Thomas More, Cinderella, and Religious Freedom in America

These comments were delivered at the St. Paul Stand Up For Religious Freedom rally by Dr. Anne Maloney, on June 8th, 2012, in front of the Warren E. Burger Federal Building in St. PaulDr. Maloney is an Associate Professor of Philosophy at the University of St. Catherine.

This is not a place I thought that I would ever be. I am a big fan of St. Thomas More, and I have seen, many times, Robert Bolt’s play A Man For All Seasons. Bolt’s play shows us what happens as Henry VIII continues to insist that Sir Thomas swear fealty to him, Henry, as head of the new Church of England. To do so would, of course, violate More’s religious freedom and his conscience, and so More  refuses. When Thomas’ friends express fear that he will be harmed, perhaps even executed, for refusing to violate his conscience, this line keeps coming up:  “oh for God’s sake; this isn’t Spain. This is England.” I always used to sigh when hearing that line, struck by the naivete of those Brits who did not see what was coming, who did not see where they stood. Thomas would be executed for refusing to violate his conscience, for refusing to violate the religious freedom that England’s Rule of Law guaranteed.

Here we stand. I never thought I would be here. Yet here we are.

As I stand here, I am thinking, strangely enough, of yet another story. You all know the story of Cinderella. The Grimm Brothers’ version is far gorier and more disturbing than the sanitized Disney version. In the Grimm Brothers’ telling, when the Prince shows up at the home of Cinderella to see whether anyone living there has a foot that fits the shoe that he has brought with him, the Stepmother demands that her daughters do whatever it takes to fit their feet into that shoe. In my illustrated copy of the story, there were depictions of sawing and cutting of heels and toes, blood spurting everywhere. Quentin Tarantino has nothing on the Brothers Grimm!

Hmmm,  let’s see. An evil stepmother tells the women in her life to manipulate, mangle and harm their own bodies so that they can fit into a man’s world. That used to be called a fairy tale. Now it is called Healthcare. The radically feminist Catholic Church says no, that isn’t healthcare. That’s an agenda.

There is something fundamentally twisted about a culture that medicates an entire generation of women who are not sick—fertility is not a disease. It is a woman’s way of being in the world. The issue before us today is not the morality of artificial contraception; the issue before us today is our right at American citizens to practice our Faith without interference from the government. However, when the current administration ruled that ‘contraception’ is ‘healthcare,’ the current administration made the issue of contraception a part of this battle.

Yes, the Catholic Church opposes artificial contraception. She does so because she sees artificial contraception as something that harms women physically (all those hormones) and psychologically (women are told to accept the necessity that we chemically or surgically alter our bodies so we can be more available for sex, much of it non-committed sex).

The natural law, which the Church teaches can be understood by human reason, tells us that human fertility is not a disease. A woman’s reproductive system is a complex and beautiful dimension of who she is; when society insists that she treat her body as an opponent to be ‘handled,’ or ‘dominated,’ nothing good can result.

By mandating contraceptive coverage for virtually all Catholic institutions, the Obama administration is ordering Catholics to turn from the teaching of their Faith and rely instead on their faith in—what? Obama? Government? The Church has been ordered to comply with what the government has determined to be healthcare, when what is being demanded is neither healthy nor caring for women. Bulletin: women are sick of being told that we need to throw  chemicals, jellies, foam, springs, you name it, into our bodies so that we can be ready for sex on demand. Another Bulletin: for all too much of human history, women have been treated shabbily by their culture and their doctors. Women are tired of a culture that defines healthcare as “Take a pill and shut up.” I am here to tell you that the young women in my life will not shut up. The young women in my life see the wisdom of a Church that tells them they are healthy and beautiful just as God created them. The young women in my life want their Church to have the religious freedom upon which their nation was founded. Here’s an odd picture, but perhaps it makes the point: let’s go back to that story of Cinderella, but mix it up a bit. In this odd version of the tale, the Prince comes to Cinderella’s house to find the stepmother who is Catholic. The Prince orders the Catholic stepmother to saw off the heels and toes of her daughters because fitting the shoe means that they are healthy. The Catholic stepmother refuses to do this deed, and the Prince says, “You have three months to figure out how to do this job.” “But you cannot come into my home and force me to do something so heinous, so much in violation of my most basic conscience,” says the Catholic stepmother. The Prince says, “yes, I can.  Luckily, I am a prince and not bound by any rule of law. Saw away.”

So who are we as a nation? Do we still operate under a rule of law? We are citizens of the United States of America. What does that mean? Do we have our religious freedom? I hope so. With all my heart, I hope so.

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