The following is a commentary in an ongoing series of “Reflections” by John Mill. John Mill is the radio persona of Ronald Bruce Meyer and can be heard on “American Heathen.” “The American Heathen” Internet radio broadcast is aired, live, on Saturday nights from 7:00pm-10:00pm Central Time (8-11pm Eastern Time) on ShockNetRadio.com.
Oh, how far we have come in these United States! From JFK, who pledged allegiance to church-state separation, to Sen. Rick Santorum, who waxed dyspeptic over church-state separation, to a Roman Catholic lawsuit against the Obama Administration, including the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), claiming anti-Catholic discrimination!
Last Monday (May 21, 2012) the University of Notre Dame (a 501(c)(3) organization under the Internal Revenue Code), along with the Archbishop of Washington, DC, and 41 other Roman Catholic institutions, filed 12 lawsuits in various jurisdictions challenging government rules on contraception under the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act – popularly known as “Obamacare” and introduced in 2010. These rules, they say, would force them to violate their sincerely held religious beliefs. The Roman Catholic institutions claim violation of their rights under the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) and their Free Speech, Free Exercise, and Establishment Clause rights under the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.
Horace Cooper of NationalCenter.org hyperventilates the most, saying “The American public is witnessing a fascinating, even historic, event: the Obama Administration's attempt to suppress basic expressions of religious faith” and calling the contraception mandate “a direct violation of the First Amendment.” Citing “… its sincerely held religious beliefs,” the University of Notre Dame and others “simply asks that the government not impose its values and policies.”
The litigants’ imposition of a religious creed on Catholic and non-Catholic employees of schools and hospitals with a demonstrably secular mission is reprehensible enough in a religiously pluralistic republic. This attempt to conflate the religious nature of their mission with the secular nature of its outcomes is in fact claiming religious discrimination under the government mandate for not being allowed to employ its own religious discrimination!
Catholic institutions and the US Conference of Catholic Bishops cannot even persuade the 85%-95% of Catholic women who use birth control not to use it, according to an April 2011 Guttmacher Institute study. A survey from the Catholic University of America showed that 95 percent of Catholic women in the United States have used birth control. Moral suasion is one thing, but meddling in the political process should be a fast track to losing 501(c)(3) status and any state or federal government subsidies! And they receive plenty: Catholic Charities received a total of nearly $2.9 billion from US taxpayers in 2010.
To quote from one plaintiff’s complaint, “As Notre Dame’s employee health plans are self-insured, Notre Dame would be paying directly for contraception and sterilization in direct conflict with its religious beliefs.” The President of the University of Notre Dame, Rev. John Jenkins, complained that religious organizations such as Notre Dame should not be required “to participate in, pay for, or provide coverage for certain services that are contrary to our religious beliefs or moral convictions.”
Yet this is precisely the problem: the Catholic litigants think they are “pay[ing] for” contraception services (and many times makes this claim) when, in fact, the services are part of a compensation package that is earned by its employees. I’ve said this many times before, but it bears repeating: health care benefits are earned compensation. Notre Dame and other religion-supported institutions are no more being asked to pay for women’s contraception than to pay for their rent or their food.
The 43 litigants also complain that the government is denying religious freedom by dangerously determining which is a “religious institution” for purposes of exemption. As Notre Dame argues, “The religious employer exemption mandates an unconstitutionally invasive inquiry into an organization’s religious purpose, beliefs, and practices.” The plaintiffs call this role for government “dangerous” and “unprecedented” – but is it really?
The IRS has never had any problem determining which employers and organizations qualify as “religious” – indeed, that is part of IRS function or they would not be safeguarding U.S. taxpayers from a runaway self-identification of “religious” organizations who simply want to avoid paying their fair share. But not only does Notre Dame and the others make this IRS vetting seem novel, it tries to shoehorn clearly educational or medical institutions, already recognized as such under the tax code, into that religious exemption. This makes Catholic institutions secular when they want (taking government grants) and religious when they want (discriminating against women’s health care) – thereby having it both ways!
“One particularly insensitive argument came from [the] president of the Association of Catholic Colleges and Universities,” says Lise Rahdert of PolicyMic. “He asserts that students who do not like the contraception policies at Catholic colleges should simply attend another university.” Rahdert proposes turning this argument back on the plaintiffs: “If the rule that an institution’s insurance must cover birth control is so offensive, perhaps it is time for university administrators to explore a new industry or at least refuse to accept federal funding.”
Even Commonweal, the progressive Catholic magazine, notes that the list of plaintiffs includes thirteen dioceses and asks, “Does anyone really believe a Catholic diocese will be subject to the contraception mandate? HHS doesn’t.” So if 13 out of 43 plaintiffs are already exempt from the contraceptive mandate, and under Health and Human Services rules, what’s really going on?
This is what is at stake: If the 43 litigants prevail in their various jurisdictions, you can say goodbye church-state separation and hello to any employer and any group denying or requiring anything they choose, based on their supposed religious beliefs or moral convictions! This is already occurring with “conscience” exemptions for pharmacists dispensing contraceptives.
When did celibate men get to decide on the contents of basic health care for women, anyway? Whether or not employees of a religious organization providing a secular service use the money they earn to buy contraception, or the benefits they earn to receive contraception, it’s literally none of your fucking business!
What the elites at Notre Dame and elsewhere are suing for is the "freedom" to deny religious liberty to its students, staff and faculty. It's not right. And no amount of bullying and bluster from the religious and the Republicans – more and more a distinction without a difference – can make it right.
Rather than forcing the church to do anything that would violate their religious tenets, the Obama administration is telling the churches that when they run a university or hospital where they accept the public as students and patients and hire lay people, they cannot impose their religious doctrines on them. Americans will not stand for it.
This is a fight that the Catholic Church in the U.S., and their sycophants in the Republican Party, will lose. It took the Catholic Church only four centuries to catch up to Galileo. Even longer to accept anesthesia for women in childbirth. “Backward Christian soldiers…”
Copyright © 2012 Ronald Bruce Meyer. To hear an audio version of this Reflection, click on this link: Lady Parts and Legal Rights