February 13, 2012

Religious Freedoms Are Limited

The recent to-do over insurance plans providing contraception seems to me to be a good example of exactly where the boundary to religious freedom lies -- with oneself and those who share ones beliefs. Thus it is perfectly fine, to my mind, for a church to be allowed to tell its clergy and its religious employees not to have a certain kind of insurance coverage -- or to let the coverage be there but unused, which it seems to me is the real ethical point. (I mean, just paying for something because you have to does not indicate approval --- Lord knows I can mention several foreign wars of the last five decades upon which I wish my tax money had not been spent.)

But it is wrong to assert that the mere provision of a benefit is unacceptable in the context of something not directly a religious institution such as a church, but what the old orders would call "a work" (a school or hospital, for example), in which employees may well not be adherents of the particular sect or beholden to its beliefs.

In short, it is fine for the Roman Catholic Church to teach against contraception, and to insist its adherents make no use of it, but completely specious to claim that they are morally compromised by providing insurance coverage that happens to include this benefit to people who are under no obligation to use it, nor, in some cases, under any obligation to adhere to the teaching.

Otherwise, any Jehovah Witness-sponsored organization should have the right to insist that its secular employees not be covered for blood transfusions; 7th Day Adventists should be able to forbid their non-church employees from being fed hospital food containing meat, and Jews and Muslims, pork. And let's not even get started with the Christian Scientists, who ought, under this understanding, to be able to refuse the need to provide health insurance to anyone who works for them.


On that, just to be clear, I do defend the right of any person not to have health insurance on the basis of their religious belief; and I think that Christian Scientists should be granted that individual exemption, just as some of the Mennonite (Amish) groups members are --- though for different reasons concerning opposing receipt of government assistance.


But let's be clear: the individual right to make moral decisions for oneself is not something to be spread and imposed on others. If you don't want health coverage, no one is forced to use it, even if you are required to pay for it. A truly principled "martyr" would pay and stand tall in refusal to use.


Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG

33 comments:

Lionel Deimel said...

Tobias,

I like your Jehovah’s Witnesses example, but I think you are being generous concerning actual church employees. The government’s exempting churches from providing contraception benefits to employees makes the government complicit in enforcing church dogma and restricting the rights of citizens. That nearly all Roman Catholic women use contraception at some point in their lives suggests that depriving them of a contraception benefit is not welcomed (except insofar as these women buy into the hogwash that the administration is attacking religious freedom). I have more to say about this on my own blog.

Tobias Stanislas Haller said...

I take your point, Lionel, but I do think there is a difference between a church and a church-related institution: this is well established in the law, on far more than this current issue. For instance, the RCC is exempt from the sex-discrimination in employment when it comes to their clergy. I think the particular camel is well in the tent.

I don't see how it is "enforcing" church dogma or restricting anyone's rights to allow a church not to provide contraception to its clergy, or other narrowly defined and explicitly religious employees. On the contrary, insisting they make such provision appears to make demands they violate their religious teachings -- though as I suggest, in the current case, the mere provision of contraception is not in fact a moral issue, and the obvious solution is to refuse to use it, not refuse to provide it.

Anonymous said...

If the RCC is allowed an exemption in order that it is not forced to pay for contraception then is it also right and fair for the Jehovah witnesses to not pay taxes that would be used to pay for say a war? This is a slippery slope. At what point does a religious group obtain an exemption to avoid paying for something that violates its teachings? A question for the U.S. Supreme Court I do think.

Tobias Stanislas Haller said...

Thank you Anonymous. (Please do use an identity -- your own or a pseudonym -- in future.) Most religious groups do not pay taxes, so that is not precisely an issue here; but the requirement to provide employees in public service "works" with benefits that go against certain teachings.

Say there were some sect that, (1) engaged in a ministry of feeding that involved a discount restaurant chain; and (2) believed all its empolyhees were "priests" of God, and applied Leviticus 21:17ff to limit employment in the restaurant chain they ran, contrary to the ADA. Would that be a protected right or not?

SCOTUS may ultimately have to become involved, but even in the act of ruling they may tread on shakey ground.

thomas bushnell, bsg said...

My CPE was at Loma Linda hospital, and actually, the 7th Day Adventists do provide only vegetarian meals in the employee/visitor cafeteria. (Patients who wish it can get meat.)

I don't think this is a violation of anyone's rights, because I think it's wildly different from the case of health insurance.

Tobias Stanislas Haller said...

Thanks, Thomas; that's a good illustration of the proper approach: they are free not to provide meat in their cafeteria, as there is no "right" to eat meat that is being infringed -- and patients who may need or prefer meat are provided for. Would the RC hierarchs were as sane and rational -- and aware of their own limitations!

RonF said...

"Otherwise, any Jehovah Witness-sponsored organization should have the right to insist that its secular employees not be covered for blood transfusions;"

Blood transfusions are necessary to preserve life, the need for them is involuntary and there are no viable alternatives. Birth control is not necessary to preserve life, the need for it is voluntary and there are viable alternatives to the kind of birth control that is in question here.

"7th Day Adventists should be able to forbid their non-church employees from being fed hospital food containing meat,"

They do. Both my kids were born in a 7th Day Adventist hospital and there was no meat sold in the cafeteria. And what does that have to do with the question of health insurance, anyway? Are you proposing that they be required by law to sell their employees meat in their meals?

"and Jews and Muslims, pork."

I'll bet $$ that hospitals in this country run by Jews and Muslims don't serve pork.

"And let's not even get started with the Christian Scientists, who ought, under this understanding, to be able to refuse the need to provide health insurance to anyone who works for them."

You mean they can't? Does the law require corporations to provide health insurance as a benefit? I should imagine that they'd have a hard time hiring non-Jehovah's Witnesses as employees if they didn't, mind you, but I thought it was the force of competition, not law, that made corporations provide health insurance.

RonF said...

Ah, didn't see this that apparently addresses part of one question I asked:

"Thanks, Thomas; that's a good illustration of the proper approach: they are free not to provide meat in their cafeteria, as there is no "right" to eat meat that is being infringed -- and patients who may need or prefer meat are provided for. Would the RC hierarchs were as sane and rational -- and aware of their own limitations!"

The RCC is aware of their limitations. They don't force their employees to not use birth control - they just don't want to pay for it. Don't forget that we're not talking about poor people here. If someone has a job with benefits with the RCC then they've got a regular paycheck and they can afford to buy their own birth control.

This point about the 7th Day Adventists is really not a good analogy for your argument.

Tobias Stanislas Haller said...

RonF, you make some interesting points, but I don't think they relate to the current problem. The issue is not whether the benefit in question is voluntary or necessary to preserve life. The issue is the limit on the degree to which a church can circumscribe a civil law. Having to provide health insurance that includes the possible dispensation of contraception is not a violation of Roman Catholic church law or teaching -- they just don't want to do it, because it puts them in a position that appears to promote a practice of which they strongly disapprove, and as you say don't want to "pay for it." But as I noted, I don't approve of many things that are done with my tax dollars -- but this is the cost of living in a society that does things with which I may disagree. Claiming a religious exemption will only get one so far, and the RCC is going too far on this one.

My analogy, which I admit is probably not the greatest, was meant to show that the Adventists, for instance, do not demand that their employees be vegetarians -- though they are free not to serve meat in the cafeteria -- but it can be provided if medically prescribed, I assume. (You may be right about Jewish and Muslim hospitals and pork -- as I don't think pork is ever medically necessary!) Similarly, the RCC does not have to dispense contraceptives directly; but they do have to provide medical insurance to their employees that covers the needs of the employees -- who have the right to obtain contraceptives if their doctors prescribe it. Your argument that they should buy it themselves is part of the whole discussion. This is a well recognized health benefit -- and Catholic institutions in many places are already providing it. It seems that this latest hoo-hah is likely an election year ploy of some kind, sad to say, playing into the whole phoney "war on religion" meme.

You might want to read up on the issue of health care reform and the Christian Scientists. They have not been granted, as have the Amish, an exemption.

Anonymous said...

Nothing phony about the RCC position: this is an unwarranted intrusion of the Federal Government into the RC Church.

On one hand, we have the constitutional rights enumerated in the First Amendment.

On the other hand, we have the policy desire of the HHS Secretary, acting on the behalf of the President.

Are you aware of the Supremacy Clause? A regulation placed into the Federal Register is not superior to the First Amendment of the Constitution. There is no balance whatsoever.

You are comparing an ant with an elephant and saying the ant has more mass.

This is a sheer act of will by the Executive Branch and IMHO a violation of the President's Oath of Office.

FrMichael

MarkBrunson said...

I would be more certainly convinced of the concern for First Amendment rights if those defending the RCC's "rights" here were equally vocal and vigorous about removing the tax exemptions from the RCC for speaking from the pulpit - or from St. Peter's - on the subject of government policy.

They are no more or less part of this society, and if they do not accept that, they cannot be part of this society any longer.

Tobias Stanislas Haller said...

Fr Michael, I do understand that is the position, but I see no evidence that the requirement to provide health insurance in any way "prohibit[s] the free exercise" of religion. Unless you are arguing, as the Christian Scientists do -- and they may have a case -- that the provision of health inusrance is in and of itself, regardless of the nature of the coverage, an obstacle to your free exercise of your religious opinions, then you have no case. This is, as someone has noted, not a war on religion, but a religious war on a free society.

Thank you, Mark. Religious exceptionalism is the enemy of society.

IT said...

a friend of mine told me her priest has said her Diocese will be "forced to stop offering health insurance!" This is rampant nonsense and that priest, and Fr Michael know it.

This rule applies not to the church in its religious function (e.g., the Diocese or the Parish), but church affiliated institutions with secular functions and non-religious employees. Once the Church decides to participate in the wider civil sphere then it is an employer subject to the same laws as others.

This law already applies. <A HREF='http://thinkprogress.org/health/2012/02/08/421242/nations-largest-catholic-university-we-offer-a-prescription-contraceptive-benefit/"> In over 28 states</A> the RC hospitals etc have made peace with it and offer coverage. Moreover, it was clear in the original health care legislation. And, it was <A HREF="http://motherjones.com/politics/2012/02/controversial-obama-birth-control-rule-already-law">actually the law under Bush</A>.

This is manufactured outrage solely for political purposes.

IT said...

Pregnancy is actually a very dangerous medical condition, RonF. It can certainly be life threatening. And contraception is expensive: someone with a pay check is definitely going to feel the hit if they have to pay for it themselves.

(What do you want to bet the RC bishops have no problem covering Viagra?)

The cost of functioning in the civil sphere with federal money is the requirement to adhere to secular rules. We see it with contraception. We see it with adoption. The RC church has NO RIGHT to expect the government to enforce their antiquated anti-women anti-gay views on the rest of us.

But I'm delighted if they want to choose this hill on which to do battle. Denying women contraception isn't going to win votes except from old Catholic men.

Tobias Stanislas Haller said...

Thank you, IT, on both counts. The notion that this law is an abridgement of religious freedom borders on the fantastic; and the fact that it is actually a non-issue in many if not most places, and for most people, pushes the current discussion over into the realm of duplicity.

To pick up what I think is the more important analogy in my reflection -- admitting the ones about food policy are less than robust -- I can be a pacifist as part of my religious belief, and refuse personally to fight in a war. But I do not have the right to withhold my taxes on that basis. The fact that some of my money goes to serve ends of which I disapprove on religious grounds is in no way an interference with my religious freedom.

The real problem is that Rome has not awakened to the fact that hegemony over culture is no longer to be taken for granted. In the issue of contraception, even over its own membership...

Anonymous said...

Let's examine your unexamined presuppositions:

1) "church-affiliated institutions"

2) "engaged [in] secular functions"

3) "religious war on a free society"

4) "obstacle to your free exercise of your religious opinions"

5) "The cost of functioning in the civil sphere with federal money is the requirement to adhere to secular rules. We see it with contraception."

6) "Once the Church decides to participate in the wider civil sphere then it is an employer subject to the same laws as others."

All of these are debatable propositions, although I think #5 would be easiest to prove affirmatively. It is, however, irrelevant to the present discussion as the HHS decision applies regardless of whether a religious entity accepts federal money or not.

The ACA is a extra-constitutional program: it is not required by the Constitution. The First Amendment is not. The ACA is subordinate to the Constitution and the Bill of Rights. HHS is even lower than that the Act of Congress which is ACA. Forcing the Catholic Church, which Catholic Charities and hospitals are emphatically are part of by our ecclesiastical doctrine, to pay another private party (i.e. medical insurance companies) for evil procedures is a clear imposition on our free exercise of religion. One might argue that the larger societal interest might require that curbing. However, that societal interest should be found in the supreme law of the land, the Constitution, not some regulation listed in the Federal Register.

Once again, you are balancing a constitution right vs. a preference of the Administration. I cannot believe that you see them as equal weight.

FrMichael

Anonymous said...

I think that I have come across a parallel that might break through your ideological fog:

Imagine HHS Secretary Newt Gingrich, implementing a future SantorumCare, that required all medical insurance policies, with the same limited ability to be exempted that now exists in the current ObamaCare HHS decision, to provide coverage for women to visit alternative-to-abortion clinics, but not contraceptives, sterilizations, abortion drugs, abortion clinics, and all Planned Parenthood facilities. The reason given was that the sponsoring Adminstration and the Congress which passed SantorumCare believed that the right-to-life was so important to American women and the pro-choice position so contemptible, that guaranteed free access to these abortion-free clinics must be covered by virtually all employers.

Would not the religious Left have a conniption fit over this HHS regulation? And this alternative reality is weak tea compared to the odious Sibelius decision, because as far as I understand the pro-choice position, going to an abortion-alternative clinic is not an intrinsic evil.

FrMichael

Tobias Stanislas Haller said...

Fr Michael, your own ideological fog is deeply enveloping. Your imagined example only further demonstrates your lack of understanding of the issues, including the nature of the First Amendment and what it protects. It does not grant or recognize a freedom not to have one's funds used in a particular way with which one disagrees.

You are asserting a right that does not exist, in the constitution or elsewhere.

It would be better for the Roman Catholic hierarchy to work on convincing its own members of the rightness of this position on contraception, rather than worrying about employee benefits from health care plans. You have every right and freedom to ask -- indeed to demand -- that your own members not use contraception, but you do not have the right to insist on that for others.

JCF said...

The reason given was that the sponsoring Adminstration and the Congress which passed SantorumCare believed that the right-to-life was so important to American women and the pro-choice position so contemptible, that guaranteed free access to these abortion-free clinics must be covered by virtually all employers.

I take it President Santorum has outlawed empirical medical evidence, also.

*

Meanwhile, in Virginia, they're about to perpetrate RAPE {you heard me} by LEGALLY REQUIRED (though medically totally unnecessary) INTRA-VAGINAL ULTRASOUND, in order to obtain an abortion. Let's see something crammed up men's orifices, without their consent, by force of law huh? Oh wait: that would NEVER EVER happen. Only *women's* bodies are considered demonstration subjects for RightWing Culture Warriors!

Kyrie eleison (and Thank God my people left Virginia almost 100 years ago...)

Tobias Stanislas Haller said...

JCF, not sure the issue of this repellant practice adds to the discussion any more than Fr M's extreme hypothesis does.

I'd like to return the focus to the main question, which is the assertion that having to provide health insurance that includes drugs of which one disapproves constitutes a "prohibition of the free exercise of religion."

Daniel Weir said...

What is worth noting is that the argument over artificial means of contraception is long-standing within the Roman Catholic Church. In his book Papal Sin, Gary Wills argued that the Vatican ignored all the comments from American Catholics who tended to see the use of contraceptives as contributing to the health of their marriages. Wills saw the contrary assertion by the Vatican as deceitful. Aside from Wills's critique, I have always found something inconsistent about the endorsement of the rhythm method, as intercourse then is not open to the possibility of conception.

Tobias Stanislas Haller said...

Thank you, Daniel. I am not sure this is the place or time to debate the issue of contraception itself, but you are right to point out the less than monolithic nature of the issue, even for Roman Catholics.

Put another way, Does the RCC recognize the religious right of its members to disagree with the teachings of the hierarchy? Or is it only the religious rights of the hierarchy that are being defended?

Anonymous said...

John 2007 writes:

Wow.Running to the defense of contraception so fast most everyone runs by the fact that abortifacients are in the mandate. That is a game changer for me. Bonhoeffer said that for the Christian abortion was unthinkable. I guess we don't have his courage. Our church in fact endorses the left-most group for reproductive right. I am not a right winger, have voted Democrat more than Republican, by a lot, but get teary eyed and bewildered by my church when I think of this.

Additionally, the distinction between churches and "works" (schools, hospitals) is to me a ghetto-ization of the church, constriction of liberty and of the right to associate and practice. The question is not are the church and state separated, but how is it that the state reaches into everything?



Plus,

Anonymous said...

John 2007 writes...

...The repeated description above of the church venturing or stepping out into the wider civil world exposes, in my view, the ghetto-ization presumed and intensified here.

Tobias Stanislas Haller said...

John 2007, the issue of abortifacients is part of the discussion, but I think the term has come to be used rather loosely, and I think only involves a small fraction of the cases -- though one may be too many. As to the topic 9of abortion generally, there has been wide diversity of opinion on the subject in the Christian tradition, and the official TEC position is actually conservative. People keep flogging the connection with the reproductive rights organization, but there is far more to it than abortion, and the official position of TEC is that abortion should not be criminalized. That is, I think, part of the reason for the connection with that organization.

But this is also not the place to debate the issue of abortion. My own feelings are conservative, but I also think it should not be illegal. In short, I support the TEC position, which allows for the tragic choice in cases of rape, incest and threat to the mother's health.

The distinction between "the church" and "works" is to the benefit of both. It is, in part, what enables them to receive government and secular support that would not be possible if they were solely religious entities. (Most foundations cannot support "religious" entities but can support "charitable" works that are connected to religious institutions. This is why the old PB Fund became a separate legal entity as Episcopal Relief and Development.) The point is, if the church has taken this step for the benefits procured, they open themselves to the responsibilities it entails.

I'm afraid I'm not following your ghetto imagery here. Are you saying it is a good thing for the church to be insulated from the world? But, as I say, they can't have their cake and eat it too --- engagement brings responsibilities.

Anonymous said...

No, Tobias, I (john 2007) am saying that your description of church moving into civil society, where it has to, acc to you, adhere to this mandate, is hardly incontestable; and is inverted imho. This action is more properly described as governmental inreach. So you, effectively, are promoting ghetto-izing of the church: it, and its people, cannot come out and live and shape the institutional life of its own institutions.

I know well the position you cite on abortion and, like you, do not work against its criminalization. However, our practice--our practice heading the other direction-- of moral acquiescence and they way we talk about it hardly give the sense that we really think it is tragic or wrong.

Tobias Stanislas Haller said...

Well, John, if that's how you see it. But as I see it, the church is ghettoizing itself by insisting it have its way in the public forum... having its cake and eating it too. This is at the root of the limits on religious liberty: you are free to believe as you like, but not to demand it of others. Do you think a church that believed that Africans were inherently sub-human should be allowed to refuse treatment to them in their hospitals? Is any idea immune from engagement with the public law when it engages with the public, simply because it is "religious"? That is the heart of the problem.

On the abortion question, I do not know what you mean by "our practice" which is set by General Convention. That there are many Episcopalians who hold positions far more liberal than the official poilicy doesn't make it "our" practice -- it is _their_ practice.

I do have to add that there is significant debate in the medical community as to whether the contraceptives in question are really "abortifacients" -- and much of it hinges on the definition of "abortion" with all the vexed questions of when life begins -- about which, as I say, there is scant uniformity of belief in the Christian tradition. The RCC adopts a very extreme position, which I do not accept. But, as I say, that's a topic for another time...

Daniel Weir said...

The claim that the covered contraceptives include abortifacients is not based on scientific evidence. All the covered drugs prevent conception and not implanting of a fertilized egg.

Tobias Stanislas Haller said...

Daniel, that was my understanding. I think the issue for some RCs is that while the drugs and techniques are intended to prevent conception, they sometimes fail and allow it, and then prevent implantation. This is rare, and of course, implantation does not always happen even in the course of nature.

This only serves, however, to highlight the rarified heights to which these "religious" beliefs have to ascend -- including to the equating of a fertilized ovum with "a baby" -- itself a highly debatable concept -- not that I want to get into the debate here.

Anonymous said...

Well, I see that Bishop Lori in congressional testimony provided a much better parallel than I did earlier in these comments: the Parable of the Kosher Deli.

Once again, I continued to be stunned by your lack of understanding.

What is the countervailing "right" that requires Catholic institutions to pay for contraceptions, abortions (such as we consider ella), and sterilizations? The "right" to have your employer pay for your birth control pills? Pray tell, where is that "right" written or implied in the US Constitution or any court decision?

This whole mess is a battle between a constitutional right vs. a Cabinet secretary's decision.

FrMichael

Tobias Stanislas Haller said...

Fr. Michael, I'm afraid you will have to remain stunned, then. You appear to me not to understand the US Constitution. The foolish analogy of the Kosher Deli (that it would be forced to serve ham sandwiches) is wrong on many levels. As Mark Silk pointed out, a proper analogy would be requiring a Kosher Deli to provide its employees with vouchers so that they could obtain a ham sandwich at the Irish Pub next doot.

The RC Church is not being forced to provide contraceptives or presumed abortifacients. It is being required to provide its secular employees with health insurance such as is determined to be equivalent to insurance available across the board in the public sector. The Constitutional "right" to have that insurance is the basic civil right to public accommodation, as determined by the US Supreme Court.

Public is the crucial word. The RCC is only being required to do this in those portions of its (or its subsidiaries, such as religious orders) works that offer public accomodation: education, medical care, etc. Employees in such agencies or entities have the right to be treated as employees in any other secular business.

This is the point you appear not to grasp. It is well established in law, going back to the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

Anonymous said...

"As Mark Silk pointed out, a proper analogy would be requiring a Kosher Deli to provide its employees with vouchers so that they could obtain a ham sandwich at the Irish Pub next doot."

And you wouldn't find that a violation of the First Amendment? What is the constitutional interest of the Federal Government to impose such a thing on a Jewish business?

FrMichael

Tobias Stanislas Haller said...

Fr. M., this is not so outlandish. The "vouchers" in question actually exist in the form of money -- which people are free to use for what they like.