Monday, July 17, 2006

Yesterday's Washington Post featured a very interesting and timely front-page article titled "A Medical Crisis of Confidence." The basic article discussed the problems that arise when medical treatment and religious beliefs collide. One accompanying article looked at the issue from the point of view of medical professionals who refuse to provide medical treatments (such as abortions, birth control, etc) that they believe violate their religious or ethical principles; a second article looked at the experiences of patients denied treatment they sought which was otherwise guaranteed by the law.

This is a serious issue, and it deserves some serious consideration.

One of the freedoms enshrined in the Constitution is the freedom of religious expression. Article I of the Bill of Rights states that, "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof..." The Founders added this as the very first part of the very first amendment to the Constitution because they lived in a time in which religious intolerance and, indeed, religious warfare was not uncommon, and they wanted to ensure that the nation they were creating would be an oasis of religious tolerance in a world often driven by religious bigotry.

Unfortunately, as the nation becomes more conservative, many people on both sides of the argument are attempting to use the words of the Constitution to bolster their positions. Religious fundamentalists claim protection when they deny services - including otherwise legal medical treatment - to others because such services violate their beliefs; others claim protection from what they claim is discrimination based on their own beliefs or those of the persons who deny them the services they seek.

We are hardly in the position of Iraqis who murder each other because of differing visions of Islam, or of those in the wider Middle East who hate each other because they are Muslims or Jews. But the difference, to me, is one only of degree. When we allow religious beliefs, however deeply held, to drive the provision of medical treatment which is otherwise legal, we are on the downward slope from which the Founders in their wisdom sought to protect us. I do not wish to belittle or minimize anyone's ethics, but I believe it is essential that we recognize what can happen when we allow religious beliefs to drive wedges between us.

What's the answer to the conflict between religious beliefs and the requirements of duty? I don't know. But I do know that I don't want to live in a nation which allows someone to impose their religious beliefs on me. The Constitution allows not only freedom of religion, but freedom from religion...and the abuse thereof.

If you want to see where this can lead, you need only look to Saudi Arabia and ask yourself if this is where you want your country to go.

Have a good day. More thoughts tomorrow.


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