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Zika Virus: A New Threat to Religion?

May 20th, 2016

bacteriaReligion has been a part of American culture since the founding of the nation. It has also been a major point of contention during some of the country’s most volatile periods. One of the most controversial decisions in recent years was Roe v. Wade, which held that women had a constitutional right to decide whether or not to terminate a pregnancy during the first trimester pursuant to the 14th Amendment. While there have been several cases since Roe v. Wade that have upheld a woman’s right to choose, that has not stopped citizens on both sides of the issue from engaging in (often spirited) debate.  

Many individuals who oppose the decision cite to their faith and argue that such an interpretation of the constitution leaves little room for those who wish to protect their religious freedom, which is also protected by the constitution. The latest chapter in this fight may come from an unexpected source.

Enter the Virus

Humans have been plagued by pathogens since the beginning of their existence. Many scientists attribute the divergence in the diseases that affected our ancestors and those that affected other mammals to rises in agriculture. As we evolved as a species, so did the pathogens that made us sick. The latest in a long line of human diseases has now entered the limelight and its name is Zika. What makes this virus especially troubling is how little is actually known about its effects and how to treat those who are infected. According to reports by the Centers for Disease Control, pregnant women (or women who may become pregnant) are among the vulnerable groups who should try to avoid areas where the Zika virus has been found. This is because the virus has been found to not only cause flu-like symptoms and neurologic conditions, but has also been linked to microcephaly in newborn babies born to mothers who were infected by the virus.

Religious Crisis?

One of the largest religious communities affected by this latest threat is in Brazil. Many attribute the rise in those infected by the virus to mega-events such as the most recent World Cup held in its capital city. Millions of soccer fans descended on the country from all over the world, including the tropic and sub-tropic locales where Zika was native and prevalent for decades.  Brazil is also home to one of the largest Catholic communities in the world; a religion that is famously anti-birth control. In a world where sexually transmitted disease cannot be prevented except through abstinence or through the use of condoms, a religious belief system that disallows the latter makes these communities more vulnerable than other, more secular communities.  Further, this latest threat has also brought with it an increase in babies born with a disability known as “microcephaly.” While scientists have not yet fully understood the connection between Zika and microcephaly, the prevalence of Zika in Brazilian mothers who then have affected babies is undeniable. Many in the non-religious and religious communities are now calling for Catholic followers to practice safe sex, and even consider once taboo options as a tool to fight the disease.  

Whether Catholics will choose to alter their belief system in light of this disease is unknown, but it is one more argument in the arsenal of those in the United States who seek to ensure choice remains protected under the 14th Amendment. The Universal Life Church will continue to monitor any challenges to the freedoms promised to us under the U.S. Constitution. Our mission is to ensure that religious freedom is upheld by the courts as much as the other protections in our guiding document.

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