Category Archives: Affordable Care Act

Religious Liberty versus Women’s Health

According to John McCormack of The Weekly Standard, that’s the issue at hand surrounding the mandate of the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare). At least, that’s the way the left would like to see the issue framed, and McCormack argues that liberty itself is the primary issue, and what is really at stake. Richard Land of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention explained a solution that would settle the issue satisfactorily: provide a conscience clause that would allow for individuals and groups who have moral objections to contraception (as well as abortion) to opt out of the mandate that requires its provision. Supporters of the mandate object, saying that Americans would be at risk of having health care benefits provided for them if they were employed by such conscientious objectors. McCormack writes,

Supporters of the mandate are fighting back, arguing that legislation to restore the conscience protections that existed before Obamacare will leave Americans vulnerable. “You know, a Christian Science owner of a running shoe store could decide no health insurance,” [Democratic Senator Dick] Durbin said on Tuesday. Of course, for all of American history prior to the passage of Obamacare, shoe salesmen—whatever their religion—were free to pay their employees with money rather than health care benefits without facing fines from the federal government, yet the republic managed to survive.

He goes on to say,

It’s not at all clear who will win this fight. A CNN poll showed Americans oppose the administration’s policy 50 percent to 44 percent, but a CBS/New York Times poll found that 61 percent of Americans supported it. 

A lot depends on whether opponents can press the argument against Obama’s mandate from all angles. Can they get the word out that it’s not merely a “contraception mandate” but an “abortion mandate,” too? Can they make the case that the issue is religious liberty—or liberty more broadly—and not access to contraception? That all remains to be seen. But there’s no reason to think the issue will go away before November. For opponents, the election is the only opportunity to reverse the mandate.

Often, when considering the outcome of a championship ball game, a big decision about to be handed down by an employer, a debate between candidates for office, or a future election, people make the comment, “It’s going to be interesting to see how this turns out.” On this issue, it’s going to be more than “interesting.” If the constitutional principle of freedom of conscience is sidelined in favor of governmental bureaucratic fiat, we will have a game-changer. We will be living under a new order.

See McCormack’s article here.


Craig Mitchell Testifies on Religious Freedom Before House Committee

My colleague at Southwestern, Dr. Craig Mitchell, Associate Professor of Christian Ethics, appeared with other clergy before the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform today (he sits on the far right on the panel in the photo). Their testimony was sought by the committee to discuss the question of whether the mandate to provide contraception in the Affordable Care Act violates religious liberty.

The video is lengthy, but it is worth at least your perusal. Each of the members of the clergy who appeared spoke of the fundamental nature of religious liberty in America, and the fact that this basic right ought not be trifled with in the name of health care. Stress was laid also on the fact that this issue touches every American, and is not a political issue or an opportunity to gain the political upper hand.

Every American should be paying attention to these debates. The stakes are extraordinarily high when it comes to the question of whether or not the government has the power to dictate policy that violates the individual right of the free exercise of religious conviction by bureaucratic fiat.

Dr. Mitchell’s opening statements begin at 57:37. I’ll admit that watching this video won’t be that entertaining for you, but its importance far exceeds the best episode of “The Office.”

See the video here.

Evan Lenow’s Letter to the President

Evan Lenow, Assistant Professor of Ethics at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, has written a fine word to President Obama at his blog, “Ethics as Worship”, concerning how his compromise solution to the contraception issue does not settle the religious liberty question.

In part, Dr. Lenow writes,

I humbly request that you rescind the current contraception regulation proposed by Secretary Sebelius and rescind the insurance mandate of the Affordable Care Act. These actions are a violation of your constitutional authority, and the contraceptive mandate is a violation of my guaranteed right to freedom of religion. I would like to remind you that the Bill of Rights was written “in order to prevent misconstruction or abuse of [the federal government’s] powers” (Preamble to the Bill of Rights). The current mandates are both a misconstruction and abuse of powers. The First Amendment trumps these mandates.

You can read the rest of his letter here.

Al Sharpton on the Contraception Issue

The Rev. Al Sharpton has recently written a piece on the contraception issue that has garnered a great deal of attention lately, and argues that the issue has nothing at all to do with religious freedom, but with a woman’s right to free access to contraception. Here is a link to Sharpton’s piece.

Of course, President Obama has relieved religious organizations of the direct burden of providing birth control coverage to its employees as part of the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare), and shifted that burden over to insurance companies. But that act alone does not mean that the controversy is going away, nor does it cease to be an issue that potentially touches on religious liberty.

Rev. Sharpton has several reasons for concluding that the issue has nothing to do with religious freedom. Primary among them is that contraception is a fundamental right of women, and that organizations receiving federal money cannot refuse to live under the rules laid down by the federal government. He further asserts that most Catholic women use contraception for a range of purposes, and that these religious organizations are not churches, but hospitals, universities, etc. The bottom line for Sharpton is that a woman has a right to be left alone with her decisions regarding her own body.

It is ironic that a person who retains the title of “Reverend” should be making arguments that have the logical possibility of denying his own freedom to hold that title, to say nothing of holding to the dictates of his conscience. But I will not pursue that line of argument further, since it is irrelevant.

Rather, let’s start with his argument that any entity taking federal money is under the obligation to follow federal rules. Certainly, Sharpton has a good point. A religious organization that begins taking federal money does indeed surrender a dose of freedom as to how it will run itself. That’s the problem with accepting federal money, not only for religious organizations, but any entity. But the First Amendment guarantees citizens that the “free exercise” religion will not be prohibited. In this case, Catholic organizations objected to the federal rule obligating them to provide birth control to their employees because doing so would be an act of prohibiting them from freely exercising their religious convictions. The acceptance of federal money, while it does come with strings attached, does not obligate any entity from signing away their constitutional right to freedom of conscience–a right that is explicitly described in the Constitution, unlike a “woman’s right” to free access to birth control.

Second, Sharpton makes the fair point that churches are exempt from this rule. In fact, Sharpton notes that over 300,000 churches are explicitly made exempt. That’s another valid point, and one worth remembering. Still, the First Amendment guarantee of religious freedom does not apply solely to churches. The First Amendment prohibits the federal government from making any law establishing a particular religion, or denying the “free exercise thereof.”  According to the Supreme Court decision Barron v. Baltimore in 1833, the first ten amendments only applied to the actions of the federal government, and not to the states. This required citizens to look to their state constitutions for the protection of their civil liberties. But with the passage of the Fourteenth Amendment in 1868, that situation changed. It made the first ten amendments applicable not only to the federal government, but also to the states. Now, the federal government has a duty to protect the rights of conscience of each individual citizen through due process. That duty includes everyone, not just churches. Thus, the first obligation of the federal government is to protect the religious organization’s right to deny access to contraception on religious grounds. Conversely, it is the right of the employee not to continue employment with that organization if that person’s needs are not being fully met.

I’ve said a lot, maybe too much. You can read the article for yourself. I won’t say anything about Sharpton’s point (and he’s not the only person I’ve heard make it) that most Catholic women freely take contraception, except this: that premise is completely irrelevant to the issue of the federal government’s duty to protect freedom of conscience in this land. The government is to recognize and protect our rights, not make them up as it sees fit.