Friday, February 10, 2012

First Amendment Freedom of Religion vs. Obamacare

The question is not whether people should be allowed to use contraceptives and other sterilization methods; in this debate there is no attempt to curtail what is currently legal. The question is whether paying for such products/services or not is a private decision or a public one. 

Is a person allowed to say, “I personally believe it is wrong to artificially limit fertility, and it goes against my conscience to pay for such things,” or can a person with those beliefs be forced to spend money for those products/services? Obama and his Health and Human Services enforcers have decided it is their decision. What is their rationale for taking that decision away from private citizens and groups? 

There seem to be two main points:

·         Churches employ people who are not all of their religion; they shouldn’t impose their religious views on their employees.
·         Churches should expect to do what the government mandates, since they are receiving government benefits. 

Joan Vennochi puts these together in one paragraph in a Boston Globe piece: 

But not all employees of Catholic institutions are Catholics. Why should their employers impose their religious beliefs on them and deny coverage for birth control and other medical care? As long as those Catholic institutions are getting taxpayer money, they should follow secular rules. That’s the Obama administration’s argument, and it makes sense.  

Maybe it makes sense to her, but not to me. If I hire someone to clean my house who happens to be a smoker, and I have a religious proscription against smoking, for example, am I required to accommodate smoking in my home? If that were true, I would never hire a smoker. I do not allow smoking in my home for many reasons that have nothing to do with government interests. I would very much resent having government interfere with that decision in any way. And if government insisted I allow smoking in my home by any employee, I simply would hire no one. (In fact, I do my own housekeeping, thank you. Smoke free. And cheap.) 

As for taking government money, that’s interesting. Obamacare is imposed on us, so if that is the “benefit” referred to, then forcing someone to take a “benefit” and then forcing them to do something even more repugnant because they had accepted the first “benefit” is pretty twisted. This is a no-win situation for anyone with a different opinion from the President. 

But I think the reference is to joint ventures between government and churches. These were efforts put forth by Pres. Bush, and probably before that. Have government support those entities already doing charity; it’s an effective and efficient use of government benevolence. [I know, benevolence is not actually a proper role of government; I am simply describing the situation.] So government reaches out, offers support for good the religious entity was already doing, and then claims the right to control the organizations beliefs? That looks like manipulative entrapment. 

I went to a very large church-owned university that does not take any government money. The reasoning is that it does not want to give government any leverage in controlling what is taught and how. Still, government has tried to argue that taking student tuition money that the student gets from a government grant or loan is taking government money. While that would be a stretch, it shows how much vigilance is required to prevent government usurpation of our private lives. 

Rep. Rosa DeLauro (Dem., Connecticut) suggests not only that compromise on religious issues vs. government-invented “rights” to free contraception are a good thing, but that the president already did enough compromising: 

With this well-crafted balance, the religious liberty of our churches and other houses of worship is respected. They are exempted from the rule, as they should be. There is no mandate that individuals use contraception or that anyone dispense contraception, and there are no changes to existing conscience protections. At the same time, the nearly 800,000 employees and dependents of employees at Catholic hospitals can still benefit from access to these services if they desire them, a good compromise that maintains access while respecting religious liberties.  

Sen. Barbara Boxer (Dem., California) also supports the president’s supposed careful compromise: 

The truth is, the president's decision respects the diverse religious views of the American people, who deserve the right to follow their own conscience and choose whether to obtain contraceptives, regardless of where they work. And that is what this policy guarantees—with one carefully drawn exception. This decision respects the deeply-held views of religious institutions. If their mission is primarily religious and the majority of their employees and clients share that faith, religious institutions do not have to provide contraceptive coverage to their employees.  

Actually, the truth is it isn’t up to the president to decide how and whether American citizens are allowed to live their religions. That is a Constitutionally guaranteed God-given right, no matter what he says, or how much tyranny he imposes. She’s also wrong about how the government has gone about determining what is a primarily religious mission. She doesn’t understand that, while hospital care to her might seem secular, to the church that set up and supports the hospital, that is an act of goodness that is religious at its core. The same can be said for schools, where certainly many secular things are taught, but the purpose is to have those things taught in an environment that encourages the church’s beliefs.

I think she may also be wrong about the “majority” of employees phrase. I think it is likely that most (a majority, over 50%) of teachers at Notre Dame are Catholic. The argument elsewhere has been that if they hire any employees not of their faith, they must provide a form of coverage that allows that employee whatever the federal government prescribes. 

As I listen to news today, I hear the president has added a little extra twist. He claims that churches aren’t actually being forced to pay for something against their beliefs; they’re only required to pay for medical coverage as the federal government mandates, and it is actually the insurance companies that are providing the services. Our president doesn’t think that should affect anyone’s conscience. This is evidence of how very different he thinks from the average American—and certainly different from the average religious American. 

If you’re reading this, chances are we’re in agreement the president is wrong on this issue, and we are pulling for the Catholic Church and others to resist. 

I want to take just a minute to cover a tangent. Rick Santorum (and others) have tried to claim that Mitt Romney’s position is no different from Obama’s. That is patently untrue. Here is a brief explanation of the controversy by Ryan Larsen ( on Facebook, February 8):

Romney spoke with his veto pen—he vetoed the legislation which would require hospitals to provide “morning after” pills. But the legislature overrode the veto. 

The only role Romney had in the matter was enforcing the law, which he was bound to do by his oath of office. 

The confusion results because Romney tried to craft an exemption for Catholic hospitals but ultimately realized that the exemption was not legally sound. There was one clear obstacle to Romney’s preferred exemption: the legislature has authority to supersede any contradictory statues or provisions rather than to work in harmony with the older statue. Thus, if Romney were to challenge the intended effect of the law, he would have had to argue disingenuously in court that the older provision and the new provision could be reconciled when that was likely not true. It is perhaps not surprising that Romney felt bound by the new law and it was in this context that Romney told the Department of Public Health they had to enforce the intent of the law even though he disagreed with it.

Clearly Romney’s effort to provide exemption for the Catholic Church is in direct contrast to Obama’s insistence on imposing his will. He has actually faced the problems of working as an executive with a liberal legislature, and will have been working on ways of avoiding those problems in any future opportunities. Santorum may claim he would always stand strong, but he has not had the executive experience so we can see what he would have done. Concerning Santorum’s integrity, does he know this and lie about it? Or does he not know it and yet makes the accusation based on faulty information? Either way, that lessens my respect for him. 

This gives me one more reason to pause about Catholics, however. This controversy happened in 2005. Catholics have tended to be strongly Democrat, so it was their own political choices that directly led to the imposition of the law against their religious freedom at the state level. It was 2010 when Obamacare was pressed through. They knew what the Democrat view was, how it would play out—yet they supported Obama and Obamacare, and trusted that this time things would be different. May I suggest it is time for Catholics in general to seriously rethink their long-held political positions?

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