Religious Rights, Natural Law, and the Imperfect Pragmatic
The religious freedom issue created (highlighted?) by the Obama administration’s newest healthcare mandates is a hard one for me to grapple with.
Part of the reason for this is my aforementioned agnosticism. As I have mentioned in the threads this past week, being a non-believer I feel eminently unqualified to tell a Catholic person of faith which moral precepts are OK for them to ignore, and which should be used to draw lines in the sand. More than that, though, is that as the contraception kerfuffle has been occurring nationally, Oregon has been dealing with a very different case of the State overruling an individual’s religiously based healthcare decisions.
Last month, a jury found Jeffery and Marci Beagley guilty of criminally negligent homicide. The case surrounded the death of their 16 year old son, Neil. Neil died from the complications resulting from an undiagnosed urinary blockage. As members of the Followers of Christ Church, the doctrines of their church state that should God wish to have a person healed, God will heal them. Because of this, standard medical practices are verboten; should someone become ill the only treatment allowed is prayer and the laying of hands. Though the Beagley’s are the latest members of the Followers of Christ to be tried, they are not the first and will not be the last. Over the past two years, Oregon has brought charges against four other married couples from the Followers of Christ congregation. In each case, a child was allowed to pass rather than receive medical attention; in each case, the survival rate of children who are diagnosed and treated from the various ailments is high. All but one of these cases has led to a conviction of negligent homicide or manslaughter.
For me, this is where using the guiding principles of natural law become sticky. From a guiding principle standpoint, the Catholic dilemma and the Followers of Christ dilemma are similar. In each case, a congregation is being asked to allow the government to force a level of interaction with or a specific type of mandated healthcare that goes against church doctrine. Each claims that the natural right of religious freedom should trump governmental authority’s attempt to force them to do what they find immoral. And yet despite that, I find myself on different sides of the fence with each.
I did find the White House’s original mandate to be wholly unacceptable. And I find that their subsequent compromise, while workable, still seems a potential intrusion with which I do not feel 100% comfortable. However, there is no question in my mind that the Followers of Christ should not be allowed to sacrifice their own children to beliefs I find superstitious – or, as Jaybird might say to hammer home how prejudiced I am being, “silly.”
Does this make me a muddled thinker? Perhaps. I’m sure there are those on either side of this debate that will declare it so. And if we are to strap ourselves and our fates to one wheel of political doctrine or another, I have to say they are right. You can’t be a true believer in natural law except when you’re not; you can’t be a true believer that the State knows best except when it doesn’t. And so I, a principled pragmatic, stand for the Catholic church when being asked to pay a paltry sum that the government and/or end user could pay just as easily when it goes against Church doctrine. (And also stand, for that matter, for government assistance in the rare examples where the end user can’t.) And I stand firmly opposed to the natural rights of religious freedom when used to condemn children to unnecessary suffering and death. If to that end I am muddled, I am happily so – and with conviction.
I am curious to know what the hive mind makes of all of this.