Religious Freedom: Once More, With Feeling

Jason Pitzl-Waters —  July 18, 2012 — 22 Comments

Today, a federal judge in Nebraska threw out a lawsuit against the Obama Administration’s proposed rules on contraception coverage. The reason was two-fold: some of the plaintiffs lacked standing because they are already exempted from the rule, and the law hasn’t been implemented yet, so there’s no proof that it would actually infringe on the religious freedom of institutions that oppose contraception.

“…although the Rule that lies at the heart of the plaintiffs’ complaint establishes a definitive, final definition of “religious employer,” … [it] is currently undergoing a process of amendment to accommodate these organizations. The plaintiffs face no direct and immediate harm, and one can only speculate whether the plaintiffs will ever feel any effects from the Rule when the temporary enforcement safe harbor terminates….”Judge Warren Keith Urbom

This fight is far from over, as I’m sure there will be appeals and new filings in an effort to have the rule struck down. There are also several more lawsuits currently in play, so this probably won’t be over until the Supreme Court gets involved. The debate over the contraception rule has been framed as about religious freedom, but scrutiny of the law doesn’t place the anti-contraception groups on firm legal footing.

“Nothing in the regulation requires someone to use birth control or purchase birth control directly, nor does the rule prevent anyone from preaching against birth control or trying to convince others not to use it.  Indeed nothing prevents an institution from issuing a disclaimer saying that it is covering birth control only because the law compels it, in order to ensure that compliance is not equated with acceptance.  But paying for birth control coverage is simply too ephemeral a transaction, especially in the above instances, to be seen as substantially burdening religion.”

For some time I have been ruminating on the subject of religious freedom as a religious minority in the United States, and instead of simply re-hashing those arguments to you now, let me instead point to some recent essays I’ve written here that outline my thoughts on the matter.

The all-male, all-Abrahamic, panel on religious freedom.

The all-male, all-Abrahamic, panel on religious freedom.

“Religious Freedom, Religious Exemptions, and the Responsibility of the Majority” (March 13, 2012)

“The compromise offered by the Obama Administration seems more than fair to the moral sensibilities of Catholics and other groups opposed to contraception. Any steps further would enshrine a status quo that simply privileges the majority, and create a rights system that is beholden to whichever religious group is currently in power. While that may seem ideal to Catholics and evangelicals now, I would remind them that no group’s fortunes prevail forever, and there may come a day generations from now when Pagan hospitals are asking for exemptions from the desires of Christian patients. At such a moment, they will no doubt want the majority to be extra-sensitive to their beliefs and needs, to their different moral views.”

“‘Religious Freedom’ Laws, Inspirational Messages, and Religious Minorities” (March 28, 2012)

“The problem with these attempts to codify “religious freedom” into law is that almost always benefits the majority at the expense of the minority. I have seen time and time again, in a number of different circumstances, when laws and policies that are supposed to be viewpoint neutral end up empowering one expression of faith in the public square. That’s bad when it involves adults struggling over the issue, but it becomes pernicious when we use our children as proxies in a fight over the nature of religious freedom and secularism within our country. It shows just how desperate and anxious sections of our  Christian majority have become.”

“The Air Force, and the Increasing Misuse of the Term ‘Religious Freedom’” (June 23, 2012)

“Whatever valid concerns Catholics, Evangelicals, and other conservative Christians might have over religious freedom in the United States, they are continually tempered by their insistence on being the sole definer of where that concept begins and ends. No one is asking Buddhists, Pagans, Hindus, or practitioners of Native religions for their input, and in many cases the same Christian leaders and lawmakers who cry persecution are thevery same who ignore our concerns, or are outright dismissive of non-Christian religious expressions.”

A common theme in my recent writings it is that the dominant religious forces in the United States have little care for how their exemptions or “freedoms” may impact the freedoms and conscience of minority faiths in this country. Whether it is this issue, or marriage equality, their vision of morality is the only one allowed to enter the debate and all other worldviews are marginalized. When a new balance or equilibrium is sought those in power fight it viciously thinking (perhaps rightly) that it signals an end to their moral hegemony.  The truth is that we need a new approach to the question of religious freedom, one that acknowledges that the Abrahamic paradigm doesn’t exist in a moral vacuum.

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Jason Pitzl-Waters

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  • Sunweaver

    This:
    “Nothing in the regulation requires someone to use birth control or
    purchase birth control directly, nor does the rule prevent anyone from
    preaching against birth control or trying to convince others not to use
    it.”

    Pretty much sums up how I feel. Requiring women to take birth control when their religious convictions say “no” would be a violation of the constitution. Requiring institutions to make it available is not.

  • Luminous_Being

     It’s maddening when these groups fall back on “The founders of the country would never have intended religious freedom to be extended to these other religions, here is a quote from John Adams for example…” as if we need to remain stuck in the exact (perceived) religious beliefs of our founders.

  • Baruch Dreamstalker

    [“P]aying for birth control coverage is simply too ephemeral a transaction, especially in the above instances, to be seen as substantially burdening religion.”

    This is the heart of the decision. It will be challenged.

    I wish the court had based it more on the rights of employees to access to affordable contraception.

    • Huntressa

       Exactly – as part of the overall compensation of the company, it’s a right to have whatever healthcare you are choosing to utilize. These same institutions can’t control how employees paychecks are spent, they shouldn’t be controlling their benefits. It doesn’t make sense unless there are some serious control/authority issues at play.

      • Huntressa

         Errr, I suppose I should clarify that once employeers selected which healthcare package they are offering employees, nitpicking which parts of that package will be allowed on moral grounds is unjust.  It’s the choice of the employee.  It’s also the choice of the employee to turn down compensation packages that aren’t fairly … well compensating their work. Ideally. Of course in our economy a job is a job and you just hope you get fair compensation.

        • Baruch Dreamstalker

          Our economy has been eroding the power of workers and their real take-home wages since the Reagan administration.

      • Baruch Dreamstalker

        And there are indeed some serious control/authority issues in play. The US Council of Catholic Bishops has been doing a full-court press on this matter from pulpits, while the institutions take the litigation route.

        • kenneth

          Their minimum nut for “religious freedom” is to have an official position of hegemony in our law and culture. Their intent is to force the entire country to live according to their church’s doctrine to the maximum extent possible. 

    • http://www.magickal-media.com/ A.C. Fisher Aldag

      Wait just one cotton-pickin’ minute… we don’t wanna pay for a cross displayed on public land with public money, we don’t wanna pay for prayers in public schools with tax money, we don’t want taxpayers to have to fund prayers at public meetings or government events or school events… BUT… we wanna force taxpayers to fund birth control for individuals?

      NO.  This is hypocritical.  We respect all religious beliefs, completely separate church and state, and don’t force anyone to pay for anything they find morally reprehensable. 

      • http://www.wildhunt.org/blog/ Jason Pitzl-Waters

        Millions of religious pacifists are forced to pay for war every year. You are conflating separation of church and state issues with moral choices guided by one’s beliefs, there is a significant difference.

        • http://www.magickal-media.com/ A.C. Fisher Aldag

          Provide for common defense…

          Make no law respecting the establishment of religion…

          Both are in the Constitution.

          • http://www.wildhunt.org/blog/ Jason Pitzl-Waters

            So is “promote general welfare,” which could include a rule providing contraception coverage for women in health insurance plans.  

            You’re still mixing up two separate constitutional issues, and are trying to justify it by saying “it’s all in the constitution.” 

      • Baruch Dreamstalker

        Contraception is not a religious symbol or a religious observance. Your examples are not parallel.

      • Huntressa

        The government isn’t forcing anyone to take birth control. However birthcontrol is an important aspect of healthcare for women and should be a part of what is offered through Medicaid.   As a hypothetical, a person might hold the moral belief that taking a person off life support is wrong but that doesn’t mean tax dollars don’t go to such  a medical procedure.  Perhaps a poor parallel, but the point I’m trying to make is that social programs shouldn’t be guided by restricting choices based on the moral beliefs of any particular religion.  It should be comprehensive, robust health care.As an aside, I’m sure there are lots of roads in your county/state that you never drive on, but your tax dollars go to maintaining them because they benefit your community, not just you individually.  This “not MY tax dollars! not on THAT!” attitude is kind of strange.  (not necessarily aimed directly at you but I’ve seen this attitude quite a lot)

        • http://www.magickal-media.com/ A.C. Fisher Aldag

           I hear a lot of “shoulds” in this statement, and I am wondering why taxpayers should be compelled to pay for any of them.  

      • Huntressa

         And likewise, should a Jewish tax payer who chooses to eat kosher be ensured their tax dollars never support food stamps that have purchased non-kosher?   I would say no :)

        The thought of tax money going to a larger collective, a larger group with a variety of needs and personal spiritual beliefs means that tax money goes to a variety of services that one isn’t going to personally utilize but by having them available it strengths the community as a whole.

  • http://www.magickal-media.com/ A.C. Fisher Aldag

    “No one is asking Buddhists, Pagans, Hindus, or practitioners of Native religions for their input …”  What makes us think that all Pagans, Hindus, and original nations folks will all vote the same?

    • http://www.wildhunt.org/blog/ Jason Pitzl-Waters

      Why don’t we just start by including their voices?

    • kenneth

      Because we’re ALL stinking-ass long haired jobless drum circle hippie liberals who line up behind Obama and Planned Parenthood and the leftist mainstream media!

      There, I said it! :)

    • Lēoht Sceadusawol

       Because no one has asked them.

    • Ursyl

      Who’s to know if none of us are being asked or included in the conversations?

    • Dr.Giggles.

      Again I’m sorry someone lives in this world who disagrees with you. It must be so torublesome.