Saturday, June 9, 2012

Cry Wolf!

 What danger does the Patient Affordable Health Care Act of 2010 offer to the free exercise of religion guaranteed by the First Amendment of the United States Constitution? 

  First—let’s look at the text. 
Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.
Our concern here is the first two clauses.. There shall be no law respecting an establishing of religion.  There shall be no law prohibiting the free exercise of religion.    
       As I understand it the Catholic Church and its institutions will neither have to provide nor pay for there to be provided to their employees and their dependents, any procedure such as sterilization, abortifacients, or  contraceptives that violate Catholic moral teaching.  On the other hand, their employees and their dependents will be given access to these services at the expense of the insurance companies.  While one might expect that the companies would pass the cost of such services along to those who pay the premiums, in fact the insurance companies want to provide these services as they will lower the cost to the companies since birth-prevention is cheaper than the cost of providing medical care for childbirth and subsequent infant-child care.  (That, at least, is the theory.  I am cynical enough to believe that while the insurance companies may in fact want to provide contraceptive and related services, they will still try to pass the (hidden) cost along in order to maximize their profit. That is the way business works ever since ethics courses became optional in American colleges and universities.)    Does making available to employees of religious institutions services that contradict the religious tenets of the employer-organization without any involvement by or cost to the employer-organization constitute an encroachment on free practice of religion? I think that is a bit of a stretch, but I am not a constitutional lawyer.  Of course neither are the bishops.  Most commentators believe that when this issue comes to the Supreme Court, if the Patient Affordable Care Act of 2010 is still standing despite other lawsuits, that the Court will side with the Church on this issue. They base this estimation on the January 2012 opinion delivered by the Court in the Hosanna-Tabor Evangelical Lutheran Church and School case v EEOC which, though dealing with remarkably different issues has the same principles (or so some think) at stake in terms of a religious body’s right to determine its administrative policies without government interference .     
      I do think we are going to have to determine sound boundaries both to protect religion and protect from religion in a secular society.  I also think there is a campaign in certain segments of our society to restrict the influence and even visibility of religion, but I honestly don’t think that is the Obama administration’s agenda.  And so I have fears that this “Fortnight for Freedom” campaign by the American Bishops is not a legitimate red flag to protect religious freedom but a thinly veiled political assault on the Obama administration to convince Catholics that they should support the Republican ticket in November.   A greater fear of mine than Obamacare being an assault on our religious freedoms is that when the wolf does come no one will take the bishops' cries for help seriously.    

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