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February 15, 2012 11:50 am
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Jews Should Stand With Catholics in Contraception Battle

avatar by Dovid Efune

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Pope Benedict XVI. Photo: Kancelaria Prezydenta RP.

“You shall neither wrong a stranger, nor oppress him: for you were strangers in the land of Egypt.” – Exodus 22:21

Through the ages, the above verse has served as a guiding Jewish principle. This call for enhanced sensitivity to oppressed minorities placed Jews at the forefront of a variety of noble struggles, particularly in the United States. As noted by author Charles Silberman, “American Jews are committed to cultural tolerance because of their belief-one firmly rooted in history-that Jews are safe only in a society acceptant of a wide range of attitudes and behaviors, as well as a diversity of religious and ethnic groups.”

It is precisely for this reason that all Jews should link arms in battle together with this country’s Catholics over President Obama’s mandate to provide cover for contraception in health care plans provided by the Church.

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Of course the contraception issue is a contentious one, from a Jewish perspective; it is certainly not a black and white issue. According to a Public Religion Research Institute Poll even 52% of Catholics are of the opinion that religiously affiliated colleges and hospitals should have to provide contraception coverage. What is clearly at stake here however, is far beyond the popularity of, or one’s beliefs regarding, one’s life choices. It is our collective tolerance for governmental forays into the realm of religious practice.

Without doubt each individual has the right to decide on the path best suited for them. Likewise each religious institution has the right to define its moral positions. The State has no business compelling the Church to compromise on its standards.

It is true that the President tweaked the policy “to require religious employers such as universities and charities to cover contraception in employee health plans, but shifted the responsibility for paying for it away from the employer and on to its health-insurance provider,” according to the Wall Street Journal.

However, quite rightly, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops decided to oppose the compromise, saying they still had “serious moral concerns.” Namely that the President’s plan still obligates them to provide cover for a health care practice that is against their religious principles.

As Archbishop Thomas Wenski of Miami said, “A legislative remedy to this overreaching and unprecedented incursion of state power into the domain of religious freedom and the rights of conscience is still necessary.”

In recent months Jews were reminded of just how historically unique the American freedoms we enjoy are, when California Governor Jerry Brown signed a bill in October preventing the ban on the practice of male circumcision. The effort was first “struck down in late July by a California judge who said it would infringe on religious freedom,” according to Reuters.

Around the world, efforts that would curtail the Jewish practice of shechitah (humane slaughter of animals for consumption) have also gathered momentum.

The famous statement commonly attributed to Pastor Martin Niemoller comes to mind, “First they came for the communists, and I didn’t speak out because I wasn’t a communist. Then they came for the trade unionists, and I didn’t speak out because I wasn’t a trade unionist. Then they came for the Jews, and I didn’t speak out because I wasn’t a Jew. Then they came for me and there was no one left to speak out for me.”

As ‘strangers in the land of Egypt’ Jews know well the pitfalls posed in opening the door of this legislation. Few have benefited so wholesomely through basking in the saving grace of the First Amendment. It is thus our duty to fight for the preservation of its purist principles as we have done for so many of history’s most just causes.

The Author is the director of the Algemeiner Journal and the GJCF and can be e-mailed at defune@gjcf.com.

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  • Jessica Sacher

    We should side and support the Catholic church on this issue regardless of its past policies and failures. This is an area of religious freedom and government over-reach. I dont want the federal government being able to dictate policies that conflict with religious beliefs and practices. Jews should be wary and concerned. What’s next? No circumcision? No Jewish day school?

  • Karen

    Let me get this straight. First, the Catholic church is outraged that they have to provide contraceptive healthcare coverage for women. This is the same church who condoned and covered up child sexual abuse and still believes they did nothing wrong. Then, the Protestants align with the Catholic church on the evils of contraception. Before aligning on contraception, most Protestants, especially evangelicals, would take an oath that Catholics are a cult, therefore not true Christans, therefore their final destination is down, not up. And now, the author is recommending that Jews align with Catholics because of rules of hospitality in scripture? What’s next??? What other males from other religions are getting on board this war on women train because of religion and how they interpret their sacred texts. Do you have any idea how ridiculous this all is, especially to most women? While all you men praise one another for your sacred and superior wisdom and knowledge and all in the name of religious freedom, you’re kicking women back to the Middle Ages. I don’t know which is the most hypocritical in all this. Christians or Jews. I could understand all this if we lived in a Muslim nation or the U.S. was a theocracy.

  • Infant circumcision is a violation of the religious freedom of the person most directly concerned – in fact the only person directly concerned. My religious freedom ends where your body begins, even if I have the stewardship of you till you reach adulthood and can decide what parts of your own body you want cut off.

  • david

    The issue here isn’t religious. These aren’t religious jobs or religious institutions, these are businesses that are owned by the Catholic church. Those who work in them are not ordained, most are not even Catholic, many are not even Christian. The Catholic church is attempting to enforce a religious mandate on people by virtue of having an ownership stake in the companies they work for. The issue before us is whether we will allow these groups to enforce their dogma in the public sector by their economic influence. Those who don’t want to use birth control are certainly not forced to, so the only people affected are those who don’t agree with their teachings. If the Catholic church choses to operate business ventures so be it. If they wish to call these ventures a ministry, and avoid public regulations, let them ordain those who work in these businesses. They are either ministers, or they aren’t.

  • David H. Leach

    There are issues for which Jews should stand with Catholics but this is not one of them. It is a political wedge issue being exploited by the Conservative Republicans to use to overturn Obamacare.
    A church is one thing but a hospital or university cannot now discriminate in hiring or in student selection. They except massive amounts of federal funds from Medicare, Medicaid, research funds and scholarships, among other things and they are tax exempt. They employ thousands of people who are not Catholic. Either don’t take the federal money or accept the workaround for the benefit of all your employees. Also, you don’t want to be in between an issue that pits women’s health against old men in robes, do you?

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