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American Law and Catholic Church Oppression of Women
October 2, 2018
by William P. Meyers

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Freedom of Religion not an excuse to break fundamental laws of justice

Even a casual look at the Roman Catholic Church reveals that it continues to treat women as unequal to men. A woman cannot become a priest, bishop, or Pope. That prohibition follows from a theology in which God is male and he has only one child, a male. Unlike most religions of the classical ancient world, Mary, the mother of Jesus and presumably the wife of God, is not granted the status of being a goddess.

The oppression of women by the Church goes much deeper. Women are denied the right to birth control, which means they are seen fit mainly for careers as mothers.

American Catholics are notoriously of the shopping cart variety. They have long been influenced by the American general culture of freedom, of being allowed to think for oneself, and of individual achievement. So in fact we find there are many successful Catholic women in business and professions like healthcare and the law. On the Supreme Court of the United States we have Elena Sotomayer, raised and possibly still identifying as a Roman Catholic. Other Catholics currently on the Court are John Roberts, Neil Gorsuch and Samuel Alito. Sotomayer is usually classed as liberal, Robert, Gorsuch and Alito as conservative, but if Catholic theology affects their court rulings, that is not reflected in the language they have used. The conservative members have ruled that perfectly reasonable laws passed by Congress can not be enforced at religious institutions or even at businesses owned by religious persons, as in the Hobby Lobby case.

While women do have the option of simply leaving the Roman Catholic Church, or any other religion they do not like, this can be difficult given the church’s skills at crushing independent thinking and personal confidence. The U.S. Constitution makes only one mention of religion. "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof" [First Amendment]. Given the many powers that Congress does have, the question would be when a law might prevent a person from freely exercising their religion.

I am more concerned with the establishment of a religion or of multiple religions, especially when they have clearly evil positions such as refusing to accept that all humans should be treated equally under the law.

Prior to 1776 the established religion was the Church of England, which has become the Episcopal Church in the United States. Establishment meant money was given to the Church by the government. That money came from taxpayers. The anti-establishment clause of the Constitution came mainly from the Baptist Church, whose members did not want to pay taxes that would go to support the Anglican clergy. So I think if the conservatives on the Court were honestly pushing for an Originalist constitution interpretation, they would rule that tax exemptions for religions are unconstitutional.

As to the free exercise of religion, I see no reason why that should gain anyone or any organization an exception from the rule of law. If religious persons become exempt from health insurance laws, why should they not claim exemption from all sorts of things, including child abuse laws?

Circling back to the abuse of women by the Catholic Church, I see no reason why, in a democracy, the public should not be able to make a law, passed by Congress and signed by the President, that allows women to sue for compensation when denied paid positions like the priesthood. The Catholic Church could continue peddling superstition, they would just have to pay for the harm they do. Like anyone else. I also see no reason a church would be freed, on religious grounds, from paying fines for anything anyone else would have to pay a fine for.

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