Being Vigilant about Religious Freedom

I would rather not write about politics.  There was a time in my life that politics consumed me, even a time when I considered going into politics.  Thankfully, I did not, and in my writing, I have avoided the topic as much as I can.  However, I think that I must address one issue.

Recently, the President Obama’s administration ruled that religious organizations have to buy insurance for their employees that covers reproductive services including contraceptives if those employees work in an aspect of the organization that provides public services.  This is particularly odious to many Roman Catholics.  I am not a Roman Catholic.  I do not share their view that all contraceptives are sin.  However, I, too, find this ruling a problem on the basis that it violates the principle of religious freedom.  There has been a strong reaction by many religious groups and not only the Roman Catholic Church.

However, the administration and many on the left say this as overhyped.  After all, in their understanding, religious freedom is not being attacked.  A column that appears on the website of the Atlanta Journal Constitution written by Jay Bookman, reflected this view.  It is entitled, The overhyped controversy over contraceptives and the law.

Bookman’s column reads like a memo from the White House on how to answer objections to the ruling.  He begins by saying that places of worship are exempt. He writes:

As many of you know, churches that are members of the Southern Baptist Convention are not allowed to hire women as pastors. The Baptists base that practice on 1 Timothy 2:12, in which Paul writes that “I do not permit a woman to teach or to have authority over a man.” The Catholic Church follows a similar practice, based on similar reasons. (Actually, it is more complex than that, but I will give him a break.  A column can only be so long.)

Ordinarily, it would be illegal under federal law to deny a woman a position of leadership or authority on the basis of gender. I think most Americans probably support those laws by now. However, because the selection of priests and ministers is so central to religious faith, and because those leaders perform an essentially religious rather than secular role, anti-bias laws don’t apply to such jobs. Doing so would clearly infringe on religious liberty, which is protected under the First Amendment.

So far, so good. He continues:

However, if a Baptist university denied tenure to an English professor solely because she was female, or if a Catholic hospital refused to hire a woman as its CEO, the exemption cited above would not apply. In both cases, the law has long held that the professor and CEO are performing a largely secular function in the secular world, so secular rules apply.

 Once again, I have no problems yet.  However, wait for the overreaching analogy.  Here it comes:

That is essentially the same logic used to develop proposed rules for health-care coverage, which by federal law require insurers to provide coverage for contraception.

Those rules do not apply to what is known as “a religious employer,” defined as an employer that “(1) Has the inculcation of religious values as its purpose; (2) primarily employs persons who share its religious tenets; (3) primarily serves persons who share its religious tenets.”

A church, mosque, synagogue or other house of worship would qualify for such an exemption. However, a church-run university, hospital, day-care center, etc. — entities that do not have the inculcation of religious values as its purpose, that do not primarily employ persons who share its religious tenets; and do not primarily serve persons who share its religious tenets — would not be exempt.

Those entities are performing a secular function, in the secular world, and employing in most cases people with a wide variety of religious beliefs. Therefore, the people working in those entities deserve the same degree of legal protection as their fellow Americans.

Now, that seems logical if you accept the premise by which he and the administration operate that says the religious precepts of an organization should have little or no bearing on what they do outside their places of worship.  Bookman has compared apples and oranges in the first part of his column.  There is a fundamental difference between a Southern Baptist affiliated church hiring a female pastor and a Baptist university hiring or promoting a female English professor.  One violates the religious conscience of the people sponsoring the organization: the other does not. The passage that he quotes deals with authority within the church and the teaching of the Bible, not an English class.  In other words, the law does not impinge upon the freedom of the faithful to practice their faith in the public sphere nor upon their understanding of Scriptures.
In the case of forcing Roman Catholic sponsored agencies to buy insurance that covers contraceptives, it does impinge upon that freedom.  Those agencies and other religious agencies are an outward expression of the religious beliefs and inner faith of the churches or other religious organizations that sponsor.  Bookman and the Administration are operating from a secular assumption that says religion is a private matter, confined to the place of worship and to the private life of individuals.  For many religious people, whether they be evangelicals, Roman Catholics or Muslims, religion is not just personal in practice.  It affects all aspects of life and must be expressed publicly through their lives and through the institutions they support.  To compartmentalize their lives between the secular and the spiritual is to be a hypocrite.  To deny their freedom to practice their faith and religious beliefs in the public realm is to deny their religious liberty and to violate the Constitution.  To require that they go against their conscience in the public realm is also violates that liberty.
That is the reason that the Administration’s ruling is a big deal to people of many faiths.  Though no one has suggested it, it may be part of the reason a social conservative Roman Catholic swept primaries and caucuses last night.  The ruling is seen as step toward a radical secularization of American society that will ostracize the religiously faithful and deny their religious freedom.  Contrary to the wishes of the left in this country, this issue will not diminish in importance as long as people of faith remain vigilant about religious liberty.
Here’s hoping that I never have to write about politics again.


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