Monday, February 13, 2012

A Step in the Right Direction?

Social Commentary 2-13-2012

Alert!  Because of recent comments, I point that the following should be interpreted according to the genre of satire.

The recent health and human services mandate requiring that all institutions, including those of religious affiliation, ensure women can have access to free preventive health care is a step in the right direction.  Since religiously affiliated institutions are not churches, they must ensure that they serve the needs of all of those who come to them.  Now, they need not pay for services that are contrary to their teachings, but they must ensure access to all those who they serve.  And so adjustments must be made, not only in healthcare, but across all levels of society.  For far too long, the needs of minorities and the poor have been neglected because of the restrictive and outdated religious tenets of a few religious organizations.

First of all, the healthcare mandate does not go far enough.  If we are really interested in providing comprehensive care, we must ensure that all women have access to free abortion services as well.  It is unfair to deprive women of the right to choose what to do with their own bodies simply because they work for an organization that has a religious affiliation.  Health plans should also include full access to fertility treatments and any other types of treatments that they decide are in their best interest.  In addition, we need to ensure that all people have the right to die with dignity by providing free consultation and services that will ensure that they are not needlessly being kept alive in misery because of the outdated ethical norms of a few. 

Secondly, since education is one of the basic social goods in every society, we must ensure that every child, regardless of where they go to school, has access to an education that meets their needs.  This means that religiously affiliated schools must provide options for non-religious students.  For example, students who are not of the same religious background must be offered classes in their own faith, or at least offered a class in world religions.  Curriculum must be tolerant of all family types, and present all parent/child living situations with fairness and compassion.  Sex education must be accurate and comprehensive, allowing children to be exposed to the various sexual orientations in a non-threatening environment, where all orientations are understood as equal.  If such classes are in violation of the core values of the religiously affiliated school, they will be accommodated by not having to pay for the curriculum or teaching salaries, which will be covered by the department of education.  However, they will have to set aside classroom space and time to ensure that all children have access to equal education.  Every religiously affiliated school will also be provided free religious and secular symbols and prayers so as to accommodate students of other faiths or of no faith, which  are to be hung in classrooms and chapels so as to ensure that all children are able to learn about their own faith tradition.

Thirdly, any social service agencies of religious affiliation must ensure that they provide options for those who seek their services while not sharing the same faith.  Soup kitchens and food pantries that operate inside churches must either consider using facilities that are more welcoming to all people, or should at least ensure that any overtly religious images are covered so as not to offend those of other faiths.  If it is the custom of a particular homeless shelter or counseling center to pray at the beginning or end of gatherings, they must first notify all so that they have the opportunity to opt out, and provide prayer resources and spaces for those of other faiths who wish not to participate.  Religiously affiliated social service agencies must allow volunteers of all faiths to volunteer, regardless of faith background or core beliefs.  In order to ensure that agencies treat all people with respect and dignity, all volunteers must undergo sensitivity training that will help them to respect all faiths and perspectives so as not to discriminate as they serve those in need.

It is very important that religiously affiliated organizations are able to act according to their core beliefs.  However, it is a duty of the state to ensure that all people have access to healthcare, social services, and an education that respects their core beliefs and lifestyle choices. 

As an accommodation, organizations with a religious affiliation will not have to pay for services that violate their core beliefs, though they must allow those who they serve or who work within their walls to have access to those services which the state deems to essential for the common good. 

This will allow a religiously affiliated hospital, such as St. Joseph’s, to still retain its Catholic name and history while at the same time ensuring that it provides critical reproductive care that meets the needs of all women.  And a religiously affiliated school, such as St. Mary’s, will still retain its name and be able to have religion class, while at the same time the state will ensure that all students receive a comprehensive education that responds to their individual needs and does not discriminate against them because of their religion or lifestyle choices.

That such a policy allows for true social cohesion and fairness by not discriminating against minorities or preferring certain classes because of faith of lifestyle choice can be clearly seen in the successful programs that exist in places like China or North Korea.

(Note from the author: the views expressed above do not necessarily reflect those of the author, nor of the Catholic Church).

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