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My Turn: When do religious rights infringe on human rights?

Posted: June 13, 2012 - 11:05pm

Bishop Edward Burns in his most recent article, “The Liberties of one nation under God under attack” (Juneau Empire, June 10) calls for a response from people to participate in what is called a “Fortnight for Freedom.” These days are meant to be a national campaign whose purpose is to promote religious freedom.

I am all for religious rights. As an ordained elder in the United Methodist denomination, I find great value in preserving the framework that allows me to worship God and live a Godly life according to the religion of my choosing; but I am also an advocate for human rights. If push came to shove, I would say my value of human rights outweigh my value of religious rights because I am guessing that God loves humans more than religions.

Burns criticizes the federal government’s attempt to facilitate and fund health insurance for all Americans because of its provision for women’s health. The charge is that if a Catholic organization is required to offer health insurance that covers women’s health and reproductive health, then the Catholic organization would be going against one of its most basic yet controversial religious tenets. This is seen by some in the Catholic community to be an infringement on religious liberties. Burns writes that “like any freedom, religious liberty requires constant vigilance and protection, or it will disappear.” I concur. Indeed our freedoms require constant vigilance and protection.

In my view, the freedom that needs vigilance at all times is the basic human freedoms. In my humble view, if men and children are permitted to receive the health care they are in need of, then it would be discriminating to rob women of the same right. I see our (meaning all people’s) health and well-being as a right rather than a privilege and I applaud the efforts of those leaders who are attempting change. But I struggle greatly with the criticism Burns puts forth because this particular argument regarding religious rights is counter to our basic individual human rights.

Indeed the bishop is right, freedoms do disappear when complacency sets in. Perhaps many of us take for granted and assume that the issue of women’s rights is a done deal, not a problem, a fight our mothers and grandmothers fought. But I have been reminded of late, that our freedoms are fragile and complacency is the “devil’s foot-hold.”

• Boegli is an ordained minister who lives in Juneau. She occasionally writes a column that appears in the Empire’s Neighbors section.

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