Peter Singer, Ira W. DeCamp Professor of Bioethics at Princeton University, has recently loosed his pen on the subject of religious freedom, arguing for the restriction of “the legitimate defense of religious freedom to rejecting proposals that stop people from practicing their religion.”
Sounds reasonable enough. But set some examples alongside Singer’s suggestion. The Dutch Parliament is considering a law requiring livestock to be stunned before slaughter. Jewish and Muslim leaders have united in protest, since their dietary doctrines allow eating meat only from animals that were conscious when killed. Says Singer: “When people are prohibited from practicing their religion—for example, by laws that bar worshiping in certain ways—there can be no doubt that their freedom of religion has been violated. But prohibiting the ritual slaughter of animals does not stop Jews or Muslims from practicing their religion.” After all, neither Judaism nor Islam requires the eating of meat. Jews and Muslims could therefore simply forgo eating meat without thereby violating any religious doctrine. And so Singer concludes that this law would not unduly curtail religious freedom.
Taking these claims in hand like a hammer, Singer then turns to the truly tough nut: the Obama Administration’s requirement that Catholic universities and hospitals provide their employees with health insurance policies that cover contraception, sterilization, and abortion-inducing pharmaceuticals. The use of these contradicts Catholic teaching. Yet, says Singer, no Catholic teaching requires that Catholics run hospitals and universities. By now you can likely guess his solution: Catholics should simply relinquish their universities and hospitals. For Singer, running hospitals and universities, like eating meat, is a convenience one can do without. Since this is an open possibility—and one that does not violate any Catholic teaching—the Obama Administration’s mandate does not unduly restrict religious freedom, on Singer’s view.