Monday, February 11, 2013

What are we protecting?

Now that the Obama administration has put forth another so-called compromise to accommodate objections about the freedom of religion violated by the requirement of providing the full spectrum of reproductive technology, family planning, contraception, and abortion with health insurance, we find that they still do not get it.  I do not presume to be a legal expert and will not use this forum to parse the legality of what they are proposing.  Instead, what I draw your attention to is that their is a bigger issue than merely the status of churches and religious institutions.

The administration has put forth its response to protect religious institutions, which in their minds represents mainly churches and a few other institutions intimately connected to the churches and their mission.  So it seems that the church leaders who fight against this seem to be fighting a self-serving battle on behalf of the rights of churches and their auxiliary organizations.  But this is not entirely true.  In fact, it is not even mostly true.

While the focus seems to be on the Obama administration’s violation of the freedom of religion by forcing churches and church institutions (hospitals and universities are two examples) to provide their employees with contraceptives and sterilizations, this is not the only or even the primary thrust of the complaint.  While this is certainly a clear contradiction to the teaching of many churches (Roman Catholic and Lutheran Church Missouri-Synod, to name but two), the violation of the right of religious expression liberty is much, much larger. It is deplorable enough and clearly a direct violation of the First Amendment to require churches and church institutions to do this, what has been largely forgotten in the debate is the that religious liberty is not merely a liberty granted to religious organizations.  First and foremost, religious liberty is an individual liberty.  It is a freedom and right enshrined in the Constitution, the Bill of Rights, and well established in legal premise that this right belongs first to each and every citizen of our nation.  Each citizen is guaranteed  the freedom to practice one’s religion both publicly and privately and no one can be coerced by the government or law to violate conscience by acting in a way contradictory to the tenants of one’s faith.

While the focus may be on specifically religious organizations, the violation of the religious liberty of the individual seems lost under the headlines.  Every person, be they business owner or employer or employee has this right, Catholic or otherwise.  No owner of a private business can be compelled by the government to pay for “medical” services that violate his or her faith, including contraceptives and sterilizations (example Hobby Lobby).  This applies not only to those companies that have a religious mission, but also to the owners of a restaurants, retail establishments, manufacturing firms, etc., even to the owner of a medical insurance company!    

Granting the administration a pass for their compromise allows this fundamental right to be abridged and this is something which is not allowable under the Constitution.  We can voluntarily surrender our rights but the government cannot force us to give them up or abridge them in any way.  Even if Obama and his administration gives a pass to every church and every religious institution of any kind, the battle has not been one and the right and liberty enshrined in our founding documents has still been violated.  This is what the administration does not get -- or chooses not to admit.  So let us not be appeased by the bits and pieces thrown at churches and a few religious organizations to silence them.  The voices must continue to be raised until the right is protected for all people and especially the individual (whether employer or employee, youth or retired) whose faith prevents them from agreeing to what amounts to nothing less than legalized murder and the callous disregard for the value of life at all points in the spectrum from conception to death.

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