You are browsing the archive for religious freedom.

The Final Contraceptive Coverage Rule: Why You Should Stay Away From Any Organization That ‘Self-Certifies’

9:43 am in Uncategorized by RH Reality Check

Written by Bridgette Dunlap for RH Reality Check. This diary is cross-posted; commenters wishing to engage directly with the author should do so at the original post.

increase contraception, duh.

Increase contraception

On June 28, the Obama administration released the final version of the contraceptive coverage rule. Beginning January 1, 2014 women who aren’t already benefiting from the Affordable Care Act’s mandated contraceptive coverage, like those employed at religiously affiliated organizations that took advantage of the enforcement safe harbor, will be able to receive contraceptive coverage directly from their insurance companies, rather than their employer-provided plans. This “religious accommodation” makes employers’ involvement in contraception use even more remote, while ensuring that women still have access. [1]

The bishops and other anti-contraception crusaders will not be happy with the religious accommodation, so expect the lawsuits dismissed as premature or held in abeyance back in court soon. That aside, it is important to understand how far the Obama administration bent for the contraception opponents and how little it demanded in return. Organizations are not even required to make their religiously based objection to birth control public.

Granting the religious accommodation without abandoning women with religiously affiliated employers is possible because of the unusual economics of contraceptive coverage: the Obama administration can tell insurance companies to cover contraception without a co-pay, because providing it is cost-neutral for insurers. All (reasonable) parties can have their way—employers don’t have to provide plans with coverage, but employees can still get it, and insurers don’t have to pick up “the bill” because there really isn’t one. But the problem remains that religiously affiliated employers are being excused from the law without having to make even the smallest disclosures about their organizations in return. This sets an unwelcome precedent for future demands for special treatment.

I argued both in a piece for RH Reality Check and in a comment to the rule that the “self-certification” for the religious accommodation should entail explicit and public disclosures about how the organization “holds itself out as religious,” who determines what constitutes the religious beliefs of the organization, and what those beliefs are. In releasing the final rule, the government acknowledged it received comments to that effect, but further reduced the disclosures required for the accommodation. In order to qualify for the religious accommodation, organizations need only fill out a two-page form and file it with their insurer. And the form no longer even requires organizations specify the contraceptive services to which they object.

This is an invitation for organizations to characterize themselves as religious when they want an exemption from the law but secular when they want government funding. For example, Manhattan College and St. John’s University tell the state of New York they are not church-controlled to get taxpayer funds, then turn around and tell courts they are church controlled when they don’t want to have to deal with employees unionizing or abide by the Americans with Disabilities Act.

There are lots of reasons the claim that requiring contraceptive coverage is a religious freedom violation shouldn’t fly. But given the increasing frequency with which religiously affiliated organizations get what they want, simply requiring them to own up to whatever they purport to believe would be a big step in the right direction. Instead, they are currently free to make opposite representations depending on who is asking without any consequences.

The self-certification is insufficient, but it can still serve as a useful litmus test. Before you enroll or accept a job at any religiously affiliated organization, find out if it self-certified. If it did, steer clear. I realize, that may not be possible if you are a social worker in an area where Catholic Charities has a monopoly, or if you need to go to whatever school gives you the best financial aid, or if you’ve worked somewhere for years that has just now discovered it opposes contraceptive coverage. But the general rule should be: stay away from institutions that self-certify. It is impossible to anticipate on what other grounds they will claim an entitlement to discriminate or otherwise impose religious doctrine in the future. Even if they tell you separate birth control coverage is one quirk at an otherwise welcoming place for women, or gay people, or Jews, or whoever else—stay away. They probably have or would take the opportunity to discriminate in other contexts.
Read the rest of this entry →

Self-Certification and the Contraceptive Coverage Rule: What Does It Mean for an Institution to “Hold Itself Out as Religious?”

12:53 pm in Uncategorized by RH Reality Check

Written by Bridgette Dunlap for RH Reality Check. This diary is cross-posted; commenters wishing to engage directly with the author should do so at the original post.

Birth Control Pills

The Obama administration is considering who should be exempt from providing contraceptive coverage under the Affordable Care Act.

The Obama administration is accepting comments from the public until April 8th on the Notice of Proposed Rule-Making for the birth control benefit or contraceptive coverage rule. The proposed rule amends the exemption for houses of worship and their affiliates and adds an accommodation for other non-exempt non-profits opposed to birth control.

The accommodation requires that insurance companies offer separate contraceptive coverage directly to the employees of objecting organizations at no additional cost. To take advantage of the accommodation, an organization need only self-certify to its health insurer or plan administrator that it is a non-profit opposed to some of the required contraceptive services and that it “hold[s] itself out as a religious organization.”

It is not enough for an institution seeking special treatment to simply assert that it holds itself out as religious. I expect the Obama administration is loathe to define what it means to be a religious organization or police whether an institution is in fact holding itself out as such, and rightly so. Nevertheless, the institution should have to make a statement describing how it holds itself out as religious and what that religiousness entails. This statement should be made easily available to the public and organizations should have give to notice of it to those with whom it seeks to contract, such as employees, students, patients, and funders.

This is necessary due to a pattern of religiously-affiliated institutions characterizing themselves one way when recruiting or seeking public funding and another when demanding to be exempt from laws that govern secular institutions. The trend in First Amendment Establishment Clause jurisprudence has permitted increasing public funding for religious organizations. This means we need whatever protections the free market can provide individuals from the imposition of religion by institutions active in the public sphere. We can only avoid involvement with institutions that will discriminate on the basis of religious control if we know which institutions those are.

To understand some particularly flagrant examples of religiously-affiliated institutions trying to have it both ways, we turn to a bit of state constitutional law. Over 37 state constitutions contain explicit prohibitions on the use of public money for religious institutions or instruction. New York is among them and its Constitution prohibits public funding of any educational institution “wholly or in part under the control or direction of any religious denomination.”

In the mid-60s many private universities throughout the country were in dire financial straits. New York sought to rescue its private universities with taxpayer funding through a program known as “Bundy aid.” However, giving public funds to religiously-controlled universities was clearly unconstitutional. So religious universities, particularly Catholic ones, underwent re-organizations to separate themselves from the control of their founding religious orders and other church authorities and endeavored to become more suitable places for people of any or no faith to work and study. By becoming non-sectarian, while maintaining only a religious affiliation, they qualified for public funding.  The motivation behind secularization was not exclusively financial, but part of a larger attempt by Catholic universities to strengthen their academic and intellectual legitimacy.

By accepting funds each year, a New York college makes a representation to the state that it is an independent institution free from religious control. Despite this, a number of universities receiving Bundy aid, have asserted that they are church-controlled in order to be free from various generally applicable laws.

In 2010, adjunct professors at Manhattan College sought to unionize. To block them, Manhattan College claimed it was not subject to the jurisdiction of the National Labor Review Board because it is “church-operated.” Among the evidence on which the NLRB board relied in rejecting the claim Manhattan College holds itself out as a religious institution was the fact that Manhattan College deliberately eliminated church control to get Bundy aid and continues to claims to be non-sectarian by accepting it.

In 2009, St. John’s University argued it was exempt from the Americans with Disabilities Act because it is “controlled by a religious organization.” Prior to that, St. John’s successfully argued it was eligible for an exemption from New York’s Human Rights Law for the same reason. In agreeing that St. John’s is controlled by a religious organization, the Court did not take notice of the fact that St. John’s represents to the state that it is not controlled, even in part, by a religious organization in order to get taxpayer funding each year.

Multiple universities that receive Bundy aid have health policies that are controlled by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops through the USCCB’s Ethical and Religious Directives for Catholic Health Care Services.  The Directives are 43 pages long and as detailed as a statute. These schools tend to be less than forthcoming as to how the Directives are implemented in school policy, and some fail to give notice that the Directives control at all.

For a further example of conflicting self-characterizations, we now turn to the permissibility of funding under the federal Constitution. In 2000, the University of Notre Dame received a $500,000 federal grant that funded a program that included training teachers to work in parochial schools. Taxpayers sued the federal government, alleging the grant violated the First Amendment’s prohibition of government establishment of religion. Notre Dame intervened in the case as a defendant to defend its interest in the funds. Inherent to Notre Dame’s argument that the funding did not violate the First Amendment, is the fact that Notre Dame engages in many secular activities. In fact, just by applying for the grant, for which the “[u]se of funds for religion” was explicitly prohibited, Notre Dame represented to the government that despite its religious affiliation, not everything it does is an exercise of religion.

Read the rest of this entry →

As Notre Dame Appeals Birth Control Benefit, Costs to Catholic Universities of Discriminatory Health Plans Increases

12:21 pm in Uncategorized by RH Reality Check

Written by Bridgette Dunlap for RH Reality Check. This diary is cross-posted; commenters wishing to engage directly with the author should do so at the original post.

On Friday, Notre Dame filed a notice of appeal in its lawsuit challenging the contraceptive coverage rule.  So, game on. It was not exactly a surprise when the bishops rejected the Obama administration’s latest overture to religiously-affiliated institutions. And it is now clear that no “compromise” short of freeing all health plans from any regulation whatsoever having to do with contraception will suffice. I didn’t expect all of these lawsuits to go away, but I was hoping, perhaps naively, that Notre Dame might accept the court’s dismissal of its lawsuit given the vocal disagreement with the legal and theological claims therein that has come from students and faculty at Notre Dame. (See hereherehere, and here. A dissent here.)

The lower court dismissed Notre Dame’s lawsuit for lack of standing and ripeness because Notre Dame is not currently required to provide contraception, having taken advantage of the one-year safe harbor period the Obama administration provided while the rule’s accommodation for objecting religiously-affiliated institutions is amended.  All but one of the courts to consider the issue have essentially said that no final rule means nothing to sue about. These cases are pre-mature. (Like I been sayin’!) The Obama administration released a new proposed rule on January 30th, but the rule still isn’t final yet.  Still, the closer we get to implementation of whatever the final rule is, the stronger the plaintiffs’ arguments become that it is time to reach the merits in these cases. (Though I believe Notre Dame lacks standing for other reasons that the government hasn’t argued.)

So why did I think Notre Dame might accept the court’s decision?  My general theory is that the administrators of these plaintiff universities would like to do what is in the best interest of their students and employees and understand that going out of their way to provide a substandard, discriminatory health plan is not the best route to doing so. But the administrators of these institutions are under significant pressure from bishops, donors, and other off-campus orthodoxy-enforcing bullies like the Cardinal Newman Society. The promoters of the litigation campaign against contraceptive coverage likely saw Notre Dame as the crown jewel of plaintiffs, given its place in the American Catholic imagination. Plus, there are few big name schools that could be plaintiffs since so many of them currently have health plans with contraceptive coverage: at least for employees that is, who have more legal protections and bargaining power than students. (I’m looking at you, Georgetown.)

Still in hot water over inviting President Obama to speak at Notre Dame, I doubt University President Rev. John Jenkins had much choice about the lawsuit. Once the suit was dismissed, I thought the Notre Dame administration, having done its part for the bishops’ campaign, might turn its energies to more pressing concerns. Or, if it wants to make sure its health plans are consistent with Catholic concern for access to healthcare, it could fix the inadequate maternity coverage in the student plan. Instead, it is doubling down on claims about contraception that are inconsistent with the legal and theological understandings of the majority of the Notre Dame professors and students who have weighed in on the issue.

This is especially unfortunate given the important role Notre Dame played in the development of Catholic thought on contraception historically. Adding to the history of Notre Dame faculty members’ advocacy for contraceptive access I recounted previously, Kathryn Pogin pointed me to the voice of Notre Dame students in the debate within Catholicism in the sixties. For example, in a 1965 letter (page six here), a Notre Dame student argued for a change in the Vatican’s position and noted Dr. John Rock, a devout Catholic who was integral to the development of modern contraceptives, had lectured on Notre Dame’s campus the year prior.

Since that time, the number of Catholics who accept the Church’s teaching on contraception has dwindled to almost nothing.  Even those who do accept it must make a further leap to accept the claim that the Catholic ban on birth control translates to the impermissibility of compensating employees of varying beliefs with a normal health plan, or even allowing employees access to separate coverage provided by third-party plan administrators per the new rule proposal. In the case of students, they must accept the claim that Notre Dame has a sincere religious belief that requires interference in a money-for-health-insurance transaction between the student and a third-party insurer that involves no university funds at all.

I believe these lawsuits are bad for Catholic education. How bad, only time will tell. Multiple professors at Catholic-affiliated schools have told me they don’t want their kid going to their own universities now that their student health policies have come to light. I’ve tried, with mixed success, to convince concerned students admitted to Fordham Law that the University’s health center policies are not reflective of the Fordham experience, we are working on the problem, and they should come here anyway. More generally, the uncritical acceptance of the idea, by the media and even the Obama administration, that Catholic-affiliated institutions are conservative places where women should have expected discrimination in their healthcare benefits (and who knows what else) is making prospective students and employees rightly wary.

These cases have further implications for our academic reputations. Notre Dame claims to have a sincere religious beliefs that Plan B and Ella are abortifacients, when in fact science has proven otherwise. Are Notre Dame biologists expected to accept the authority of the bishops as to how a drug works? In what other disciplines should we expect Catholic doctrine to trump the knowledge of academics?

These lawsuits are a warning not to accept the assurances of recruiters that any given Catholic-affiliated school is a welcoming place for scholars of all faiths, genders, orientations, or academic persuasions. They undermine the idea that Catholic-institutions are home to research and education equal to that of secular schools, painting them as places one should expect to be controlled and indoctrinated. And sadly, these lawsuits must be viewed in the context of an ongoing crackdown on Catholic nuns, scholars and scholar-nuns.

I’ve been to more Catholic school than most priests. (I stole that line from a Notre Dame grad, but I’ve been to more than him.)  I am extremely grateful for my education and experience, but the claims of Notre Dame and other plaintiff schools cause me to question whether I can continue to recommend it to anyone else.

**If you are an employee or student of a Catholic affiliated institution of any kind and would like information about potentially signing onto a comment to the proposed Health and Human Services rule, an amicus brief in one of the lawsuits challenging the rule, or other cross-campus organizing and advocacy, please send me your contact information via this link.

For It Before They Were Against It: Catholic Universities and Birth Control

3:00 pm in Uncategorized by RH Reality Check

Written by Bridgette Dunlap for RH Reality Check. This diary is cross-posted; commenters wishing to engage directly with the author should do so at the original post.

Birth control pills

Some Catholic universities were historic supporters of contraception.

If you weren’t eagerly checking the bishops’ blog for their feelings on your health insurance, you may not have known last week was Catholic Schools Week! I generally don’t participate in the bishops’ weeks (or fortnights), but I think this is an ideal moment to highlight the proud history of advocacy for contraceptive access at Catholic-affiliated Universities — which is relevant to all those lawsuits that won’t be going away now that His Eminence Timothy Cardinal Dolan has spoken.

We begin at Notre Dame in 1966. Faculty members formed a group to advocate for government funding of family planning programs and advertised a statement of support in Catholic publications. They received over 500 signatures in under a month from Catholic clergy, nuns, lawyers, doctors, and faculty members  at Catholic universities, including the deans of Notre Dame and Santa Clara’s law schools. The Notre Dame professor chairing the committee told the New York Times the group wished to emphasize that “in a pluralistic society, some legislation may be desirable even though it may not be in accord with the moral principles of a minority of the society’s members.”

The chairman explained that the impetus for the group’s formation had been an address by the Rev. Dexter L. Hanley to the American Bar Association arguing for government family planning programs. Father Hanley was a law professor at Georgetown University. Yes, that Georgetown. The same Georgetown that trained a lawyer named Sandra Fluke. Father Hanley also testified before a congressional subcommittee in support of access to contraception. So when Sandra Fluke did the same thing, not only was she acting like a lawyer, which is presumably what one attends Georgetown Law to learn to do, she was following in the footsteps of a revered Georgetown professor and priest who had inspired Catholics across the country to take action.

Though Fluke is regularly accused of demanding government funding for contraception, what she actually testified about was the sub-par plan available to Georgetown students (who are required to have health insurance). Typically, student health plans involve students paying money to a third-party health insurance company; neither government nor university funds are involved in these transactions. Father Hanley, however, was indeed advocating for taxpayer-funded contraception and education. He acknowledged Catholic teaching against contraception but testified that he could firmly maintain his moral positions as a Catholic while supporting a government program that “permits each citizen a fully free moral choice in matters of family planning, and aids him in implementing this choice.”

Today, rather than permitting its students a “fully free moral choice” as Father Hanley advocated, Georgetown has taken advantage of the safe harbor from the contraceptive coverage requirements, claiming it has a religious belief that bars providing insurance that covers contraception. This is hard to believe given that faculty members’ health plans have included contraceptive coverage for years. Also, Georgetown hosted an excellent conference on the Health and Human Services regulation where most scholars rejected the claim that providing coverage violated Catholic doctrine or that requiring it violated the law. The robust defenses of Sandra Fluke from the University President and the law school faculty were lovely, but fixing the problem she testified about is what’s needed.

Let’s return to Notre Dame. From 1963 to 1967 Notre Dame held an annual “Conference on Population.” The conference, organized with the help of the Planned Parenthood Federation of America, was intended from its inception to be a forum to develop a more liberal Catholic position on contraception. In 1965, thirty-seven scholars who attended the conference sent a statement to the Pope that declared “[t]here is dependable evidence that contraception is not intrinsically immoral, and that therefore there are certain circumstances in which it may be permitted or indeed even recommended.” Notre Dame’s President, Father Theodore Hesburgh, later got his friend John D. Rockefeller a secret meeting with the Pope to discuss the problem of overpopulation.

Despite this history, the University has now claimed in its lawsuit that Notre Dame, whoever that is, has a sincere religious belief that the Church’s “centuries’ old teachings” prohibit coverage. This is despite the fact that its own theology students and faculty can’t get their questions answered about what the theological claim for the prohibition of contraceptive coverage is and people like Kathleen Kaveny, a professor of both law and theology at Notre Dame, have argued the legality of the mandate in detail. A further troubling sign from an institution that was once the place for principled discussion of contraception, is that Notre Dame’s website refers students to what appears to be a “Crisis Pregnancy Center.” When I called up the “Women’s Care Center,” they told me they do not actually have doctors on staff or prescribe contraception.

Read the rest of this entry →

Using “Religious Liberty” to Hide Religious Overreach

8:12 am in Uncategorized by RH Reality Check

Written by Rabbi Dennis S. Ross for RH Reality Check. This diary is cross-posted; commenters wishing to engage directly with the author should do so at the original post.

Birth Control Pills

Photo: Sarah C / Flickr

We have been hearing plenty about “religious liberty” lately. Now let’s see who’s using the term “religious liberty” in a novel way, trying to conceal a campaign of religious overreach.

The issue has to do with the faith-based legal challenges to the Affordable Care Act (ACA). Recently, a Missouri mining and manufacturing holding company, O’Brien Industrial Holdings, filed a lawsuit against the U. S. Department of Health and Human Services.

The lawsuit challenges the ACA employer requirement to include birth control coverage in employees’ health insurance. The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), along with the American Civil Liberties Union of Eastern Missouri filed an amicus brief supporting the ACA contraception rule. The brief examines the O’Brien complaint and considers the arguments in light of modern legal history.

Even though O’Brien is a secular business, the company maintains that the birth control rule violates its religious liberty — a claim that does not stand up to deeper examination. First of all, workers earn their employer-sponsored health insurance. The insurance belongs to the worker like any other earned benefit, such as salary and pension; it is as much a worker’s personal property as a pay check — the employer’s religion doesn’t belong there. After all, workers may well have different and personal moral understandings about access to birth control and no judge, politician, or office boss has any business barging in.

Moreover, a look back at recent history shows two things. First, similar laws in New York State and California have prevailed in state-level legal challenges. And second, as described in the ACLU brief, a business cannot use religious liberty as an excuse to practice religious discrimination.

Read the rest of this entry →

Why the USCCB’s “Religious Freedom” Argument Is a Lie

11:37 am in Uncategorized by RH Reality Check

Written by Bridgette Dunlap for RH Reality Check. This diary is cross-posted; commenters wishing to engage directly with the author should do so at the original post.

An empty birth control holder discarded on the street.

Freedom from contraception? (Photo: Beatrice Murch / Flickr).

The recent Huffington Post article by Sister Mary Ann Walsh of the US Conference of Catholic Bishops tells us quite a bit about the veracity of the USCCB’s claims that religious freedom is under attack in the United States.

Sister Walsh portrays Catholic institutions as just wanting to be able to give away services as acts of charity without government interference. But the truth is Catholic institutions (or those who claim to speak for them) are demanding they be able to participate in the market without having to adhere to the same standards as anyone else selling products or services, and to do it with government funding to boot.

The idea that some religious organizations should not have to meet the general standard has been widely accepted, but Sister Walsh finds the resulting exemption to the contraceptive coverage mandate, “miserly.” As the USCCB has told us repeatedly, the issue isn’t contraception, but religious freedom. The problem, they claim, is just that too few Catholic-affiliated institutions are exempt from the HHS regulation.

As Bishop William Lori, of the USCCB’s Ad Hoc Committee for Religious Liberty put it to Congress:

 

This is not a matter of whether contraception may be prohibited by the government.  This is not even a matter of whether contraception may be supported by the government. Instead, it is a matter of whether religious people and institutions may be forced by the government to provide coverage for contraception or sterilization, even if that violates their religious beliefs.

Now, there is a first-grader in plaid somewhere inside of me who hesitates to say this, but:  this is a big lie. I know this is a lie because I read the USCCB’s Statement on Religious Freedom.

In the Statement, the Bishops quote Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr, who wrote that, “[a]n unjust law is no law at all.” I’ve found the frequency with which opponents of the contraception mandate quote Dr. King very odd, given that he supported family planning and once accepted an award from Planned Parenthood, but I didn’t comprehend what was going on until I read the Statement, in which the Bishops go on to say:

Read the rest of this entry →

Fortnight For Freedom Is a Dangerous Sham. Let’s Celebrate Real Religious Freedom for All People

1:47 pm in Uncategorized by RH Reality Check

religion

(photo: loop_oh/flickr)

Written by Jon O’Brien for RH Reality Check. This diary is cross-posted; commenters wishing to engage directly with the author should do so at the original post.

This summer, Americans of every faith and of none have been subjected to the propaganda machine of the US Conference of Catholic Bishops and their “Fortnight for Freedom” campaign. By all measures, the fortnight fell flat. There was no religious persecution to decry; Catholics were too busy living their lives and planning their summer vacations to show up en masse for the bishops’ rallies; and the Affordable Care Act, the threat to religious liberty (according to the bishops), was upheld by the Supreme Court.

What we know, and what the bishops missed, is that religious freedom deserves more than a fortnight — and it’s about protecting more than the interests of a small group of men whose demands don’t reflect the needs and desires of the people they claim to represent.

Throughout history, good people — religious and secular — have been harried, hunted and harmed because of their religion or in the name of someone else’s. Irish Catholics lost the right to worship, and many their lives and livelihoods, to the English crown merely because they were Catholic. European Jews, for no reason other than their faith, were persecuted for centuries, and the Shoah remains an appalling testament to the capacity of human cruelty and religious repression. But religious persecution isn’t only history. If you adhere to the Baha’i faith in Iran today, you live in fear, monitored by a government that has a history of arresting, torturing and killing members of your faith. In Indonesia, the refusal to confess a belief in God will land you, badly beaten, in prison—in 2012.

Today’s American Catholic bishops would have us think they are the latest victims of religious persecution. Their claims denigrate the suffering of those who know the true meaning of that term. A few powerful conservative religious leaders, not joined by the majority of their faith or even of all their fellow bishops, have opened their coffers to sue the government to allow them to force others to live by their rules and to deny them what everyone else is guaranteed by our society. This isn’t about religious liberty. It’s a sham. And a dangerous one.
Read the rest of this entry →

Fortnight for Freedom – Wolf in Sheep’s Clothing

11:53 am in Uncategorized by RH Reality Check

Written by Debra Haffner for RH Reality Check. This diary is cross-posted; commenters wishing to engage directly with the author should do so at the original post.

An empty birth control holder discarded on the street.

Freedom from contraception? (Photo: Beatrice Murch / Flickr).

The Catholic bishops have begun a two-week campaign leading up to July 4th with the central focus of removing contraceptive coverage from health insurance reform. Of course, the Supreme Court any minute now may end or modify the Affordable Care Act, which may make this debate moot.

The bishops are calling their campaign a “Fortnight for Freedom” and cloaking their objection to modern methods of contraception in a religious liberty argument. It is a classic example of those on the religious right who would restrict individual freedom to make private sexual choices co-opting language to confuse and gain supporters. It is reminiscent of the right’s coinage of “partial-birth abortion” for abortion procedures after 20 weeks and the use of the term “death panels” in health care debates.

As a religious leader and as a person of faith, I of course support religious freedom. So does the U.S. Constitution and so, I presume, do you. To me, and millions of people of faith, religious freedom means that all persons should be free to make their own personal decisions about their sexual and reproductive lives, including their decisions about when, whether, or if to have children. These decisions are optimally informed by their conscience, faith tradition, religious beliefs and families, but ultimately they are deeply personal decisions that individuals can and should have the freedom to make for themselves.

Religious freedom means that the government should not privilege the teachings of one religion over another or deny individual religious freedom. Individuals must have the right to accept or reject the principles of their own faith without legal restrictions. The Catholic bishops do not speak for all faith traditions on contraception; indeed they don’t even speak for the people in their pews who use and support family planning in overwhelming majorities. It is past time for the Vatican and the American Bishops to understand that they cannot claim final moral authority in domestic or (as we saw in Rio last week) international discourse.

It is up to each of us to not allow the Catholic bishops or anyone else to co-opt religious freedom. Universal access to family planning does not require anyone to use contraception – rather it assures that individual moral agency and conscience are respected. Supporting religious freedom means supporting the right of all of us to make our own moral decisions. We know a wolf in sheep’s clothing when we see it.

Three Lessons on Religious Freedom from North Dakota

11:40 am in Uncategorized by RH Reality Check

Written by Lon Newman for RH Reality Check. This diary is cross-posted; commenters wishing to engage directly with the author should do so at the original post.

The sun sets over a Catholic chapel.

St. Mary's Catholic Church in North Dakota (Photo: Michael Arrighi / Flickr)

June 12th, in North Dakota, voters rejected a constitutional amendment (Measure 3) that, in the name of religious freedom, would in reality have empowered institutional discrimination. The voters affirmed constitutional protections for the free exercise of religious belief and against the establishment of state-protected discrimination by religious institutions and religious affiliates.

The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) supported Measure Three and there are three strong reasons voters rejected it. The same reasoning applies to the current USCCB campaign against a federal requirement of insurance to cover contraceptives:

  • Institutions which accept tax-exemptions and/or public funds must abide by the fundamental individual protections of our constitution including those against racial discrimination. Sex-discrimination should have equal prohibitions.
  • Accepting public funds and/or tax exemption requires compliance with public standards imposed upon all of us. In the case of Catholic clinics and hospitals, for example, a majority of Catholics agree with conscience protections for individuals, for example in direct provision of abortion services, but public institutions may not refuse to provide needed medical services.
  • Although a citizen may be exempted from acting in a way contrary to religious beliefs (for example fight in a war, participate in the pledge of allegiance, eat particular foods, or take birth control), that is very different from not paying taxes that are required of everyone.

With the rejection of the “Personhood Amendment” in Mississippi and the rejection of Measure 3 in North Dakota, we see proof that Americans have a profound respect for religious freedom as the founders intended it.

Measure 3 as it appeared on the ballot:

This initiated constitutional measure would add a new section to Article I of the North Dakota Constitution stating, “Government may not burden a person’s or religious organization’s religious liberty. The right to act or refuse to act in a manner motivated by a sincerely held religious belief may not be burdened unless the government proves it has a compelling governmental interest in infringing the specific act or refusal to act and has used the least restrictive means to further that interest. A burden includes indirect burdens such as withholding benefits, assessing penalties, or an exclusion from programs or access to facilities.”

YES – meant voter approved the measure as stated.

NO – meant voter rejected the measure as stated.

“Freedom:” The Right of Religious Fundamentalists to Discriminate Against Everyone Else

6:51 am in Uncategorized by RH Reality Check

Written by Amanda Marcotte for RHRealityCheck.org – News, commentary and community for reproductive health and justice.

Conscience clauses. They practically have the term “slippery slope” built right into their definition. Anti-choicers started by pushing the idea that pharmacists shouldn’t have to sell contraception if it somehow violates their heartfelt repulsion to what they believe is unapologetic sluttiness.  But did anyone think it would stop there?  Once the idea got loose that you have a right to not do your job if you disapprove of a client’s sex life, the doors were thrown wide open to all sorts of discrimination against customers, followed by a bout of acting like a martyr if you were pushed to do your actual job.

Well, the movement towards discrimination based on sexuality took a blow last week, when a federal judge ruled in favor of a counseling program that ejected a student who refused to do her job if her clients are gay. To no one’s great surprise, conservative pundits are telling their followers that this means that students in general are now subject to being expelled for holding bigoted beliefs they excuse through Christianity.  This argument is, of course, nonsense. People are allowed to believe whatever bigoted things they want about their fellow human beings. What they aren’t allowed to do is act in bigoted ways contrary to their profession and expect to keep their jobs, a much different thing. A counselor who privately believes homosexuality is a sin but who manages to treat gay clients with respect and according to science-based guidelines (i.e. doesn’t try to convince clients they can change sexual orientation) would have no problem with these restrictions.

This ruling comes at a time when the “conscience clause” nonsense is being pushed hard by the right.  For instance, the misleadingly named American Center for Law & Justice is suing the Capital Area Rural Transportation System (CARTS) for firing Edwin Graning because he refused to do his job, which is to take passengers where they want to go.  In this case, Graning refused to take passengers to the local Planned Parenthood.  Graning’s argument is full of self-serving pity—he’s claiming discrimination for his religious beliefs—but the only people that were discriminated against were his passengers that he refused to serve because of what he believed about their private sexual choices.

As Kyle at Right Wing Watch documented, Graning’s story is full of holes. Graning tried to spin the usual faux-concern-for-women tale, claiming that his wife called the Planned Parenthood in question and received a recorded message directing women with abortion complications to 911. The implication is that he was some hero, saving his passenger from certain death by abortion by refusing to take her to Planned Parenthood.  Of course, it was quickly revealed that the actual recording is what you’d expect, some boilerplate about setting an appointment or volunteering time or money—nothing about abortion, and certainly nothing suggesting that their patients routinely end up in E.R. with Planned Parenthood washing their hands of them.  Since abortion is relatively safe, and providers work with hospitals in the very rare case of emergencies, this is to be expected.

Of course, there’s no reason to think women who requested a ride to Planned Parenthood should be assumed to be wanting an abortion instead of far more common services such as cancer screening or contraception counseling.  Unless, of course, you’re a self-dramatic right wing fundamentalist looking to mislead people about the realities of women’s health care in order to separate women from it.

Despite his struggles with basic honesty, Graning is claiming that he’s a Christian and therefore he has a special right not to do his job. This is the right wing argument for religious freedom. It should be immediately obvious that their definition of “religious freedom” doesn’t apply to people who don’t practice their particular brand of Christianity. For instance, ACLJ believes that women whose religion doesn’t forbid abortion, contraception, or basic reproductive health care should not be allowed to use the same government services as everyone else, such as the bus system. Those women deserve to be treated as second-class citizens because they have the wrong religious beliefs.

In case the claims of “religious freedom” don’t seem empty enough on the surface, consider the case of Muslim cab drivers in Minnesota who refused to transport customers carrying bottles of alcohol, in most cases because they picked it up from the duty-free store.  The cabbies other complaints of bad working conditions certainly deserve consideration, but as in most cases, the burden of not discriminating based on religious belief falls on those providing the public service.  In case, that means that Muslim cab drivers have a duty not to discriminate against those who are behaving peacefully but don’t share their anti-alcohol beliefs.

But since conservatives believe that religious freedom means the right to refuse to do your job when you differ with your clients on a matter of religious dogma, they hopped right to defending the Muslim cabbies, right?

Of course not. On the contrary!  The case was used to raise alarms about the non-existent threat that “shari’a law” was going to supplant our very Constitution, with its prohibitions against the state favoring religion over non-religion, or favoring one religion over another.

So, if the state enforces the right of fundamentalist Christians to discriminate on the basis of religion against people who don’t share their beliefs, that’s “freedom.”  Anyone else who discriminates against clients is a threat to the very same freedom.  Basically, the words “religious freedom,” the mouths of social conservatives, mean protecting the right of fundamentalist Christians to persecute and discriminate against everyone else.

Let’s hope more judges follow the example set by the judge in the East Michigan University case, and see the fundamentalist claims for “religious freedom” as the dishonest attempts to deprive everyone else of rights that they are.