In case you haven't heard -- and you may not have, because coverage for this seems to be quite limited (I mostly found reference to it on Catholic-associated websites), the United States Department of Health has made a new rule, which did appear in the Courier Post, a New Southern New Jersey paper:
At issue is the Jan. 20 announcement of Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius that the nation’s new health care law requires nearly all employers to provide insurance plans that offer free birth control to women. While the Obama administration had already stated that churches and houses of worship would be exempt from that provision, Sebelius said religious-affiliated institutions like hospitals, colleges and charities must comply.Are they serious? -- "religious-affiliated institutions like hospitals, colleges and charities must comply"?
Just a few days ago, I wrote about a young woman who fought her school board to have a prayer taken down and I gently implied that perhaps we are becoming a country that is intolerant of religion -- that instead of forcing banners to be taken down, maybe we should be putting up banners of all faiths.
I never dreamed anything like this could happen.
First, let me be clear: This is not, for me, simply a Catholic issue. This is an abomination against religious belief and against the very nature of the philosophies that our country claims to hold dear. (Or maybe it was all myth.) And while I previously raised questions about how the First Amendment is interpreted -- whether it really is a violation if a governmentally-affiliated institution displays a prayer -- I cannot see how anyone could fail to see this announcement as a direct, and brazen disregard for the First Amendment, which states, as you (if not most of our politicians and political candidates) know:
Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof [my italics]; 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.I have been wracking my brains to come up with any possible arguments that this new regulation is okay in America. It was hard. But one might frame it as Planned Parenthood did in a note to Sebelius (from the same newspaper article above):
Despite incredible pressure from anti-women’s health groups and legislators determined to undermine women’s access to birth control, you stood strong and did the right thing.The right thing in whose eyes? The implication of this new law is that access to birth control and abortion drugs, etc., is a right all Americans, especially women, have. The Catholic Church disagrees. Whether I agree or disagree or whether you agree or disagree is not the point. It seems I am one of the few remaining individuals who respects everyone's beliefs, these days.
If it were a fundamental evil the Church was committing -- an indisputable atrocity, like human sacrifice -- I would support governmental intervention. And while some may see birth-control as wrong and some may see birth-control as essential, the Church's ban against it is a religious choice based on its perception of truth, in terms of morality. The Church is not taking away something; it is refusing to provide something that goes against its deepest convictions, and one can choose whether or not to be an employee of a Catholic institution. As a Catholic school employee, I was conscious of the health care circumstances from day one. As a man, under my insurance, I could not get a vasectomy paid for, if I wanted one; so, this is not just an issue for women.
I feel like a guy in a vampire movie who is the only one who knows the debonair dinner guest is really a neck-biter. Everyone I talk to seems pretty blase' about this. "Ah, well...some think this is an issue of big government going too far..." someone said to me today.
Some see it? How the hell else could we see it?
And what happens if the Church complies? Do they offer birth control and insurance money for vasectomies and tubal ligations and birth-control pills and then tell Catholic employees they are not allowed to take advantage of it, on pain of excommunication? Or, is Truth and conviction now something that should shift with the passing of a law?
Well, it seems Bishop Joseph Galante, of the Diocese of Camden in New Jersey, is sure of his stance: "We cannot — we will not — comply with this unjust law.”
Is the Catholic Church in America now forced to operate as an outlaw institution? Which faith is next?
Again, I call for tolerance of religion. (People chirp all the time about tolerance, but, in the end, most only tolerate what is easy for them to swallow.) Leaders of all religious groups in America would be wise to stand together, behind the Catholic Church, on this one. The government should never be allowed to force them to go against their beliefs, either. I would be equally disturbed if this happened to any religion in the U.S. -- and this new announcement does affect the beliefs of others, to be sure. The difference is, the Catholic Church is one of the few that runs numerous tangent institutions, like schools, hospitals, etc. Remember: the churches themselves are safe; it's the church or house-of-worship-related institutions that are being forced to comply with birth-control funding.
Well, at least we will never become a society in which religious groups are ultimately forced to pray in secret. That has never happened in history, so why should we expect it should happen in America?
If I am wrong about this let me know -- make your case with sound reasoning, though, not based on the idea that you think religion is crap. You may think religion is crap, but many people love their religions dearly and the majority of them are not pedophile priests or Westboro Baptist Church redneck, intolerant, evil-hearted, homophobic jackasses. It's so lame to reduce a religion to ashes because of the actions of some maniacs and morons that might have acted in a perversion of its name. (This is the same thinking that leads people to label all of Islam evil because of terrorists who act in its name.) Let's not torch the whole farm because a row or two of tomatoes is rotten.
It's fashionable to blame religion for the world's ills, these days. Maybe we should blame intolerance or religion, instead. There's a big difference.
But I want to hear what you have to say, because I don't want to be wrong about something this big. I just ask that anyone who disagrees not reduce what I said to a defense of my own religious beliefs -- which it is not, for those out there who employ the "skim-and-comment-visciously" approach. As I said, my beliefs are not the issue and I am just as angry if this affects any other religion. The issue is that, as I see it, the literal point of the First Amendment is being ignored. And, as I see it, this is an indication that peaceful religions everywhere in the United States are in danger of being forced into similar corners (cells) by a government that is overstepping its essential boundaries and that is carrying itself with an arrogance that is being missed by just about everyone.
I'll tell you: I'm about to take my ball and go home. I'm officially scared.
(Addendum: Here is a statement by the White House, complete with doublespeak conclusion edited, no doubt, by poor Mr. Winston Smith.)
(Addendum 2: [Hat Tip: William Lutz] Apparently, to blame the Obama administration entirely for this is a mistake. Read this article in Mother Jones. Either way, I still think it is a fundamental violation of the constitution.)