When Does Religion Become Illegal?

Is it illegal to be a Catholic in the United States? That's kind of a grey area, after Barack Obama's Health and Human Services Department issued an Aug. 1 order requiring all employers offering medical insurance to cover "reproductive services," including contraception as well as abortion drugs (hat tip: www.politicaloutcast.com). Under the "required health plan coverage guidelines," HHS lists:

All Food and Drug Administration approved contraceptive methods, sterilization procedures, and patient education and counseling for all women with reproductive capacity.

That includes abortion-inducing drugs. If you manage a Catholic institution, you either violate your most basic religious principles or fail to comply. The correct answer, evidently, is that you can be a Catholic at home with closed shutters, but you can't have Catholic institutions.

It's still legal to be a Jew in the United States, but not in some parts of Europe. After a June 26 ruling by a Cologne court defining infant circumcision as "inflicting grievous bodily harm," you can go to jail (at least in theory) for performing Jewish ritual circumcision. Although Germany's Chancellor Angela Merkel and other political leaders have promised to find a legislative way around the court and uphold religious freedom for Jews and Muslims, policies against circumcision are proliferating. Two Swiss hospitals have stopped circumcisions (although they continue to offer euthanasia). One Austrian province banned circumcision before the Justice Ministry intervened. Now Norway's ombudsman for children's rights demands that circumcision be replaced with a "symbolic ritual."

While a ban on kosher slaughter was narrowly averted in the Netherlands, European rabbis warn that a new wave of attacks on this basic Jewish practice is in the offing. Jews who stand by while America's largest religious community, the Catholic Church, should remember that we're next. The Catholic Church is the only European institution that has consistently defended Jewish religious freedom in Europe. It would be hypocritical as well as self-damaging if we Jews failed to do everything in our power to support Catholics against this new persecution.