public professes a belief in God. However, the wringing of hands over the “loss” of religious freedoms, while promoting the limitation of personal freedoms, will do little to create a more enlightened society.