Wednesday, February 15, 2012

The First Amendment shell game

"Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof" - First sixteen words of the Bill of Rights

The "free birth control" rule: With the exception of actual churches, all organizations - including Catholic charities and hospitals - must provide health insurance for their employees that covers free birth control and abortifacients (e.g., the "morning-after" pill. - My summary of the original regulation, which is long and hard to read; if you want, you can find it here.

The "accommodation" that isn't: "Under the new policy to be announced today, women will have free preventive care that includes contraceptive services no matter where she works. The policy also ensures that if a woman works for a religious employer with objections to providing contraceptive services as part of its health plan, the religious employer will not be required to provide, pay for or refer for contraception coverage, but her insurance company will be required to directly offer her contraceptive care free of charge." - official White House announcement

Huh? Unless free birth control pills are falling out of the sky, somebody's going to be paying for them. Obviously insurance companies are going to fold this cost into their premiums. "Okay, we have this plan, which costs X, plus Y if you want to cover birth control; or we have this plan, which costs X + Y, but guess what - birth control is covered free of charge!"

The press is parsing objections to this plan as "wanting to deny women access to birth control." How stupid do they think we are? Women have access to birth control now, and plenty of organizations - including Planned Parenthood, which is ubiquitous - offer free exams and birth control for low-income women.

I'm not Catholic. Even if I were Catholic, I probably wouldn't go along with the Church's stance on birth control. But that's not the point. It's not about Catholicism and one point of doctrine: it's about forcing people to violate their consciences.

Jeff Jacoby of the Boston Globe puts it very clearly: "Accommodating sincere dissent is essential to democratic pluralism. Our legal and political institutions should go out of their way whenever possible to respect the demands of conscience. Obviously there are limits: Conscience cannot be allowed to excuse violence or fraud or abuse. But nothing about the Obama administration’s contraception-and-abortion agenda justifies its disregard for those who have profound religious, cultural, and constitutional objections to that agenda."

A letter of protest originating at Notre Dame has now been signed by, among others, members of the Stanford Constitutional Law Center, the Department of Medicine at Columbia University, the Religious Freedom Project at Georgetown University, Princeton University, the University of San Diego, Brigham Young University, the Jewish Theological Seminary, Yeshiva University, the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, Baylor University, Texas A&M University, the Translational Genomics Research Project, Stanford University, the University of Alabama, the University of Texas, the University of San Francisco, the University of South Carolina, Roanoke College, Houston Baptist University, Prison Fellowship Ministries, the Ethics and Public Policy Center, and the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty.

They get that it's not about birth control, it's not about Catholicism, it's about the Constitutional protection of the free exercise of religion. For the government to force individuals and institutions to act in violation of their consciences is the most egregious violation of the freedom of religion cause that I can think of.

Do you get it, or do I have to quote Pastor Niemoller at you?

Better speak up before they start dismantling the second clause of the First Amendment - you know, the one about freedom of speech?

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