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Thursday's House Oversight Committee hearing on the Obama administration's contraception coverage mandate sparked a lot of discussion on religious freedom and conscience. It also sparked a lot of discussion on who gets to speak for whom.

"What I want to know is: Where are the women?" Rep. Carolyn Maloney (D-NY) demanded before she walked out in protest. A photo of five men testifying before the panel quickly circulated on social network sites. At the Washington Post website today, Susan Thistlethwaite picked up on the theme: "Where is women's religious freedom and freedom of conscience?" she wrote. "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."

I would agree with Thistlethwaite that indeed, women are created equally, and given inalienable rights. Women, of course, deserve religious freedom. But I disagree with her suggestion that religious freedoms differ for men and women. Or, as she suggests, that that religious freedom is based upon an individual's conscience.

"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," she wrote.

But "everyone did what was right in their own eyes" makes for poor consciences and bad law. There is a good reason why U.S. courts' decisions on religious free exercise take into account actual religious teachings rather than arbitrary, personal definitions of what is right and wrong. My faith tradition has thousands of years of historical doctrine that richly informs all of our moral and ethical decision-making. Some of it is about the ...

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February 2012

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