Rights in Conflict
When do the religious rights of an organization override the religious rights of an individual? Does the health of an employee take second place to the religious or political preferences of an employer? If corporations are people for the purposes of political contributions, are they also people for purposes of religious observance?
A number of Catholic organizations are suing the Obama Administration over contraception, claiming that new rules under the Affordable Care Act violate the religious rights of those organizations. This is an extension of the flap starting last February, when the Health and Human Services department proposed that employer-provided health care must cover contraceptive services. The Catholic Church objected, insisting that providing such services is contrary to Church doctrine, and that, therefore, Catholic organizations which employ people must be exempted. This led to overinflated rhetoric from the right about the Administration’s “war on religion.”
HHS responded with a compromise, requiring instead only that the insurance companies, not the employers, would be subject to this rule. This would provide proper and adequate health choices for women, while respecting the doctrinal dictates of the Church. That wasn’t good enough for Catholic Bishops, though many other Catholic organizations praised the move. The issue refuses to go away.
The current lawsuit complains on behalf of Catholic organizations that employ people and are self-insured. The HHS compromise doesn’t let the employer off the hook by shifting the responsibility to the insurer when the insurer and the employer are the same.
This raises a multitude of questions. Should a religious organization be given the power to control health policy for the United States, a nation that has the separation of Church and State as a centerpiece of its notion of freedom? As recently as 1960, then-presidential-candidate John F. Kennedy, only the second Catholic to be nominated by a major party for the Presidency, had to deny that he’d allow the Pope to dictate American policy. Bear in mind, it was conservatives who worried about this fifty years ago. They seem now to have lost their concern.
What of the idea that the rights of the Church — or, more precisely, of specific organizations — are being violated by this rule? It’s not clear whether employers (which are, after all, legal corporations) have religious rights at all. Individuals certainly do. The First Amendment protects the right to “free exercise of religion”. Does a requirement to provide a legal healthcare service as part of an insurance policy somehow prevent anyone from exercising his or her religion of choice?
The requirement to offer this coverage does not require anyone to take advantage of it. No individual is forced to do anything he or she has a moral objection to doing. It would seem that offering contraceptive services puts the religious decision where it belongs — in the hands of the individual, who can make the ethical decision whether to use those services. In contrast, refusing to offer the option would seem to prevent the free decisions that are at the heart of religious liberty.
The Catholic Church has a long history of interfering with the functioning of secular governments, stretching back to the conversion of Emperor Constantine the Great early in the fourth century. For much of the next millennium and a half, Catholicism and other flavors of Christianity exerted a great deal of influence on European nations, creating virtual (and often actual) theocracies. Perhaps, were it not for President Kennedy’s commitment to religious freedom, the concerns of Republicans in 1960 were not entirely out of place.
The war on religious freedom continues to this day. Mitt Romney, as recently as February of this year, criticized President Obama of having a “secular agenda”. Of course “secular agenda” is another way of saying “support for the First Amendment”, so it’s hard to take the accusation as a Bad Thing. It will be interesting to see how this plays out in the presidential campaign. It could be argued that Romney needs to be careful about raising religious issues, since significant numbers of conservative evangelical Christians may be uncomfortable with Mormonism. He may therefore allow surrogates to make the case, and pretend to disapprove.
What are your opinions? Should the Catholic Church have the power to alter federal rules on insurance? Do the health and religious rights of employees take second place to the powers of enormous corporate employers? Do organizations have “rights” which supersede the health and moral liberties of individuals? And will Republicans make an effort to demagogue this issue in the coming campaign season?
- Archbishop Wenski applauds lawsuits (local10.com)
- US Catholic groups sue to block contraception mandate — Reuters (reuters.com)
- Breaking: 43 Catholic institutions file suits over HHS mandate (hotair.com)
- Illinois dioceses, other Catholic groups sue over White House insurance mandate — Chicago Tribune (chicagotribune.com)
- Boom! Dozens of Catholic institutions file suits over HHS mandate (nicedeb.wordpress.com)
- Catholic groups sue over federal contraception mandate (religion.blogs.cnn.com)
- Catholic Groups Sue Over Contraception (myfoxdetroit.com)
- Notre Dame & Catholic Groups Sue Obama Administration (wreg.com)
- Catholic Groups File Suits on Contraceptive Coverage — New York Times (nytimes.com)
About dcpetterson (187 posts)
D. C. Petterson is a novelist and a software consultant in Minnesota who has been writing science fiction since the age of six. He is the author of A Melancholy Humour, Rune Song and Still Life. He lives with his wife, two dogs, two cats, and a lizard, and insists that grandchildren are the reward for having survived teenagers. When not writing stories or software, he plays guitar and piano, engages in political debate, and reads a lot of history and physics texts—for fun. Follow on Twitter @dcpetterson