On Friday, February 6, about a dozen protesters gathered outside St. Anne’s Hospital on Secor Road in Toledo, Ohio. This protest was organized by the Toledo Chapter of the National Organization for Women (see Toledo NOW facebook page), it also supported by Occupy Toledo. The purpose of this protest was to advocate for birth control is a human right. This was triggered by the recent decision by the Obama administration to require that organizations owned by religious groups must provide birth control as part of their health insurance plans. This rule does not require that religious groups themselves must provide birth control as part of group health insurance plans to their employees, only to those employees that work in organizations owned by religious groups, such as a Catholic hospital.
I went to this protest. When I pulled into the massive empty parking lot of St. Anne’s Hospital, I was greeted by two of their security guards. They immediately asked, “Are you from Occupy Toledo?” Indicating that I was there for the protest, they told me that I could not park there. Now, that’s what I call radical hospitality! I recognize the right of private property, but I can’t help but find it ironic, that respecting the right of a woman to be the steward of her own body and her own life is trumped by a claim of religious freedom. Personally, I consider conscience and religious freedom, the stewardship of one’s soul, the most sacred thing in which we are entrusted. Also, I recognize that conscience and the functions of the state will inevitably come into conflict at certain points. The only question I would ask, that when religion and the state comes into conflict, can one tell the difference between a religion and the state. I find nationalism as a religion is completely repugnant and patently idolatrous. I will stand against such idolatry every opportunity I am afforded. In the same vein, when I find that religion functions largely as just another interest in society, it profoundly diminishes its sacred role in society. So, how does one tell the difference between a religion and the state? I would submit that a willingness to sacrifice one’s own interests for a larger good, and ever larger good, is a way of sacred living that points to the ever “more” that God is. Of course, with nationalism, that ever larger good comes to an abrupt end at our geopolitical borders and a rather crass commitment to our national interest ( as opposed to a global interest, or an interest in protecting creation). With religion, the demarcation of giving up on an ever larger good is usually at the boundary of that religion’s institution. This is where conventional wisdom takes over. In the case of Christianity, the gospel becomes foolishness. The profound and mystical sacred texts that speak about dying in order to be born anew are too large to be held within the boundaries of an institution. In more practical terms, this is seen as sacrifice, self-sacrifice, giving up something of lesser value for something of greater value. I am eagerly waiting to see the Roman Catholic Church’s response to this conflict between church and state. If, in fact, the reality for the Roman Catholic Church is that its doctrine is sacred, then I would expect that they would be willing to pay a large price in order to see that its doctrine becomes manifest in the world. Let me be clear. When I say being willing to pay a large price, I mean that they themselves are willing to pay a large price, not forcing others to pay a large price. The latter is simply the ways of the world, conventional wisdom, bad news. If the Roman Catholic Church is willing to take on huge fines to witness to the importance and value of this doctrine that they hold to be true, then they will earn a commensurate measure of respect from me.
Defending and promoting one’s values is costly, typically in direct proportion to the value of those values. I was delighted to join a dozen or so protesters who were willing to put a little skin in the game, invest a little time, enter the fray, risk ridicule and misunderstanding, etc. to demonstrate how much they value birth control as a human right. May many more join the fight for this and other human rights!