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Mark Shields
Mark Shields
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Religion Provides Added Value to U.S.

Comment

Without the courage and the constancy of Methodists and of Quakers, the struggle to abolish slavery in the United States would not have succeeded. Later, the heroes of the civil rights movement were people of faith — both clergy and laypersons — while the movement's leaders, let us recall, were named the Reverend Martin Luther King, the Reverend Fred Shuttlesworth and the Reverend Andrew Young. In the front ranks of the politically unpopular antiwar movement could be found nuns, ministers, seminarians and rabbinical students. Religion has indeed provided added value to the national and local life of the United States.

Which brings us, indirectly, to the current national crisis precipitated by the Obama administration's mandate requiring that all health plans provide, free of charge, contraceptives and sterilization, with only a narrow exception for those religious organizations that teach that sterilization and contraception are sinful. The exception is limited to religious organizations that employ exclusively or primarily members of their own faith, basically indoctrinate religious teachings and provide services primarily to members of their own faith.

As a practicing, and manifestly imperfect, Catholic whose fury and outrage at the abuse of children by priests — and the subsequent cover-ups by bishops — remains white-hot today, I still know that the mission of the Christian is to be of service to the world, especially to those living in the shadows and on the outskirts of hope. The Obama administration rule decrees that to qualify for the religious exemption historically extended to any religious organization, the group must only be doing undeniably religious tasks within its own sectarian community.

Missing completely is any consideration of the common good. What about the "prior" mandate to feed the hungry, to clothe the naked, to comfort the widow and the orphan? The administration rule has decided that these do not qualify as the religious mission of the church.

Jesus Christ, who spent his public years curing, feeding and treating people way, way outside of his own religious community, would not qualify for an exception under Washington's latest rule.

Catholic Charities — with more than 81 percent of its workforce composed of volunteers — last year provided food, safe haven, understanding and counsel more than 10.5 million different times.

As the late Archbishop of Washington James Hickey explained when it was pointed out by some of his major contributors that Washington, D.C.'s catholic schools had an increasingly non-Catholic enrollment and much of the diocese's budget was going for social services to people who did not go to church: "We don't do this because they're Catholic. We do this because we're Catholic."

Please, Mr. President, do not tell your admirable and valuable fellow citizens they are not honoring their religious imperative. If churches do close their hearts and their doors to the poor and the lonely, who — in our era of relentless budget cuts and ever-smaller government — will offer a hand to the scared immigrant, to the left-out and the left-behind?

I must have missed something, but, tell me, have you seen a lot of soup kitchens, food pantries and homeless shelters being opened lately by Facebook or Goldman Sachs or General Electric?

This debate is not about contraception. No, this debate is about conscience. It is about the meaning of religious liberty. President Obama has made a decision that is bad policy, bad precedent and bad politics.

When he launched his long-shot White House bid five years ago, he did not have a closer friend or more important supporter than then-Virginia Governor and now U.S. Senate candidate Tim Kaine. There is not a more honorable man in public life. The White House, Kaine said this week, "made a bad decision in not allowing a broad enough religious-employer exemption." For his own good and the good of the country, Barack Obama should heed Tim Kaine.

To find out more about Mark Shields and read his past columns, visit the Creators Syndicate web page at www.creators.com.

DISTRIBUTED BY CREATORS.COM

COPYRIGHT 2012 MARK SHIELDS



Comments

15 Comments | Post Comment
Mr. Shields: For almost twenty years now you have been the gold standard for columnists for me, occasionally vying with Paul Krugman. I've never seen a Newshour where you were not right on and even entertaining. (Here comes a"but"). But not tonight. You went from flawless to flawed, in my opinion.
At first I took at face value your criticism of the Obama decision to have religious AFFILIATED organizations "provide" contraceptive services in health plans. You dutifully notified everyone that you were speaking as a Catholic, which was good. As a Christian Scientist, I am pretty alert about government intrusion into private rights.
However, the more I learn of this 'controversy' the more I feel that you were really participating in the Newshour show as a PLAYER, not as an observer. Your points about how the top folks in Catholic officialdom were 'betrayed' by this decision, sounds more to me like YOU were betrayed by Obama, after selling these folks, privately, years ago, on his merits as a politician. Or that you are part of the official, or pseudo official, effort to have this repealed.
My take is that this is a purely symbolic problem for the church. The church simply can't expect that it can operate it's non-religious operations free of public standards of decency. You, I feel, crossed a line that I could never imagine you crossing, with this opinion.
Comment: #1
Posted by: WBMQ
Fri Feb 10, 2012 9:30 AM
Food for thought Mr. Shields: If the Catholic Church can have a dispensation from laws which apply to all Americans, then Mormons have the religious right to polygamy.
Comment: #2
Posted by: demecra zydeem
Fri Feb 10, 2012 3:33 PM
Mark, I remain a great admirer but I disagree. For all the good that you extoll religious organizations do they have a much more forceful record on the dark side. They were not being told that they had to make their parishioners use contraception, just that if those parishioners wanted to do so they must cover it. The analogy to coverage for Viagra is hackneyed but true. (I shouldn't use this but I suppose those pedophile priests didn't need contraception with their altar boys.) With more than 95% of Catholics using contraception this only tried to reach some sort of gender equality.

Keep up the good work.
Comment: #3
Posted by: George M Woods
Fri Feb 10, 2012 7:44 PM
Dear Mr. Shields:
I am a great admirer of yours and consider you my favorite media columnist. You may want to read the latest PPP poll on this issue showing that the majority of Catholics disagree with their bishops and with you. It is sad that you are siding with the conservative bishops against the majority of lay Catholics and against most progressives/liberals.
Comment: #4
Posted by: Munir Katul
Fri Feb 10, 2012 9:20 PM
It is generally accepted that health insurers will pay for procedures that are "reasonable and customary"- whatever that is. If an employer is providing insurance, it should provide whatever is reasonable and customary in the way of coverage to its employees. Then, if a covered employee does not want a certain drug, surgery, or other medical service, the employee can refuse it. It does not matter if it is a matter of personal preference, conscience, or religious belief. All employees can make choices from the array of drugs and medical services available.
Comment: #5
Posted by: Paul M. Petkovsek
Sat Feb 11, 2012 5:49 AM
You should have a balanced approach, balanced reporting.

The Socially accepted insanity of religious fantasy world has not and is not good for humanity.
Do you have a close personal relationship with your make-believe-imaginary-magical friend?

Secularism: a good life without the insanity of religion.
Humanism: a good life without the insanity of religion.

In your discussion of contraception you let the voice of the RCC Child rapist speak.
Which no one should listen to, and which their own membership does not listen too.

You did not let the opposing voice of reality speak.
Comment: #6
Posted by: uglyTruth
Sat Feb 11, 2012 7:31 AM
You should have a balanced approach, balanced reporting.

The Socially accepted insanity of religious fantasy world has not and is not good for humanity.
Do you have a close personal relationship with your make-believe-imaginary-magical friend?

Secularism: a good life without the insanity of religion.
Humanism: a good life without the insanity of religion.

In your discussion of contraception you let the voice of the RCC Child rapist speak.
Which no one should listen to, and which their own membership does not listen too.

You did not let the opposing voice of reality speak.
Comment: #7
Posted by: uglyTruth
Sat Feb 11, 2012 7:31 AM
Dear Mr. Shields,
As a huge fan I am disappointed on your perspective about bishops paying for birth control. As a woman who worked at both a Catholic University and Hospital I was always aware that my wages were the lowest they could get away with paying. They were taking in as much as other institutions (hospitals and universities) but it never translated into our wages. In your column you fail to mention all of the Federal, State, and community grants these institutions receive in addition to Medicare and Medicaid. As a religious person of a non-Catholic church I also felt the disdain of Catholics in those institutions for my not being a member of THE CHURCH. I knew to keep my mouth shut. I felt the motto of these institutions could have been 'Charity does not begin at home.'

The issue of the Catholic Bishops being upset about paying for family planning/birth control was contrary to my sense of to how to lead a religious life. My religious beliefs and government laws say birth control are an individual/family's right to decide. My membership in a Union fighting for the right to exist and a living wages keeps me aware of the Catholic institutions lack of interest in how employees live their lives .

If Catholic Bishops do not want to pay for birth control then pay higher wages so your employees can buy it for themselves. My husband and I and our children have volunteered so many hours through our church and secular institutions that we do not register it in our consciousness. It is how we lead our lives. Our "volunteer work" is not an excuse for us decide how others should live their lives. I do not mention my religion because it seems competitive, as if I am saying my religion is better than your religion.

You are still about 99% perfect because this is the only transgression I have found in your opinions.
Sincerely
Comment: #8
Posted by: Christine
Sat Feb 11, 2012 8:27 AM
Dear Mr. Shields,
As a huge fan I am disappointed on your perspective about bishops paying for birth control. As a woman who worked at both a Catholic University and Hospital I was always aware that my wages were the lowest they could get away with paying. They were taking in as much as other institutions (hospitals and universities) but it never translated into our wages. In your column you fail to mention all of the Federal, State, and community grants these institutions receive in addition to Medicare and Medicaid. As a religious person of a non-Catholic church I also felt the disdain of Catholics in those institutions for my not being a member of THE CHURCH. I knew to keep my mouth shut. I felt the motto of these institutions could have been 'Charity does not begin at home.'

The issue of the Catholic Bishops being upset about paying for family planning/birth control was contrary to my sense of to how to lead a religious life. My religious beliefs and government laws say birth control are an individual/family's right to decide. My membership in a Union fighting for the right to exist and a living wages keeps me aware of the Catholic institutions lack of interest in how employees live their lives .

If Catholic Bishops do not want to pay for birth control then pay higher wages so your employees can buy it for themselves. My husband and I and our children have volunteered so many hours through our church and secular institutions that we do not register it in our consciousness. It is how we lead our lives. Our "volunteer work" is not an excuse for us decide how others should live their lives. I do not mention my religion because it seems competitive, as if I am saying my religion is better than your religion.

You are still about 99% perfect because this is the only transgression I have found in your opinions.
Sincerely
Comment: #9
Posted by: Christine
Sat Feb 11, 2012 8:35 AM
Mr. Shields, I usually consider your analysis insightful and perceptive, and your opinions well-founded. I must admit that I was surprised last week by your criticism of the administration for its stand supporting access to contraception coverage for employees of Catholic-affiliated institutions. However, I explained to myself because of your own religious beliefs and background.
(Acknowledgement: I am a nonreligious woman in my 60s, happily married and mother of two planned for daughters. Reared as a staunch Catholic, I left the church in my mid-20s. The reason was my conclusion that it was not right that, having decided in my own deepest personal conviction that it would be immoral and irresponsible for me NOT to use birth control, I was repeatedly told that I was guilty of mortal sin for doing so. I could not stomach the hypocrisy of continuing to belong to an organization the beliefs of which were so divergent from my own regarding this important scientific advance that so benefits families.)
I was even more surprised this week, though, when you acknowledged that Obama's "accommodation" had defused the situation, but criticized him for not making his final proposal as an initial one. Do you really believe the bishops or the GOP would have accepted his proposal if he had floated it as a first solution? I don't think for a moment that it would have been received with any modicum of acceptance. BY offering it as an accommodation to their objections, he wisely showed them for the obstinate and immovable ideologues that they are. IMO, it was tactically brilliant on his part.
Comment: #10
Posted by: Lamenta
Mon Feb 13, 2012 12:02 PM
Mr Shields,
Am I missing something…… Here is a case where the Catholic Church hierarchy, made up entirely of men who can not get pregnant, get married or have sex, have decided birth control is “evil. 98% of Catholic women who are this affected by this rule have decided to ignore it, and the Catholic Church is claiming that “religious freedom” gives them the right to deny the freedom of an option of birth control in your health insurance.
Keep something in mind, you are paying your premium, not your employer – it's part of your compensation package. The Catholic church, as a business not a church, no more paying for your insurance than it's paying your taxes. YOU are responsible for both. You and your family are the “insured” listed on the policy, and you and your doctor make the medical decisions that you deem best for your personal health.
I am one of the 98% of Catholic women that used artificial birth control and I have never had a twinge of guilt about using it. When I got married in the Catholic Church in 1976 my priest (at a college campus) told me the churches teachings on birth control and then told me what kind of birth control I used was up to my own conscience. Choice in our religious beliefs is really the issue. The Catholic Church has been wrong before, and many people believe they are wrong on this issue. The church will not convince me that I am wrong or sinful in my decision and in my opinion they need to concentrate on more important issues.
Comment: #11
Posted by: Ellen Northy
Tue Feb 14, 2012 9:19 AM
And so it comes around, no one to defend religious freedom.. The Nazis didn't start with concentration camps, that is where they finished. First they made laws restricting the freedoms and liberty of jewry. Then came little emblems to wear when on the street. The general population was convinced that jews represented a threat to freedom, the government promoted such ideas. Y'all can be real proud because Catholics represent such a threat to... nothing. One respondent asks if she is missing something, yes dear, you are. Blaming a group for historical events is all part of the picture, HItler claimed jews sold out Germany in the first world war. What an ugly mob this group makes. You all will allow, no, cause it to happen in America because you are so focused on one issue. You can't see the forest for the single tree. tree. Brutal. An internet mob ready to lynch Catholics. How proud you must all be.
Comment: #12
Posted by: Tom
Tue Feb 14, 2012 12:35 PM
Re: demecra zydeem Food for thought Mr. Shields: If the Catholic Church can have a dispensation from laws which apply to all Americans, then Mormons have the religious right to polygamy.
Comment: #2
Posted by: demecra zydeem
Fri Feb 10, 2012 3:33 PM

Why cant Mormons have the right to polygamy? Also, the federal government has no business in health insurance or marriage.
Comment: #13
Posted by: SCOTT
Fri Feb 24, 2012 11:47 PM
Re: Christine
Are the employees at Catholic institutions slaves? No, so they made a decision to provide a service in exchange for an agreed amout of compemsation and they can choose to work for another institution if they wish because this is a still barley a free country.
Comment: #14
Posted by: SCOTT
Fri Feb 24, 2012 11:56 PM
Re: Christine
Are the employees at Catholic institutions slaves? No, so they made a decision to provide a service in exchange for an agreed amout of compemsation and they can choose to work for another institution if they wish because this is a still barley a free country.
Comment: #15
Posted by: SCOTT
Fri Feb 24, 2012 11:56 PM
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