Sheila Kennedy: Personal vs public policy

Sheila Kennedy once again gets to the heart of the problems of personal belief versus public policy and access to public services:

“As the ACLU’s Reproductive Rights project newsletter noted:

We know, for example, that the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, which sets the rules for all Catholic hospitals, has said that its hospitals should let a woman die rather provide an emergency abortion. The bishops made their policy crystal-clear when a Catholic hospital in Phoenix defied the bishops’ rules and saved a woman’s life by providing an abortion. The bishops excommunicated a nun who was on the committee that approved the abortion, and the hospital was stripped of its Catholic status.

There are plenty of doctrinal questions raised by such examples, but those are matters for internal Catholic debate. The question for the rest of us is the same question that is raised in other conflicts pitting civic equality and access to public services against the religious beliefs of people claiming their faith exempts them from treating others as they would wish to be treated–as autonomous persons entitled to make their own moral decisions.

That question is: at what point do the obligations of citizenship in a diverse nation that celebrates civic equality override the “sincerely held religious beliefs” of those who believe they are entitled to be more equal than others?

Sheila Kennedy

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