Moral Low Ground

Civil Liberties

With Contraception Mandate, Obama Ignores First Amendment and Separation of Church and State

I must confess, at first this was a tough post for me to write. For, when we really don’t like someone or something, it’s easy to ignore or accept an injustice against that person or thing. If a child-molesting priest gets raped behind bars, is anyone really going to shed a tear for him? Never mind that the priest’s prison sentence did not include a rape sentence, or that rape is always wrong. Those rational observations get relegated to some hidden corner in the back of our minds. We may even take primal satisfaction in the priest’s suffering. We all know karma’s a bitch…

But what ought to separate progressives from our brothers and sisters on the reactionary right is the immutable principle best expressed by  Martin Luther King, Jr., who I consider to be the greatest American who ever lived (despite the fact that he was a man of “god,” who I consider to be a figment of mankind’s imagination):

“An injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.”

As you may have guessed from my comments so far, I positively abhor religion. At their worst, I consider the three main Western religions– Judaism, Christianity and Islam– to be the province of the weak and the ignorant, the last refuge for bigotry, backwardness and all sorts of other nastiness that has no place in the 21st century. Don’t get me wrong; some of the smartest folks I know are people of faith (a word which Mark Twain so aptly defined as “believing what you know ain’t so”), but on the whole, I suspect (and studies back me up on this) that the more education one has, the less likely they are to believe in supernatural nonsense.

I am no fan of religion. But I am a fan of the constitution and the principles enshrined therein. And the very first of these is freedom of religion.  That’s why I must condemn President Obama’s recent mandate that forces religious employers to offer free birth control to women. Sure, Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius included an exemption for actual churches and their direct employees. But church-run organizations such as hospitals, schools and charities, many of which provide invaluable services to the most vulnerable segments of our society, will be forced to provide contraception in direct and blatant violation of cherished religious principles.

How anyone can defend this is beyond me; imagine the uproar if the government forced a Muslim charity that served meals to the poor to hand out free ham sandwiches, or an orthodox Jewish school to hold classes on Saturdays.

This odious mandate pisses all over the First Amendment, which guarantees religious freedom. It also blatantly violates that cherished principle, separation of church and state. That separation is a two-way street; all too often progressives enthusiastically invoke this principle to justify the exclusion of religion and religious imagery, symbolism or ritual from the public square, but separation of church and state is also intended to protect the religious from government meddling in their affairs.

Additionally, Obama’s mandate marks yet another broken promise to America. It also exposes the president’s dirty side: Sister Carol Keehan, CEO of the Catholic Health Association, was persuaded to support Obama’s health care reforms largely based on assurances that Catholics’ rights of conscience would be protected. “She has now met the crowded underside of Obama’s bus,” writes Kathleen Parker in the Washington Post.

Worse, under Obama’s new rules, those religious and religious-run organizations that fail to comply with the new birth control rules will face exorbitant fines. That’s food taken from the mouths of the millions of poor who rely upon religious charities for their survival.

The Obama administration has now signalled that it is willing to work with religious groups as it implements the new policy. But it has not been able to say what form this cooperation will take, and there is no sign that the president will back down from his decision despite a tidal wave of opposition. Sure, the majority of Catholics actually support Obama’s contraception mandate. But that doesn’t really matter. The majority of Catholics also supported Proposition 8, the measure which stripped California’s gays and lesbians of their marriage rights. But that doesn’t mean that what Alexis de Tocqueville called the “tyranny of the majority” should reign supreme.

And sure, plenty of Catholic women use birth control. But as Kathleen Parker points out, “Catholics commit adultery and lie, too, but they don’t want or expect the church to condone those actions.”

Timothy Dolan, the Archbishop of New York and president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, was right when he declared that forcing Americans to “choose between violating their consciences and forgoing their health care is literally unconscionable.” Even a rabidly anti-religion progressive like myself can clearly see that. The true test for people like myself is whether or not they can set aside their personal feelings and rally behind the constitution, which this President has violated or ignored so many times, whether by waging war without congressional declaration, by authorizing the indefinite military detention of American citizens without charge or trial or by pissing all over the First Amendment and the fundamental principle of separation of church and state.

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5 Comments

  1. Doug IndeapFebruary 9, 2012 at 6:45 amReply

    Lost in the fuming over some supposed moral dilemma is that THE HEALTH CARE LAW DOES NOT FORCE EMPLOYERS TO ACT CONTRARY TO THEIR BELIEFS–unless one supposes the employers’ religion forbids even payment of money to the government (all of us should enjoy such a religion). In keeping with the law, those with conscientious objections to providing their employees with qualifying health plans may decline to provide any health plans and pay an assessment instead or, alternatively, provide plans that do not qualify (e.g., without provisions they dislike) and pay lower assessments.

    No moral dilemma, no need for an exemption. That the employers must at least pay an assessment is hardly justification for an exemption. In other contexts, for instance, we have relieved conscientious objectors from required military service, requiring them instead to provide alternative service in noncombatant roles or useful civilian work. In any event, paying assessment does not pose a moral dilemma, but rather a garden-variety gripe common to most taxpayers–who don’t much like paying taxes and who object to this or that action of the government. Should each of us feel free to deduct from our taxes the portion that we figure would be spent on those actions (e.g., wars, health care, teaching evolution, subsidizing churches, whatever) each of us opposes? The hue and cry for an exemption is predicated on the false claim–or, more plainly, lie–that employers otherwise are forced to act contrary to their religions.

    Questions about the government requiring or prohibiting something that conflicts with someone’s faith are entirely real, but not new. The courts have confronted such issues and have generally ruled that under the Constitution the government cannot enact laws specifically aimed at a particular religion (which would be regarded a constraint on religious liberty contrary to the First Amendment), but can enact laws generally applicable to everyone or at least broad classes of people (e.g., laws concerning pollution, contracts, fraud, crimes, discrimination, employment, etc.) and can require everyone, including those who may object on religious grounds, to abide by them. Were it otherwise and people could opt out of this or that law with the excuse that their religion requires or allows it, the government and the rule of law could hardly operate.

    • Brett WilkinsFebruary 9, 2012 at 7:57 amReplyAuthor

      Kinda reminds me of how, back when I was knee high to a grasshopper, the states could “opt out” of the federally-imposed “temporary” 55-mph speed limit… and by doing so, lose their federal highway funding. This sort of “exemption” smacks of the actions of some cynical totalitarian state, not the “land of the free.”

  2. PeterFebruary 15, 2012 at 8:56 amReply

    Sir, I am a Christian and while I question one or two things you say in it, overall I applaud your article and thank you for it!

    And listen, if you have any questions about belief (you lot always seem to) I’ll be more than happy to ‘splain to ju whatever I can, and point you to people who can answer what I can’t.

    Thanks again!

  3. ChrisMarch 6, 2012 at 8:30 amReply

    Give me a break. Churches break the first amendment every time they weigh in against same sex marriage and abortion. They pay no taxes, therefore they HAVE NO VOICE in government. No one is telling them that they can’t pass judgment on those who choose to behave a certain way, they just can’t lobby to make their judgment a law.

  4. HeatherMarch 14, 2012 at 6:41 pmReply

    One thing that strikes me about this is that not one mention has been made of employers “moral objection” to insurance coverage for vasectomy, which is a procedure solely for contraception. The focus has been directed at hormonal contraception, which of course has been prescribed for conditions other than contraception, muddying the waters of the debate a great deal. But as far as I can tell, vasectomies are still covered, no questions asked. Under the moral statement against contraception from the Catholic church, I don’t remember it being a judgement against only female contraception, but rather contraception in general. This whole thing has blown up into a firestorm of mythic proportions, but at the heart of it are some very real double standards and it would appear that many are either clueless or deliberately trying to set back the clock on women. It would be easier for me to believe the argument that this was about religious liberty, and have more of an ear for the perspective of those who are making that point, if it weren’t for so many glaring double standards–the all male panel of experts when we have a very articulate, female, Catholic professor of theology and law at Notre Dame that Mr. Issa could have invited named Cathleen Kaveny, the subsequent 9+ hour rant against [frankly all women but] Sandra Fluke for her testimony complete with a re-invention of her testimony fit for an amateur porn site, and bill after bill being introduced in the legislatures of states all across the land giving employers, religious or not, the right to fire employees simply for using contraception, and other assorted strangeness. Frankly, I don’t buy the “liberty” argument, because the “liberty” isn’t being applied equally, this “liberty” comes at another person’s expense, and the effects are applied disproportionately from male to female.

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