Catholic Church and Kansas legislators should honor religious freedom for all on abortion

Kansas Reflector [Topeka, KS]

February 7, 2023

By Kent Munzer

I urge the Catholic Church and the Republican Party to refrain from seeking additional restrictions on abortion in the 2023 legislative session. Kansas voters rejected the imposition of Catholic teaching on abortion in August 2022, so why cause more strife in our state by debating abortion again?

Instead, the Catholic Church should focus on one of its biggest problems: the sexual abuse of boys and girls by its own Catholic priests and the coverup of these abuses by Catholic bishops. Sexual abuse and coverups occurred many times over many years, as the Kansas Bureau of Investigation documented in a report summary released Jan. 6, 2023, by the-Attorney General Derek Schmidt.

Having the Catholic Church repair its problems with bishops and priests is not the only reason for not seeking more restrictions on abortion.

Abortion is a religious and moral issue, and citizens should not be prohibited by the government or by other religions from following their own religious beliefs on abortion. Religions that support abortion frame the issue by recognizing the dignity of the individual. That dignity means every person, including pregnant women, have the freedom to make their own religious and moral decisions without interference by the government or other religions. Religions and denominations that support abortion access include Church of Christ, Presbyterian, Judaism, Unitarian and so on.

I am a Unitarian and believe that the embryo and fetus are not ensouled. Their rights do not take precedence over the rights of the pregnant woman. My Unitarian faith does not teach that abortion is murder, as do Catholics and Evangelicals.

In my extended family there are Catholics, Unitarians, members of other religions and non-religious persons. Abortion is a religious and moral issue for each of us.

Government should not be involved in promoting any particular religious belief on the matter. The reasons we have religious freedom in this country involve excluding contentious religious disputes from government control, reducing public strife and promoting individual freedom.

The First Amendment of our Constitution says each citizen has the right to follow the moral teachings of their own religion. That amendment also says that the government shall pass no laws that prohibit the free exercise of religion. Were Kansas to support the Catholic position, it would be violating the Constitution by assuming powers it does not have and by denying each citizen the right to follow their own religious beliefs on this matter.

In other words, we Americans meet in the middle and “agree to disagree” when there are such religious differences between us.

To many Kansans, religion is the most meaningful part of their life. Deciding which set of beliefs to follow is their choice, their “right of conscience.” For a person or another religion to deny someone their choice of religion is wrong, creepy even.

No one wants to be told: “No. I will stop you from following your religious beliefs.”

Don’t get me wrong. I want the members of my family who are Catholics to be free to follow their religious beliefs on abortion. It’s just that I, as a Unitarian, do not want to have the government force me, my spouse, or my family members to follow Catholic religious beliefs. Instead, let us follow the moral teachings on abortion of the Unitarian religion.

It was unfortunate the news media did not widely cover the religious freedom aspects of abortion before the Aug. 2, 2022, vote. They could have asked politicians and Catholics: Why do you want to deny religious freedom to your neighbors? Your friends? Your extended family members? Even after the vote, when the news media did report that the Catholic Church spent an eye-popping $4 million-plus on the campaign, it wasn’t reported that religious freedom could have been denied to Kansas citizens had the amendment been adopted.

The Republican-controlled Legislature should respect the votes of citizens last August and not try to pass additional abortion restrictions in the 2023 Legislative Session.

The Catholic Church in Kansas should save its money to make restitution to persons sexually abused by clergy, while also pursuing reconciliation with them and the wider Kansas community.

Kansans spoke clearly with their votes in August 2022. We don’t want any more strife on abortion. We don’t want the government to criminalize differences in religious belief. We do want the government and Kansas Legislators to respect the Constitution and our decision.

Kent Munzer is a retiree in his mid-70s who has lived in Kansas most of his life. Through its opinion section, Kansas Reflector works to amplify the voices of people who are affected by public policies or excluded from public debate. Find information, including how to submit your own commentary, here.