By Tom Ehrich

It is bizarre to see conservative Christians playing the victim role in “religious freedom.”

Roman Catholic bishops, for example, have decided to brand President Obama as an enemy of religious freedom. What they mean, of course, is they want to preserve their power over who gets medical care in Catholic hospitals.

Not a freedom issue. But also not surprising behavior for hierarchs who have declared war on nuns for speaking freely, on Catholic women for insisting on control of their own bodies, on victims of clergy sex abuse for seeking full disclosure in court, and on Catholic schools for expressing their freedom of speech.

Right-wing fundamentalists join the outcry. Their immediate target is health care policies that don’t affirm their hostility toward abortion and contraception. Their “freedom of religion,” it seems, means non-freedom for women and their partners.

It reminds me of my Puritan ancestors, who demanded the freedom to oppress those who didn’t conform to their views. In fact, selective freedom-granting in the name of religious “truth” was a primary reason the First Amendment sought to protect all American citizens from all religious oppression.

As with freedom of speech, freedom of religion faces its test when non-conformists, non-believers, and people of non-Christian faiths insist on savoring freedom.

All religions seek “truth.” They seek the right to declare their truth in the public square. Religious freedom begins at the point where competing “truths” are guaranteed the freedom to speak, gather and exist, even when other religious partisans think their beliefs are dead wrong.



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