No sooner had I posted earlier today about some of the challenges that religious-run institutions that provide social, educational, medical or other similar services may face if they seek to continue providing such services in the future, than I was made aware of a rather relevant recent article by Princeton Biothethics professor Peter Singer, “The Use and Abuse of Religious Freedom,” http://www.project-syndicate.org/commentary/the-use-and-abuse-of-religious-freedom.
Singer may well be (as Time magazine alleges) one of the world’s 100 most influential people. I honestly don't know. Being myself both pro-(human) life and hence profoundly suspicious of the whole direction of the animal rights movement, I have neither read nor followed Singer’s work in any detail. While certainly acquainted with the general orientation and direction of Singer’s ideology, I make no claim to have read or followed his work sufficiently to have the requisite familiarity to address his overall claims myself.
Singer’s recent article, however, does dramatically capture the ideological direction in which the Administration’s constricted definition of what constitutes a genuinely religious institution entitled to exemption may be leading our society. Singer sees the limited exemptions that the Administration has already acknowledged as “drawing a distinction between institutions that are central to the freedom to practice one’s religion and those that are peripheral to it.” Thus, Singer argues that the “requirement to provide health insurance that covers contraception does not prevent Catholics from practicing their religion. Catholicism does not oblige its adherents to run hospitals and universities.”
Singer is certainly right in suggesting that governmental policies which pressure religious communities to withdraw from providing such social services would not destroy religious expression in America. But they would make the State the sole arbiter of what constitutes religion and simultaneously the sole arbiter of how cultural and social services may be provided in society. And that, as I wrote earlier, while significantly augmenting the State’s already abundant arsenal of power, would sadly leave our society that much poorer, that much more diminished.