Why Obama’s Contraception Mandate for Religiously Affiliated Hospitals is Right

by A. Jay Adler on February 5, 2012
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“Render therefore unto Caesar the things which are Caesar’s; and unto God the things that are God’s”

It’s the old categorical confusion again, doubly so in this debate. Religious freedom is protected in religious practice. Once cannot reasonably extend the umbrella of religious exception to the public sphere. The limited exemption (human sacrifice is frowned upon) of recognized religions from having to bend their practice to secular belief is properly confined to the religious sphere – the personal or ceremonial expression of one’s faith. When a religious individual or faith-based organization crosses boundaries into the public and commercial world, to which secular law applies, it should not be able to demand that different rules apply to it. More importantly, it should not be allowed to discriminate against its employees or the public it serves.

If any religious institution enters the health field, by running hospitals, if it becomes an insurance company, a manufacturer or service company, it has crossed into the secular commercial realm and must be held accountable to the common laws that apply to all others. This application is not a punishment of the commercial or other enterprise – it is a protection of the rights of those who work for and do business with it. Imagine if religiously affiliated public-serving and employing enterprises grew as big as Wal-Mart and Exxon and other such behemoths. Granted an exemption from the laws that apply to all others, they could carve out of the United States, or any liberal democracy, their own separate society in which the civil protections and government benefits available to all others could be withheld from a discriminated segment of society.

It is not sufficient to say that no one need work for a Catholic, or any other religious hospital. On the contrary, organized religions need not venture into Caesar’s domain. No one forces them. They are free – they have the choice – to absent themselves from that domain, if its rules offend them, while continuing to enjoy all the freedom of religious faith and practice. What is sufficient, and necessary, is that all Americans enjoy the same benefits of liberty and government.  That latter now includes mandated contraception coverage. No individual is forced to use it. Any Catholic or other religiously-objecting person may abjure the practice of contraception and not avail herself of the coverage. Religious freedoms, like all those we prize, are individual freedoms. Corporate and organization programs of belief should not prevail over individual rights. The freedoms we speak of in such debates are individual and personal, not corporate and organizational.

When someone like George Will, on today’s This Week, argues that liberals are contradicting their belief in “choice” by “mandating” that a faith-based hospital abide by the same laws as any others, he is possessed of, and passing off, a fundamental confusion. The choice is the choice of individuals – it is of, by, and for the people – and the organizations, such as governments and employers, which hold power over individuals are, indeed, mandated to permit and even enable that choice. Without the government’s power to mandate behavior from states, corporations, and other organizations, the liberties and rights of individuals would have no meaning. The government mandated that stores serve all customers, regardless of race, that colleges and universities admit all eligible students, regardless of race or religion. They will mandate that the gay or lesbian husband or wife of an ill person be admitted to that person’s room and be respected in the exercise of his or her rights as a spouse. They will mandate it even for hospitals administered under the umbrella of religions that object to homosexual practice and marriage.

The claim that the President’s decision is anti-Catholic is preposterous on its face. The mandate applies to hospitals run by any religious group. If it is a problem for Catholics, it is only because it is a problem for Catholics. But it isn’t, anyway. The overwhelming majority of Catholic women use contraception, and the Catholic Health Association, of nuns, has offered its endorsement. The problem seems to exist, in reality, once more, among a hierarchy of males attempting to assert privilege and impose their system of belief both on the government that already supports them with tax exemptions and the individuals – women, in this case – who could live without them.

AJA

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4 comments

{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

dan February 5, 2012 at 1:12 pm

The majority of catholic women use contraception…so what. There are plenty of places to get contraception than making your local religious zealot having to provide it. This smacks of Henry VIII vs Thomas Moore. The argument is specious that churches don’t have to provide contraception but church hospitals do… Healing is a church mission. A church hospital is an extension of that. Obama better back down on this. Its a bitch when you inject politics into religion even if its only a psuedo perception. When it comes to questions of conscience there is little room for compromise.

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A. Jay Adler February 5, 2012 at 1:36 pm

“The majority of catholic women use contraception…so what.”

Well, that validates my final paragraph. To hell, so to speak, with them.

“Local religious zealot”? Are we considering our word choice. I’d say a lot of people don’t want “religious zealots” running hospitals.

“The argument is specious that churches don’t have to provide contraception but church hospitals do… ”

Specious, how? You don’t say. That’s easy. I reasoned a clear distinction between the two cases. You think you can counter argue rather than merely label. Give a try.

“Healing is a church mission. A church hospital is an extension of that.”

Oh, Dan, I was waiting for that one. By sophistical extension, every act of goodness is an extension of the church mission. We would have to exempt every manifestation of Catholic life from rule of secular law.

And the sainted Thomas More, and conscience – you mean the Thomas More who campaigned against Protestantism (I believe Protestants have their consciences, too) the Thomas More, who

“a]s Lord Chancellor, …had six Lutherans burned at the stake and imprisoned as many as 40 others, some of whom were interrogated under torture in his own house (?)”

That Thomas More?

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