From left, Reverend William E. Lori, Roman Catholic Bishop of Bridgeport, Conn., Reverend Dr. Matthew C. Harrison, President, The Lutheran Church Missouri Synod, C. Ben Mitchell, Graves Professor of Moral Philosophy Union University, Rabbi Meir Soloveichik, Director Straus Center of Torah and Western Thought, Yeshiva University and Craig Mitchell, Associate Professor of Ethics of the Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, testify on Capitol Hill in Washington, Thursday, Feb. 16, 2012, before the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee hearing: “Lines Crossed: Separation of Church and State. Has the Obama Administration Trampled on Freedom of Religion & Freedom of Conscience.”
Women’s religious freedom and freedom of conscience were just violated by a congressional hearing chaired by Congressman Darrell Issa (R-CA). Rep. Issa held a hearing to consider insurance coverage for contraception and did not allow a single woman to testify in support of the benefit. I support contraceptive coverage by insurers precisely because reproductive responsibility is a core part of my religious beliefs and a way I act on my conscience.
The photo of the all male birth control witness panel tells the story that today’s GOP do not value women’s religious freedom and do not respect their consciences on such a subject. The photo went viral almost immediately after it was posted on the Think Progress Web site.
Ranking committee member Elijah Cummings (D-MD) asked the chairman to include a female witness. His request was denied. The reason given was that the hearing wasn’t about “birth control,” it was about “freedom of religion and conscience.”
So that’s the core question: Don’t women have consciences? Don’t women have religious freedom too?
I’m a woman and I have a conscience because I too was created in the image of God. In Genesis, human beings are created in the image of God, as male and female. (Genesis 1:27) Central to conscience is its religious roots in human dignity and in the ability of the human being to discern the will of God. Among both religious and secular traditions, conscience is often depicted as residing in the heart—an indicator of its vital role in life. In virtually all religious traditions, “listening to the heart” and being able to act on the promptings of conscience is the absolute, non-negotiable bottom line for having religious freedom.
Even Anne Hutchison, who was ultimately banned from the early Boston Puritan colony for daring, as a woman, to believe she could have a conscience and its dictates be different than those of the all-male, established Puritan clergy, at least got a hearing. In fact, Hutchinson’s hearing went on for two days! Puritans had more respect for women’s conscience than this mockery of a congressional panel on “religious freedom” and birth control.
“What I want to know is: Where are the women?” asked Rep. Carolyn Maloney (D-NY) of the committee chairman before walking out.
I want to add to that great question, ‘Where is women’s religious freedom and freedom of conscience?’ Women can only conclude from this skewed panel that the chairman does not think they are created equally in God’s image, and endowed by their creator with inalienable rights.
Susan Brooks Thistlethwaite is former president of Chicago Theological Seminary (1998-2008), Thistlethwaite is a senior fellow at the Center for American Progress.