Freedom of Religion, Just Not Here

I did a little more reading on one particular issue mentioned in my earlier post on the Separation of Church and State: the birth control mandate from HHS (Health and Human Services).

Accommodating Religious Objections presents a solution on how an agreement could be reached that allows the government to continue to enforce the law it sees being for the public good, while allowing religious groups their freedom. Certainly the government should be allowed to create and enforce laws even in the face of religious objections, but allow for exclusions for decisions of conscience. Though I think the solution presented to allow the religious groups to act according to their conscience feels a bit like money laundering for morals, and not all that different from the solution the President proposed. “As a condition for receiving an exemption from the HHS contraceptive services mandate, religious organizations should agree to dedicate whatever funds they save from not having to provide the otherwise-required contraception coverage to some other public service, identified by the government, that is consistent with their beliefs.” This type of solution has long been accepted, for instance regarding service of conscientious objectors, though whether it allows one to follow their morals is another discussion.

Mandate Tests Faith looks specifically at the scope of the exemption the government has provided for “religious organizations,” being defined as groups where:

(1) its purpose is the inculcation of religious values,
(2) it employs “primarily” persons who share its religious tenets;
(3) it serves “primarily” persons who share its religious tenets; and also
(4) it qualifies under the IRS code as a church or religious order and has more than 50 employees.

This narrow view of what is a “religious organization” is very troubling as it restricts what is considered protected religious practice to a very limited scope. Restricting to organizations solely focused on “inculcation of religious values” then places the practice of many organizations outside of legal protections. Once a religious group begins to care for the poor, the sick, the imprisoned, and others in need, according to their beliefs, it is now safe to say they can no longer adhere to other components of their faith without retribution. One shudders to think how much higher the government’s healthcare expenditures would be if all religious groups felt that they must close their hospitals in order to avoid violating their conscience. Let alone what would occur if they also closed their homeless shelters and rehabilitation programs. And they are hit on two counts here as these groups serve so many people outside of their faith.

This loss of protections does not just apply to faith-based organizations like hospitals, but also to those who would uphold their religious beliefs in their business like the owners of Hobby Lobby. Essentially this policy is saying that individuals are not free to practice their religion outside of their private life. Once you enter the public domain or the world of business you can no longer be a person of faith. As already seen with charitable organizations this is not possible for the person of faith. Looking to my beliefs, if I were to start a business and the government were to impose a law in regard to keeping businesses open on Saturday for economic reasons, I would personally be free to keep the Sabbath. But as an employer I would not be allowed to keep the fourth commandment in its entirety by giving all my employees the Sabbath off simply because this is outside what the government considers to be the religious realm.

My religion, as are others, is inherently communal, not just concerned with evangelism, but with benefiting others regardless of their relationship to, or their view of my religion. Any law that forces religion to keep to itself or presumes it can define what constitutes true religious practice is a violation of the first amendment protection that “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.” I must conclude that this particular policy in regard to the HHS mandate is unconstitutional. Just as we should stand up against the government trying to inject others religions into the private lives of individuals, we should oppose attempts to restrict the practice of religion in the public domain.


3 Responses to “Freedom of Religion, Just Not Here”

  1. November 11, 2012 at 9:12 pm

    So much of the commentary about this has been focused either on the business owner’s perspective, like your blog post, or on the individual employee’s perspective, typically one who differs from the employer in belief. What’s missing is commentary that wrestles with the intersection of the two. Both have legitimate desires, but I feel like everyone is talking past one another on this issue.

    • 2 rcmosher
      November 12, 2012 at 10:49 pm

      What would you suggest as an intersection? I think the tricky thing is that on the employers side it is not an area where they see a way they can make a compromise because they believe it is wrong to do so. That said, the “Accommodating Religious Objections” article looks at how the businesses can stand by their principles while employees can continue to have equal access to birth control as set by the law. I think from the State’s perspective a solution like those presented is the best way to avoid interfering in matters of conscience while still guaranteeing the benefits it seeks to ensure.

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