“We do not exaggerate when we say that this is the greatest threat to religious freedom in our lifetime. We cannot help but think of the words attributed to German pastor Martin Niemoeller, reflecting on the Nazi terror: ‘First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out, because I was not a Socialist. Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out, because I was not a Trade Unionist. Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out, because I was not a Jew. Then they came for me, and there was no one left to speak for me.”
These words were written by Charles Colson and Timothy George, two Baptists leaders, in response to recent Health and Human Services guidelines that require health insurance companies to provide birth control to women without a co-pay or additional payments. Because some of these women work for religious institutions (hospitals, schools, but not churches) Colson, George and other religious leaders believe these women should be denied this coverage. They believe this so strongly that they grab history’s most heinous example, Hitler’s Germany, and cobbled together one of the most irresponsible paragraph’s that I have ever read. Since they have already gone there, it is worth pointing out that there are legitimate reminders of Nazi Germany in this current debate. For the Nazis, the role of women was defined by three words: Kinder, Kirche, Kuche – kids, church and kitchen.
For American churchmen and politicians who still share this Nazi vision of womanhood to cloak their agenda in one of our most treasured freedoms, religious liberty, does an enormous dishonor to people around the world and throughout history who have truly suffered religious persecution not the least of which is Martin Niemoller.
Yesterday there was a congressional hearing regarding this provision to provide birth control to women. Two women were invited to testify. How can you talk about women’s health without inviting at more women or even mostly women to the conversation? Catholic Bishops testified. Southern Baptist Theologians testified. There are certainly no women in either one of those groups as Catholics and Southern Baptist do not trust women to do much leading or thinking. No women were invited, but two religious groups that have an expressed commitment to discriminating against women were invited. What is wrong with this picture? Do women not have a voice? Do women not have brains capable of thinking and reasoning? For them to be excluded from leadership in so many churches is bad enough, but for them to be excluded from the halls of the government elected to represent them is a travesty of justice.
Former Southern Baptist pastor, Mike Huckabee, might have said it best when he said, “We are all Catholic now.” Who new when Southern Baptists approved a resolution in 1984 pointing out that “. . .the woman was first in the Edenic fall” that their ultimate goal was to reunite with Rome, at least in terms of how women were viewed and treated. They get together in a room spouting pious phrases in order to decide what women should and should not have and they call it defending religious freedom.
The real violation of religious freedom in this case would come if the regulations were changed to suit the desires these two and other religious groups. If such a turn of events were to occur, the government would in effect become an enforcement arm of the church, enforcing doctrines they themselves have no way of forcing their members to adhere to.
Nothing in the Health and Human Services regulations forces any individual to take birth control, but they are granted access. That access is a good thing according to the Institute of Medicine. It is a good thing according to American College of Obstetrics and Gynecology. However, it is a good thing mostly because it puts the decision about birth control where it should be, in the hands of women, not in a room were they were not wanted.