UNITED STATES—Just what is a right? In law, a right is a privilege that we extend to every person without respect to their status or condition. Most rights are assumed rights: like breathing. We do have laws that prescribe penalties for those who make the air un-breathable, but that’s preventing civil harm rather than defending a right. One legally defined right we have in the United States is freedom of religion. We are supposed to be able to believe and practice any religion without incurring civil or criminal penalties. In most places it is illegal to discriminate against people or to give special consideration or privilege to people on the basis of their religion.

If I apply for a position as the janitor of a synagogue, I cannot be compelled to convert to Judaism in order to get the job, nor should I be hired just because I am Jewish. In fact, the law does make certain allowances for churches. For example, if there were an area within the church or synagogue that was reserved for people of the faith exclusively and the janitor had to clean that space, I could be turned down for consideration for the job because I am not Jewish, and would not be allowed to clean that place: I could not do the job.

Interestingly, the law splits a lot of hairs on issues like this. For example, if the religion had a belief that black people were unclean and were not allowed in the church, that church would not be allowed to discriminate against black people when hiring cleaning staff.

This is where we get into those troublesome areas, where people’s beliefs conflict with generally held moral principles of the society at large. For instance, some religions have held that it is the right (and sometimes the duty) of the individual who presides to have sex with children of their flock. We frown on child rape and do not allow that exemption. Unfortunately, what adherents of a religion believe, does not have to make an ounce of common sense. Some modern day religions, for example, prohibit giving or receiving blood or organs. A member of those religions, following a serious auto accident, is probably going to die, even in the best hospital with life-saving care ready and available that would have saved their life.

Christian Scientists don’t believe in medicine, period. A child with Christian Scientist parents, who develops Type 1 diabetes, is going to die if the parents follow their religious convictions. Should we allow that child to die out of respect for their religious convictions? I don’t think so.

We allow people with religious convictions against war to opt out of military service. It is a difficult exemption to obtain and many who obtain it still elect to go to jail rather than cooperate and do non-violent alternative service, but they usually don’t shoot you as a coward anymore.

Now we come to another difficult area. What if your religious convictions and my religious convictions conflict? Whose religious convictions take precedence? Who gets to impose their beliefs on other people?

This is where the Catholic Church is today. They have a big problem with contraception. They don’t believe in it. They do not think people should be able to obtain contraception legally and they believe that the only reason for people to have sex is procreation. Most adults in this country do not feel that way, and even fewer live that way. More than half of the contraceptives sold in this country are sold to Catholic women. People just do not want to have 8-10 children anymore.

But here comes the state, which is now in the business of regulating healthcare. If you want to promote health for women, you want them to have contraception. The two things go together. Ask any doctor. So, the state wants to make sure those women, all women, not just wealthy women can get affordable contraception. They say that insurance has to provide for contraception as a benefit. The insurance companies agree. They have a stake in keeping women healthy and they know from their actuarial data that unwanted pregnancies cost them more than contraceptives and eat into their bottom line.

But the Catholic Church, that employs a lot of women in a variety of business that they own or manage, claims that it should not be required to contribute to insurance plans that cover contraceptives, because they do not believe in contraceptives. This has nothing to do with the religious convictions of people. Many of the women who work for the Catholic Church are not Catholic and they don’t care what Rome says. They want contraceptives and they do not see why they should get contraceptive coverage if they work as a janitor for Allstate Insurance but they don’t get that coverage if they do the same job for the Catholic owned university across the street. It is unfair.

When the Society of Friends (Quakers) sought an exemption to not to pay a Federal Tax on their phone bill that went directly to pay military expenses during the Vietnam War, their petition was denied, even though being against war is a central tenet of their religious belief. Many individuals have claimed that they should not pay taxes for things they did not believe in. They have all been rebuked, and, typically, jailed for tax evasion. Many groups have tried to make medical associations and insurance companies do things, or refrain from doing things on the basis of their religious beliefs. None of these were upheld in the courts.  It is the purpose of medicine to address the health needs of the patient.

What is so special about the Catholic Church trying to impose their rules on everyone? Nothing is special about it. Like the other examples, they should not get to tell the rest of us what rules we must live by. And you can bet that neither the Catholic Church nor their parishioners want to have other churches impose their rules on Catholics.

Let us say, for example, that you are a Methodist who works for a company that is owned by two brothers who happen to be Jehovah’s Witnesses. You get your insurance through your work like most folks do. Now these brothers take it into their head that they have a religious objection to blood transfusions and donating organs, so they tell their insurance company that they do not want the insurance plan they contribute to include those kinds of things, on religious grounds. You pay your monthly premiums and go along perfectly happy until you have an auto accident and learn that your insurance won’t pay for any procedure that requires donated blood. You have part of somebody else’s car protruding from your shoulder, but the surgeon won’t operate unless you have insurance coverage and he can follow the hospital protocol that requires x many pints of blood. Is this right? Is this fair?  Obviously not.

Then why is it OK for the Catholic Church to get a dispensation from the government so that their health insurance plans for their non-Catholic employees will not cover basic healthcare like contraceptives, which the law requires every other business’ insurance to cover for their employees?  Because it is related to sex and sex is related to morality and morality is what religion is supposedly all about.

Americans go all kaflooey around two subjects: sex and bathrooms. I blame it on those damn Puritans.