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Pyle: Faith does not determine government policy

Published June 2, 2012 6:35 am

This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2012, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

If you believe in anything, you are probably paying for something that violates those beliefs.

Right now, your tax money is going to provide someone, who may not deserve it, with a welfare check. And to keep someone, who may be innocent, on death row. It's going to fire Predator drones at supposed terrorists half a world away. And to subsidize frou frou arts projects that you wouldn't walk across the street to see.

You might be offended by half of those. Or all of them. You might shrug it off, on the mathematically valid theory that your personal contribution to those efforts, and to all the other things you wouldn't choose to spend your money on, if anyone asked you about it, which they didn't, is too small to matter.

Or you might speak out, vote, run for office, and do all the other things that our supposed taxation-with-representation system provides so we can at least bend the trajectory of public policy.

Just don't say a particular government policy should be changed because, and only because, it violates a religious belief. That hasn't been enough to stop capital punishment, ban abortion, prohibit blood transfusions, forbid the eating of pork or allow fathers to murder their daughters for disobeying them.

This debate played out on the Opinion pages of The Salt Lake Tribune, among other places, recently as verbal ninja Maureen Dowd, New York Times columnist, took on the hierarchy of the — of her — Roman Catholic Church. And as Bishop John C. Wester, head of the Salt Lake City Catholic diocese, responded a few days later.

Dowd called out the church for its stance, shown to be unsupported by even its own membership, that contraception is in any way immoral. Wester clung to the argument that Obamacare rules forcing his church's ancillary charitable organizations to offer insurance policies that include birth control are a violation of the church's religious freedom.

But churches don't have religious freedom. People do. And people remain free not to use contraception. Just as people remain free to refuse other kinds of medical treatment — say, blood transfusions — if their conscience — guided by, say, the faith known as Jehovah's Witness — tells them to.

But there is no lawsuit right now challenging government-mandated or government-subsidized coverage of transfusions. Is that just because there are more Catholics than Witnesses? Or is it because modern civilization, mostly, knows that both contraception and transfusions are bare-bones basic, part of any health care plan worthy of the name?

Or because the full emancipation of women, possible only with universal access to contraception, is the greatest single step ever taken toward the elimination of poverty? The Catholic Church, like most churches, is heard to stand against poverty. Straddling that inconsistency has gotta hurt.

(And will everyone please stop calling Utah's most prominent advocate for the homeless "The Mother Teresa of Salt Lake City." Pamela Atkinson must quietly cringe every time she reads that. Either because she accepts the popular notion of the late nun of the Calcutta slums as a living saint and is embarrassed to be so carelessly described. Or because she understands the difference between her own efforts to lift people out of poverty and Mother Teresa's devotion to making sure generation after generation remained in the most dire squalor by preaching against contraception.)

The democratic process is still functioning. If it determines that mandating contraception, or any other form of medical care, is not the proper role of government, it will work its will. But it will be because the people say so, not because a church does.

George Pyle, a Tribune editorial writer, can be blasphemed at facebook.com/stateofthedebate.