Women’s religious freedom violated: Photo of all male birth control witnesses tells the viral truth

Carolyn Kaster AP From left, Reverend William E. Lori, Roman Catholic Bishop of Bridgeport, Conn., Reverend Dr. Matthew C. Harrison, … Continued

Carolyn Kaster


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.

  • liebhcne77

    There were women at the next day’s meeting. How abusrd to say that “only women can speak for women!” Feminist lesbian left-nuts don’t speak for me! So when these “womyn” open their mouths, am I being left out and oppressed?

  • LauraKY

    We should see Sister Keehan sitting there (head of Catholic Hospital Assoc.) But no, she’s fine with the accommodation, so of course she wasn’t invited.

  • SMB3

    There was a blatant disregard for women’s voice in the makeup of the panel, and Elijah Cummings, Carolyn Maloney, and others are to be commended for their defence of the right of women to be represented in a discussion on contraceptives. We should be centuries past this type of paternal dictatorship of morality. Most women would not consider that the panel spoke for them. No doctors on a matter of women’s health, no women (except later additions who represented extremely conservative views), one woman denied the opportunity to speak, and so forth. Men do not use contraceptives; women use them for all kinds of health conditions; unintended pregnancies impact women and their health directly. Where were the women? indeed.

  • cricket44

    Quite the spitting rant you have going there.

  • Prismatic

    What is more, the men on the panel were all carefully chosen to represent one point of view—that of Darrell Issa. The Missouri Synod of the Lutheran Church is the most conservative branch. It believes that Adam and Eve were actual historical personages and that the creation myth in Genesis is the literal truth. The Southwestern Theological Seminary already condemned the
    Affordable Care Act.

    None of these witnesses were neutral and none favored the other side of the issue. The hearing was a total sham and should be recognized as a partisan political maneuver.

  • j3hess

    Were there any women, or men for that matter, representing her point of view?

    If “Feminist lesbian left-nuts don’t speak for me!”, assuredly neither do you speak for them. Can one of them complain about being denied a voice?

  • shadreels

    Wow, talk about skewed. There were women who testified, so why lie? Oh yeah cause you want to skew it to support your side. Face it journalism is dead in this country and the media is now trying to control the discussion and the thought process. I was responsible with my own contraception why aren’t others? Grow up.

  • AgentFoxMulder

    The hearing was political theater but not like most people are considering it. Republican and Democrat mean nothing in this instance. The catalyst for this was not abortion (which republicans oppose) it was about contraception which is opposed primarily by the Catholic Church. This was not Republican Vs. Democrat or Conservative Vs. Liberal. This was Government Vs. Church and the Government (Republicans AND Democrats) want to show the Catholic Church who is boss. Thus the set up.

  • usapdx

    With this and Rick as well the honeymooner’s comments the American women will remember when they vote.

  • ccnl1

    Males Obama and Axelrod rode to the Blood-Red House on the backs of 35+million aborted womb-babies!!!

    What BO can do to at least lift part of the Immoral Majority leader label?

    The “Immoral Majority” you ask?

    The fastest growing USA voting bloc: In 2008, the 70+ million “Roe vs. Wade mothers and fathers” of aborted womb-babies” whose ranks grow by two million per year i.e. 78+ million “IM” voters in 2012.

    2008 Presidential popular vote results:

    69,456,897 for pro-abortion/choice BO, 59,934,814 for “pro-life” JM.

    BO says abortions should be “safe, legal and rare” but says nothing about the basic tenet of proper human conduct i.e. Thou Shalt Not Kill. And where is BO’s sense of indignation that abortions are not rare and that these acts of horror demean the Golden Rule considering that he says he is a Christian. And where is his sense of indignation that women who use the Pill do not use it properly resulting in an failure rate of 8.7% as per the Guttmacher Institute statistics. Using these and other Guttmacher Institute data, this failure of women to use the Pill properly results in ~1,000,000 unplanned pregnancies every year. And the annual abortion rate in the USA is?? ~1,000,000 as per the CDC.

    And do males use condoms properly? No, as said failure rate for this birth “control” method is 17.4%!! Again using Gu-ttmacher data, said failure rate results in another ~1,000,000 unplanned pregnancies every year.

    Bottom line: BO is still not aware of the basics of birth control and still remains the leader of the Immoral Majority and will remain so until he becomes a true Christian and one who respects and protects human life in all its forms and who at least emphasizes the proper use of birth control methods!!!

    Male Obama rode to the Blood-Red House on the backs of 35+million aborted womb-babies!!!

    What BO can do to at least lift part of the Immoral Majority leader label?

    The “Immoral Majority” you ask?

    The fastest growing USA voting bloc: In 2008, the 70+

  • rr500

    Guess the Republicans controlling this committee think free speech, open exchange of ideas and equal representation should only be available to people who conform to their rigid ideology. This is why we had an American Revolution; Founding Fathers are spinning in their graves.

  • AgentFoxMulder

    This is not about women’s rights. Women are free to get contraception (even Catholic women). No one has done anything to change that. The new factor here is the Government making a law that forces the Catholic Church to pay for something it believes is morally wrong.

  • James210

    hey sis?
    celebrities aren’t very forgiving
    i wished music could be shared more and not considered an act of war.
    in this case, it is a reflection of soul or lack of,
    tell her -Christina

  • amelia45

    Mulder – you are falling for the muck.

    It isn’t Catholic money that is used to pay people their salaries and benefits. It is money received for treatment of medical conditions. The money comes from patients, insurance reimbursement for premiums paid by the individual or the individual’s employer, or money from tax payers through medicare and medicaid.

    A Catholic hospital engages in the world and relies on the world to exist. Both need each other. But that does not mean that each does not have to respect the other.

    There has always been room in Catholic theology for mediate cooperation with what is called “evil”, which is a way of talking about the distance between actual support for an act of evil and living in a world in which evil exists, but choosing how far you can separate your self from “evil” and still influence and participate in that world.

    In a democracy, freedom resides in the individual. And, surprise, surprise, in the Catholic Church, conscience resides in the individual.

    Increasing the use of contraceptives will help poor families plan their families. It will reduce the number of abortions. It will improve the health of women, who will be less subject to a risky pregnancy. There is great good that can come from including contraceptives in a national health care mandate.

  • amelia45

    As a Catholic, I am not in agreement with the bishops of my Church. There is more than enough room within Catholic doctrine itself for the bishops to stand down on this issue. Their move is political, an issue of power and control, not required by Catholic teaching, and actually in opposition to it.

    In 1969, Joseph Ratzinger, now Pope Benedict, said:
    “Over the pope as the expression of the binding claim of ecclesiastical authority there still stands one’s own conscience, which must be obeyed before all else, if necessary even against the requirement of ecclesiastical authority.”
    Joseph Ratzinger on article 16 of Gaudem et Spes, in Volume 5 of the “Commentary on Documents of Vatican II”, edited by Vorgrimler (New York/London 1969).

    Or read St. Thomas Aquinas, who said: “”Anyone upon whom the ecclesiastical authority, in ignorance of true facts, imposes a demand that offends (his) clear conscience, should perish in excommunication rather than violate (his) conscience. ”

    Read about the doctrine of Reception of Canonical Law and the sensus fidelium. Read about formal and material cooperation with “evil” and about material and mediate cooperation with “evil.”

    There is no such thing in Church philosophy as a “group” conscience. We are supposed to weigh matters and apply reason and reasonableness to how we act.

    Obama got this right the first time. The compromise mediates material cooperation, and is a compromise to address the unfounded but specific claim of the bishops. If we are going to be citizens in a democracy, we need to find how we can respect the conscience and rights of others – and our Church gives us plenty of help in doing that. You just have to find it yourself because the bishops teach you only what they want you to know.

  • AgentFoxMulder

    Be careful about so easily giving up our constitutional rights Amelia. The Establishment Clause of the First Amendment may not be so important to you but tomorrow the White House may decide to scrap some other freedom that will matter to you more.

  • AgentFoxMulder

    It is about the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment, which is a mandate directed specifically to the Government.

    “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.”

    So you want to compromise on the establishment clause now. Which of the others rights in that amendment will you be willing to compromise on if some other president (perhaps one you dislike) decides to follow the precedent set by this one.

    Women have access to contraception in this country. Some Catholic women choose to use contraception (another article on this site said 98% of them in fact). So much for the power and control of the Catholic Church over it’s members. The only power and control being exercised here is on the part of the President (supposedly a Constitutional Scholar) making a rule which disregards the First Amendment of the Constitution of the United States.

    The government does not have the right to tell any church that it must pay for something that runs contrary to their stated beliefs.
    If the Catholic Church decides to change it’s position regarding contraception, it should not be because the government tells them to do so.

  • AgentFoxMulder

    By the way, the Catholic Church is defending the Establishment Clause as it pertains to them by exercising another right mentioned in the First Amendment, “… the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.”

    It seems their opponents want them to give up that right as well.

  • Carstonio

    Since many of those men pictured come from religions that bar women from leadership positions in their churches, how do they have any standing when it comes to morality. That prohibition is morally indefensible.

  • Apoorsinner

    Just because those in the picture are men, does not mean that women were discriminated against. Give me a break! Doesn’t it matter that these men represent churches which the government is forcing to pay for something they consider evil? And if the government is forcing the churches to pay for the Pill and sterilization today, then they will force churches to pay for abortion tomorrow. It’s just wrong, not to mention un-American.

  • Defendthemiddleclass

    This situation definitely violates women’s rights. It is part of the first amendment. They have the right to freedom of speech, so they should have freedom within their religion as well. It should not be a man’s decision to make for women if they should be on birth control or not. We are supposed to be living in a free country, so we should let women make their own decisions concerning this issue.

  • oroneill12

    Your religious freedom does not manifest itself through denial of someone’s right to choose their own path.

    You do realize the privision was changed so that any relidious organization that objected does not have to directly supply or pay for the contraceptive coverage, right? The insurance company has to contact the employee and offer the coverage. If it violates a priests religious conscience to have someone use contraceptives within an organization he works for , then he better kick 98% of women out of church.

  • oroneill12

    “In no instance have the churches been guardians of the liberties of the people.”
    ~James Madison

    “The purpose of separation of church and state is to keep forever from these shores the ceaseless strife that has soaked the soil of Europe with blood for centuries.”
    ~James Madison

    “Let us labor for the security of free thought, free speech, pure morals, unfettered religious sentiments, and equal rights and privileges for all men, irrespective of nationality, color, or religion;…. leave the matter of religious teaching to the family altar, the church, and the private school, supported entirely by private contribution. Keep church and state forever separate.”
    ~Ulysses S. Grant
    (This one is relavent because the only institutions that would be complying with ACA would be those working in the public domain, and which also receive money from the Federal Government. “Equal rights and privileges for all men,” which will include women, now, would include the privilege/right to reproductive health services…no matter what religion.)

    They have the right to petition, but a hearing called by a Congressman is not a petition for redress. That is a hearing, called by a Congressman, in which he only included a small group of religious leaders, all men.

    The provision does not require religious institutions to pay for or provide contraceptives. Originally, I will admit, it did, but that is no longer the case. At this point, the compromise was that insurance companies would have to contact employees of religious institutions that object in order to offer the coverage. That is pretty far from forcing priests to hand out condoms, or forcing the church to pay for it. An employee choosing what to do with their paycheck, and one which comes from an institution working in the public domain (as churches themselves are not included, only their affiliate hospitals etc…most of which get government grants/subsidies) cannot be equated with violating a church leaders conscience. If that were the case, than

  • oroneill12

    Bleh, grammar errors.