Attacking Religious Liberty? Churches Aren’t People.

In the last few weeks the issue of religious liberty has exploded nationally.

The spark that lit the flame was the implementation of the Department of Health and Human Services’ rule requiring that all employers include contraceptive services coverage in the health insurance they provide to employees.

While the rule did offer a narrow exemption to houses of worship, it did not extend to religiously affiliated organizations such as hospitals, universities, and social service programs.

These organizations and religious leaders claimed that their religious freedom was being infringed upon. So, the Obama administration made a concession: Instead of requiring religious employers to provide contraceptive services to their employees, the employees would be able to get it directly from the insurance provider. This cut the religious institutions out of the picture, while preserving employees’ access to these services.

Problem solved, right? Unfortunately not.

The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) has promised to fight the Obama administration on the rule—with federal legislation and in the courts. And the bishops seem to have quite a few allies who aim to put the fight in motion.

Several bills have been introduced in the U.S. Senate, including bills by Sen. Roy Blunt (R-Mo.) and Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) have both introduced legislation into the Senate that would allow any employer with a so-called religious objection to refuse contraceptive coverage. And Republican presidential candidate Rick Santorum said last Friday that no insurance policy should cover birth control.

Thursday the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee held a hearing titled, “Lines Crossed: Separation of Church and State. Has the Obama Administration Trampled on Freedom of Religion and Freedom of Conscience?” The one-sided hearing offered mostly male witnesses, a majority of who were members of clergy. Democrats—who tried to offer two witnesses on the other side of the issue—were not allowed to do so. (According to the Republicans, the Democrats did not submit qualified witnesses in a timely matter.) Any real discussion about the issue of religious freedom was thwarted, resulting in a one sided “discussion” valuable only for purely political purposes. 

The fact that the USCCB and others are still fighting the rule—even after the change—shows they are more interested in pushing their religious beliefs on others, rather than truly being concerned with preserving their religious liberty as originally claimed.

Real religious freedom allows for individuals to make their own decisions—and what the USCCB and other religious leaders are trying to prevent is a direct affront to that. Prohibiting access to healthcare takes  away the individual’s choice  of conscience and pushes the religious views of the employer on its employees—many of whom don’t even follow the religion of their employer.

The Secular Coalition supported Obama’s shift in policy. While we were not happy that a religious exemption was provided for houses of worship, the ultimate goal of maintaining the individual employees’ rights to make their own moral and religious decisions—instead of being forced to follow the religious dictates of their employers—was maintained.

A New York Times editorial published last week said it best, “Churches are given complete freedom by the Constitution to preach that birth control is immoral, but they have not been given the right to laws that would deprive their followers or employees of the right to disagree with that teaching.” It continued: “If a religious body does not like a public policy that affects its members … it cannot simply opt out of society or claim a special exemption from the law.”
While any house of worship or religion has the right in the United States as guaranteed by the Constitution and the First Amendment to tell its members that contraceptives are unacceptable for followers, it is not acceptable to enlist the government’s help in enforcing such religious doctrine. It is not the government’s job to see that people follow religious edicts.  However, it is the government’s responsibility to ensure that there is no discrimination in the provision of necessary and life-saving services—in this case, contraceptive services.

The USCCB is asking the government to privilege its particular brand of religion over others. After all, we don’t allow followers of Rastafarianism to smoke marijuana just because it’s part of their religion. We don’t provide insurance coverage that will only cover hospitals that segregate men and women for Hassidic Jewish institutions. We don’t allow polygamy because it is part of some sects of Mormon fundamentalism. We don’t make special concessions to see that blood transfusions aren’t provided to organizations affiliated with Jehovah's Witnesses. We don't allow Quakers to opt out of paying taxes if those tax dollars go toward paying for war.

The First Amendment to the Constitution is clear, “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion...”  Religious institutions are not above the law or entitled to special treatment.

This is especially true when the organizations in question accept government funding—as so many religious hospitals, charities and universities do. Religious liberty certainly doesn’t give organizations the right to force their views, through taxpayer dollars, on those with different religious views, or to ignore the law.

Let’s call this debate what it is—an attack on women’s right to control their bodies, not an attack on religious liberty. And if that’s the case, it is a debate that religious leaders should be having with their members—the majority of whom use contraceptives—not a debate with the American public at large and not with the U. S. government.

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In Saudi Arabia, all citizens are ueqrired to be Muslims, and the public practice of other religions is forbidden. Private practice of other religions is sometimes allowed and sometimes persecuted; there is no law protecting even this.Iran is officially a Twelver Shiite state. Some other religions (Christianity, Judaism, Zoroastrianism) are permitted, but are not allowed to proselytize; and they are sometimes persecuted even if they don't. The Bahai faith is not allowed at all. Sunni Muslims are subject to some restrictions also.In China, all religious organizations have to be authorized by the government. This has given rise to conflict when the government appoints religious leaders different from what the religion itself chooses. There are state-appointed Catholic, Protestant, Buddhist, Taoist, and Muslim leaders. These are not always approved by the religious organizations outside of China. Those who practice religion outside these state-approved organizations are subject to severe persecution.In Turkey, since the secularization by Ataturk in the early 20th century, the government permits all religions but keeps them all under close surveillance. Special religious clothing (the veil, the fez) is not permitted to be worn in public. Turkey is predominantly Muslim, and there is some prejudice against other religions.In North Korea, virtually no religious practice is allowed except a limited amount by foreigners. Worship is considered a political offense.Cuba was for years officially atheist, and religious practice was seriously discouraged, with some persecution. But now religious people are even allowed to join the Communist Party. The government is secular rather than atheist, and religious practice is pretty much free.These are a few varied examples of governments which have restricted religious practice. In our time, the States that restrict religious freedom are mostly Muslim or Atheist.I can't think of any other belief system that does this in modern times.Religion is the source of meaning and values for many people, and restricting it restricts the growth of the human soul. In countries where a religion is imposed, it loses some of its growth potential. In countries where religion is not restricted or mandated by the government, it flourishes and leads to better values and ways of life.
Truthfully, one can see him or herself as a devout catholic without a fidelity to the essential center of Church teaching; it just doesn't make it so. The sacrality of life is the center of the social doctrine, defined as the immutable dignity of the human person. Dignity is not a broad definition in which progressives may hang their political hats. Dignity stems exclusively from the notion of imagio deo, or, the image of God of which the human person is considered. Therefore, what Americans, Brits, people in Somalia, Georgia, the Antartic, or wherever on the planet, believe is not as relevant as this eternal truth. We are created in the image of God. Therefore, we cannot hedge, i.e. be in the least bit progressive when it comes to issues of life. Those who leave the Church are always free to pray and accept whatever enlightenment is rendered, and even free to return home.
The "Churches aren't people" notion is the result of a fairly significant misunderstanding of Christian teaching, by this I actually mean Roman Catholic and Orthodox teaching. We are talking theology here and not something generally palatable to secularists and atheists. The Christian church deals, on the first level, in spiritual reality. I will simply explain and make no requirement to believe it. The collective Church is considered--in theological terms--to be the Body of Christ. As such, the Church is one with Christ who was purported to have been a human being, who suffered, was crucified, died, and rose again. The rising is the important issue because the Risen Christ is the essence of the perfect human condition making the entire Church a spiritual person with a physical reality. The conscience of the Church is the conscience of Christ who shares both a divine and physical reality in the institution of the Eucharist, the Real Presence of Christ in the mundane species of bread and wine. This is why Christians, specifically Catholics and Orthodox believe that conscience does exist within the Church as a whole. Again, this is simply the explanation to which no debate is necessary.
The Catholic Church cannot violate the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution because the First Amendment Establishment Clause is directed only against government establishing a state religion (such as secularism or atheism) to the peril of all other religions. The Free Expression clause mandates that the government make no provision (such as an HHS mandate) to interfer with the free expression of religion. The HHS mandate imposes services and drugs which are directly antithetical to Church teaching, and therefore, by its mandate violates the Free Expression Clause.
Only if these institutions are, indeed, funded by taxpayer money. Otherwise, the argument is not relevant.
The idea that 1.5 million women and girls are prescribed oral contraceptives for noncontraceptive purposes is basically a non-sequitur because if a woman or girl is prescribed these medicines and does not engage in sexual activity, then religious belief that the contraceptive disrupts the human life cycle and therefore the sacrality of human life, is not committed. Your denial of treatment argument therefore collapses.
Churches are people, just like corporations are people. They are defined by people, funded by people, and people are depended on them. Churches do MORE for the average person with their limited funds than the government could ever do. This is simply because their is no red tape, no judgment, and no political intent. The intent of the Democratic Party is to help people (give them welfare) in order to get votes. The church (a bunch of different churches) have helped my single mother financially when she was in need and NEVER asked her what faith she was. The Democratic Party wants to keep people dependent on welfare and poor, so that it always has a voter base. Every grain of popular culture is currently at war with religion right now. Not everything can be explained by science and I will tell you that if you war with religion, you will lose. There was a period of time in this country, before our independence. Two-thirds of people did not go to church and did not believe in God. A war with religion was fought by the thinkers of the day, but then the Great Awakening happened. Look at what the standings are now, and tell me who won.
If you don't "grant Personhood to a zygote", you are against the findings of science on the matter, since that fertilized cell contains all the genetic information which defines a person, and it merely requires food, water, and a safe environment in order to live - just as persons of all ages do. Any other dividing line constituting person from non-person is arbitrary, and not based on any scientific facts. Federal funding for churches, hospitals, businesses, and faithbased schools is nowhere authorized under the Constitution, and is therefore illegal. An illegal statute has absolutely no binding authority over the subjects involved, and therefore they are under no obligation to follow such "federal guidelines".
It is worth noting that approximately 1.5 million U.S. women and girls are prescribed oral contraceptives for noncontraceptive purposes - to address a wide array of health conditions (i.e., treatment of pelvic pain due to endometriosis, bleeding due to leiomyomas, menorrhagia, dysmenorrhea, chronic acute menstrual pain, and acne or hirsutism; to decrease risk of endometrial cancer, ovarian cancer, and colorectal cancer; to improve bone mineral density; for menstrual regulation, which for some women may help prevent migraines and other painful side effects of menstruation; to induce amenorrhea for lifestyle considerations; etc.). When we deny these women and girls employer-subsidized treatment for those medical conditions (solely because other women and girls utilize oral contraceptives for purely contraceptive purposes), we are denying them equal access to healthcare based on an immutable characteristic - their gender.
I do not grant Personhood to a zygote, the inadvertant union of any one of 100,000 sperm with a single ovum. Institutions which accept taxpayer funds should be mandated to follow all Federal guidelines, this should include Churches, Hospitals, businesses and Faithbase schools which are being illegally funded with our tax money and are not required to have proper environment, qualified teachers, or curriculum and discriminate in hiring.
The religious institutions in question are not seeking to deny women employees access to contraceptives - they are still free to purchase those services on their own. The institutions are only insisting on the right not to act against their own conscience and convictions, by not wishing to be compelled to pay for these services through their inclusion in the insurance plan. The institutions are paying for the insurance, and have the right in a free country to come to any terms that are mutually acceptable to them and their insurance company. The employee is free to take a job with the institution or not. The institution is not forcing their religion on others merely by being true to their own conscience and acting on their religious beliefs. The ones forcing their religion on others are the author of this piece, and the Obama Administration. Yes, secularism is a religion, since it addresses the fundamental questions of existence, purpose, and meaning. Merely because some people arrive at theistic world-views and others at atheistic ones, does not mean that atheists are not pushing their beliefs on others just as much as theists when they put those beliefs into laws binding on everyone. Atheists think they somehow have the "default" world-view when it comes to societal norms, especially in the legal arena. They've gotten a free pass for too long because of this misconception of what is a religion. They don't even see their own bigotry. Regarding the examples given about Quakers refusing to pay taxes to pay for wars, Rastafarians smoking pot, practicing polygamy, etc., these examples involve breaking existing laws in order to express their religious beliefs. However, this analogy doesn't work with the religious institutions in question, since they are merely engaging in a private, legal transaction with their insurance company.
You are a refreshing open minded individual.
I couldn't agree with you more on this issue. It is definitely a women's rights issue and not an insurance issue. When they convene a committee to study women's health issues and there isn't a single woman on that committee that speaks so loudly that I am nearly deaf. I am almost 60 years old and I remember the year I was a senior in high school I was told by the counselor I had better find me a good husband cause I was not smart enough to go to college, dexterious enough to be a factory worker and would just be a burden to my family! I am not Christian and it is thanks to the preachings and teaching of the moral majority right wingers (GOP) that consider women mere property of their spouses, fathers etc. I resent the fact that the right wing politicos of today are subjugating and suppressing women and minorities again in the name of GOD(?GOP) because the GOD(?GOP)! IF your god is so benevolent, omnipotent, and omniscient isn't that toward everyone or is it just men? Keep church and state separate or pay the price down the road.
@Kc (not verified) on Thu, 02/16/2012 - 17:05. I'd say the difference here is that the group you mention is note asking that all their followers be MADE to smoke via government legislation. The argument here is that the population be allows to choose and not have a view held by those with an invisible super friend be forced on them.
Very well said. I have been infuriated with this decision since it came out. It is stunning to me to see how few people realize that it is the Christian Right/Catholic Church that is violating the First Amendment, and not the HHS ruling.
This and other legislative debates are underscoring the concerted efforts by the Christian Right Wing to dismantle secularism in the U.S. Many of these "Dominionists" believe that they are ushering in and preparing government for Christ's return and "Dominion" over humankind. We have never seen a more concerted effort or a more fundamentalist attack on secularism, of which this latest battle is a mere skirmish. With legislation proposed in multiple states to allow unscientific, religious "theories" of Creationism and Intelligent Design to be taught alongside the long-established and FACT of evolution, I fear for the near future of this once-great secular nation. Diversity, pluralism and secularity are the U.S.'s great strengths. Dismantle them and you leave us with nothing, just another failed union no different from the theocracies of the Middle East. Troy Boyle President National Atheist Party
so religion organizations do not have the right to say this violates what our religion believes in? This should and will be debate with anyone who FORCES another being to do anything against there religion. No one is telling anyone not to get contraceptive if they want it, there just saying that I should not have to pay for something I do not believe in. Thats not a hard concept to understand. This is not a woman's issue this is a more broad issue what telling me what I should and shouldn't do. This is exactly why government should stay out of the health care. Last year the government said that mammograms for woman 40-49 years of age weren't necessary. Thats the fight you should be having... the fact that no ones talks about that (a true woman's health issue) is despicable. You say this is a debate over woman's health then why has everyone forgotten about that? This is a debate over religion plain and simple.
Corporations are people, zygotes are people, but women are not. What country am I supposed to feel patriotic about? Please remind me?
Interesting article but I have a very big quibble. You quote the Constitution correctly but are wron to put a period after "establishment of religion. " the least you should do is put an elipsis (...) showing that the sentence quoted is not finished. Or you could include the rest of the pertinent line "or the prohibition thereof." I am not particularly religious, but I do think the omission of this portion of the quote shows you are not sure about the strength of your argument, and I agree with that doubt.
Well said.
Enjoyed the article, but it made me think about Peyote... It's legal if you can prove you follow the peyote religion in certain states. In a way that's government privilege for one religion. So it does happen in some forms.
I am a devout Catholic but I agree with this blog post 100%. The Obama Administration made a reasonable concession. The Bishops need to get off their high horse and leave this issue alone. Stuff like this is why many Catholics are fleeing the church and opting to become Episcopalian. At least their leaders are more progressive and have a realistic understanding of the American people. I believe in God with all of my mind, body and soul....but the athiests are right on this issue and my beloved Catholica Church is wrong!

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