FaithWorld

from The Great Debate:

What’s the 2014 election really about? Religious vs. women’s rights

Demonstrators gather in front of the U.S. Supreme Court for the "Not My Boss's Business" rally for women's health and rights in Washington

Religious rights versus women's rights. That's about as fundamental a clash as you can get in U.S. politics. It's now at the core of the 2014 election campaign, with both parties girding for battle.

What generated the showdown was last week's U.S. Supreme Court decision in the Hobby Lobby case. The decision instantly became a rallying cry for activists on both the right and left. Congressional Democrats are already proposing a law to nullify the decision. “It's shameful that a woman's access to contraception is even up for debate in 2014,” Senator Kay Hagan (D-N.C.) said.   Conservative blogger Erick Erickson crowed, “My religion trumps your ‘right’ to employer-subsidized, consequence-free sex.”

How did the issue become so big so fast? Because it touches some extremely sensitive nerves in the body politic.

Members of the Presbyterian Church of the Big Wood attend a service in Ketchum, IdahoThe question that best predicts a person's politics today is not about income or education. It's religion: How often do you go to church? Regular churchgoers -- including fundamentalist Protestants, observant Catholics, even many Orthodox Jews -- vote Republican. Voters who rarely or never go to church vote Democratic.

President Ronald Reagan brought the religious right into the Republican coalition. The Reagan coalition is the Old America -- and religious rights are a touchstone issue.

Philippine Catholic bishops clash with Aquino over contraception bill

(Participants sit below a huge banner during a mass against a reproductive health (RH) bill in Luneta park, metro Manila, March 25, 2011/Romeo Ranoco)

Philippine Catholic bishops on Tuesday walked out of talks with the government over a planned bill allowing contraception in open opposition to President Benigno Aquino who vowed to push the bill into law. Aquino pledged last month to push for the enactment of a reproductive health bill in Congress in a bid to lower the maternal death rate in the Philippines, even at the risk of excommunication from the Roman Catholic Church.

The church, a major social and political force in the poor Southeast Asian nation, has blocked similar bills since the 1990s by talking to lawmakers and has denounced Aquino’s support for contraception, considered a sin.

Filipinos back contraception bill despite Catholic Church-poll

philippines 1 (Photo: A reproductive health advocate dressed as a condom distributes condoms to jeepney passengers in Manila March 1, 2010/Romeo Ranoco)

Seven in 10 Filipinos support a reproductive health bill permitting education on contraception which would also help check population growth, despite opposition from the powerful Roman Catholic Church, a survey showed on Tuesday.

The Church, a major social and political force in the poor Southeast Asian nation of about 95 million, has blocked similar bills since the 1990s and earlier this year denounced President Benigno Aquino’s support for contraception.

The bill is in the early stages of consideration by Congress, and proponents are confident it can be enacted into law given it has the backing of Aquino, who says slowing population growth will help fight poverty.

Vatican broadens case for condoms to fight AIDS

licht 1Pope Benedict’s landmark acknowledgement that the use of condoms is sometimes morally justifiable to stop AIDS is valid not only for gay male prostitutes but for heterosexuals and transsexuals too, the Vatican said Tuesday.

The clarification, which some moral theologians called “groundbreaking,” was the latest step in what is already seen as a significant shift in Catholic Church policy. (Photo: The pope’s book in German (r) and Italian (l) displayed at a Vatican news conference, November 23, 2010/Alessandro Bianchi)

It came at a news conference to launch the pope’s new book, “Light of the World: The Pope, the Church, and the Sign of the Times.”

President Aquino’s contraception plan angers Philippines Catholic Church

philippines (Photo: Activists display condoms to support a reproductive health bill in Manila October 1, 2010/Romeo Ranoco)

The senior bishop in the Philippines’ powerful Roman Catholic Church denied Friday any suggestion that the church could excommunicate President Benigno Aquino for backing a plan to teach Filipinos about contraception.

“Abortion is a grave crime, excommunication is attached to this,” Bishop Nereo Odchimar, head of the Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines (CBCP), told Radio Veritas on Thursday. He said excommunication was a possibility if condoms were distributed to the poor.

But Friday, he denied the church would consider such action against the president. “While the prevailing sentiment of a number of bishops was that of dismay and frustration over the reported stance of the president regarding artificial contraceptives, imposition of the canonical sanction has not been contemplated by the CBCP,” he said in a statement.

Obama work week one: pleases some religious activists, angers others

U.S. President Barack Obama has pleased some religiously motivated activists in his first week in office and angered others, setting the stage for “culture war battles” to come.

Obama courted voters of faith during his election and several groups were pleased by his decision on Thursday to close Guantanamo prison and bar harsh interrogation techniques of terrorism suspects that critics said amounted to torture.

“The religious community has labored faithfully for three years to end U.S.-sponsored torture. We are grateful today for this important step,” said Linda Gustitus, president of the National Religious Campaign Against Torture.

Vatican daily says pill pollutes, causes male infertility

The Vatican daily L’Osservatore Romano published an article over the weekend claiming that the contraceptive pill pollutes the environment massively, contributes to male infertility and causes abortions. Those claims, if true, hit lots of hot buttons about science, ethics, faith and government policy. They should make headlines around the world. But apart from the Italian press, for which this is a home game, they haven’t. Why not? (Photo: Japanese contraceptive pills, 26 Aug 1999/Kimimasa Mayama)

It’s probably because the article also sets off lots of red lights for anyone trying to assess the validity of its claims. Its author Pedro José Maria Simón Castellví, head of the International Federation of Catholic Medical Associations, makes several scientific-sounding claims but basically asks the reader to accept them on faith. Castellví says his article is based on a 100-page report by a Swiss doctor, Rudolf Ehmann, but doesn’t quote directly from it or say where it can be found.  This can’t be for lack of space, because he fills several lines with florid praise for the report with comments such as: “The original German text is beautifully written … it is written with all the scientific requirements, without any inferiority complex toward any discussion of obstetrics and gynaecology…”

The article’s headline — “Humanae Vitae – A Scientific Prophesy” — also hints its purpose is probably more religious than scientific. Humanae Vitae is the 1968 encyclical that reaffirmed the Church ban on artificial birth control. Its 40th anniversary last July prompted a series of Catholic statements, articles and conferences defending what was probably the most controversial encyclical of the 20th century. The major bioethics paper put out by the Vatican last month made several references to Humanae Vitae to bolster its argument.