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Rev. Susan Russell Headshot

War on Religion or War on Democracy?

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Watching the CNN evening news, the "crawl" along the bottom of the screen read: "Catholic bishops denounce contraception compromise." My comment on twitter was:"Seriously???? That qualifies as NEWS??? Enough with theocratic war on democracy." Because here's the deal: It's time to call foul on the much ballyhooed "war on religion" and call it what it is ... and it IS a theocratic war on democracy.

It is not a "war on religion" when 1st Amendment protections are employed to protect both freedom of religion and freedom from religion -- because nobody has the right to write their theology into our Constitution.

It is not a "war on religion" when courts recognize that the equal protection guaranteed by the 14th Amendment equally protects all Americans -- because as the 9th Circuit Court put it when it ruled last week: "The people may not employ the initiative power to single out a disfavored group for unequal treatment and strip them, without a legitimate justification, of a right as important as the right to marry."

And it is not a "war on religion" when the White House "just says no" to efforts to make women's health care a sacrificial lamb on the altar of partisan politics by politicizing equal access to insurance for contraception.

Which brings me back to "Catholic bishops denouncing contraception compromise." Catholic bishops notwithstanding, there are plenty of good people of deep faith all over the map on a whole variety of issues who are yearning for ways to claim their own First Amendment protected right to free exercise of their religion without trampling on their neighbor's free exercise of a religion different than theirs. And to do that, compromises are called for.

The case in point this week is the compromise the White House crafted on the issue of women's access to insurance for contraception. It was -- as ABC News reported -- a compromise that satisfied both Carol Keehan and Cecile Richards: no small feat.

Though they're on opposite sides of the birth control and abortion debate, both Sister Carol Keehan, the president and CEO of the Catholic Health Association, and Cecile Richards, president of Planned Parenthood Federation of America, issued statements Friday morning applauding the compromise, which allows religious organizations to keep contraception out of its coverage while requiring the insurance companies to step in and offer contraceptive coverage to the female employees.

"The Catholic Health Association is very pleased with the White House announcement that a resolution has been reached that protects the religious liberty and conscience rights of Catholic institutions," Keehan said. "The framework developed has responded to the issues we identified that needed to be fixed. We are pleased and grateful that the religious liberty and conscience protection needs of so many ministries that serve our country were appreciated enough that an early resolution of this issue was accomplished. The unity of Catholic organizations in addressing this concern was a sign of its importance. This difference has at times been uncomfortable but it has helped our country sort through an issue that has been important throughout the history of our great democracy."

Richards said in a statement: "In the face of a misleading and outrageous assault on women's health, the Obama administration has reaffirmed its commitment to ensuring all women will have access to birth control coverage, with no costly co-pays, no additional hurdles, and no matter where they work. We believe the compliance mechanism does not compromise a woman's ability to access these critical birth control benefits. However we will be vigilant in holding the administration and the institutions accountable for a rigorous, fair and consistent implementation of the policy, which does not compromise the essential principles of access to care.

The individual rights and liberties of all women and all employees in accessing basic preventive health care is our fundamental concern. Planned Parenthood continues to believe that those institutions who serve the broad public, employ the broad public, and receive taxpayer dollars, should be required to follow the same rules as everyone else, including providing birth control coverage and information. As a trusted health care provider to one in five women, Planned Parenthood's priority is increasing access to preventive health care. This birth control coverage benefit does just that."

Not for Southern Baptist leader Al Mohler. He writes ...

This controversy concerns the deepest convictions held by millions of Americans, and these convictions are rooted in over two thousand years of religious teaching. Anyone who celebrates this "compromise" as a victory is hiding behind an accounting trick. That accounting trick cannot hide the great moral tragedy at the heart of the President's policy -- a policy that leaves religious liberty in peril.

... making Chicago Theological Seminary's Susan Thistlethwaite's point:

There's the difference between the way progressive people of faith pursue issues in the public square, and those on the far right. Creative compromise, like the recent decision by the Obama administration, that builds common ground, we regard as a good thing and something that finally will produce a "cease-fire" through negotiation.

We are open to a cease-fire, though not when it means our values are demeaned and violated. Negotiated settlements have to represent the real interests of each side and be made in good faith for there to be genuine and lasting peace. Conscience and common ground. It's possible for there to be peace between us over religious differences.

It is not only possible -- it is essential if we're going to win the theocratic war being waged on our democracy. So let's all "Just Say No" to the myth of war on religion -- whether it comes from a bishop or a Baptist -- and get busy making liberty and justice for all not just a pledge but a reality.

Around the Web

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War on Religion? No, It's Self-Defense - Yahoo! News