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Scholar examines religious freedom in light of HHS mandate

| Thursday, October 2, 2014

At an event hosted by Saint Mary’s Campus Ministry on Wednesday evening, Margaret Harper McCarthy from the John Paul II Institute for Marriage and Family at the Catholic University of America spoke about contraception and religious freedom in light of the HHS mandate. The event, titled “The Contraceptive Mandate: What do Catholics Want When They Ask for Religious Freedom,” kicked off this semester’s “Theology On Fire” speaker series.

McCarthy, an assistant professor of theology at Catholic University, focused her talk on contraception, noting that many who have spoken about the issue of religious freedom in the context of the HHS mandate have focused their attentions on the right to religious freedom and less on the topic of contraception itself.

“The assumption is you cannot win if you talk about contraception,” McCarthy said. “It’s often said that the issue is not about contraception. It’s just about religious freedom.”

She said focusing on religious freedom is a common strategy used to convince others that a company should not have to provide contraception benefits to its employees. McCarthy said contraception has become an issue that cannot be discussed in the public realm.

According to the mandate, religious freedom allows for religious practice in private settings, such ceremonies in church and temples, McCarthy said. However, the mandate’s definition of religious freedom would restrict religious practices in a public setting, such as schools, universities, and businesses.

“[Religious freedom] has just been relegated to a private faith, faith without public witness, a faith without works,” she said. McCarthy denied this definition and redefined it.

“Religious Freedom is tied to an obligation to speak the truth and carry it into the world,” McCarthy said.

Kaitie Maierhofer, a senior and ministry assistant in McCandless Hall, said attended previous “Theology on Fire” sessions and came to McCarthy’s speech Wednesday to learn more about the issue.

“I use [these Theology on Fire sessions] more as information for me,” Maierhofer said. “Growing up, I was always only around one side of the argument or the issue wasn’t discussed at all and I had no idea there was an issue in the first place.

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About Elizabeth Kenney

Junior Elizabeth Kenney, from Livonia, Michigan, is an English Writing major with a double minor in Business Administration and Political Science at Saint Mary's College. Among other involvements, she works as a tutor at the Saint Mary's Writing Center and volunteers with the Take Ten Program through the Robinson Community Learning Center as a Team Manager.

Contact Elizabeth