Tuesday, March 27, 2012

BARKING UP THE WRONG TREE: THE PROBLEM WITH THE RELIGIOUS FREEDOM ARGUMENT


Bishop Thomas Curry
As most of us know by now, the First Amendment’s guarantee of religious freedom is being invoked by our Church leaders to challenge President Obama’s contraceptive mandate. What you probably haven’t heard is that we have no constitutional basis for doing so, and if brought before the court, we would lose such a challenge.

At least that is the opinion of Bishop Thomas Curry of Los Angeles, an historian and First Amendment scholar - an opinion of course that is completely out of step with Cardinal Dolan and the rest of the USCCB who have pinned their hopes for a wider exemption from the mandate on the basis that it violates religious freedom.

Curry opined in a recent speech given at Catholic University that the contraceptive mandate is NOT unconstitutional because it does not target a specific religion. The fact that Catholics feel targeted is simply due to the fact that the Catholic Church is the only major religion which prohibits deliberate contraceptive acts. But the Catholic Church would have no more First Amendment standing against the mandate than Jehovah Witnesses had against serving in the military during the days of a mandated draft.

As you may recall, JW’s and other conscientious objectors, while they could be exempted from military service, were not exempt from the penalty for not serving. Some were given alternative community tasks, others were assigned to non-combat duty, and still others, as in the famous Muhammed Ali case, were sentenced to prison. Under the mandate, Catholics are free to avoid the mandate by not purchasing health insurance, but they would still be liable for the penalty for not doing so as were conscientious objectors to the military draft.

Also, Catholic leaders seem to have forgotten that there is no blanket guarantee of religious liberty in America, and indeed, we may not want one. In 1878, the Supreme Court ruled that George Reynolds, a Mormon, did not have a First Amendment right to marry more than one wife, despite the dictates of his religion, and was sent to jail for doing so. The Catholic Church did not protest and today would still support the state’s right to penalize polygamists.

While the Mormon church has since changed its teaching on plural marriage, Islam has not. Islam teaches that a man can have up to four wives. Will we be expecting the U.S. bishops to demand religious liberty for American Muslims in that regard? Islam also teaches honor killings and the killing of converts to Christianity (though not all hold to it). Any calls for religious liberty here?

What about religious liberty for Wiccans and other neo-pagan religions? There is already a Wiccan shrine, built at taxpayer expense, on the grounds of the U.S. Air Force Academy, and a taxpayer funded witch ministry to see to the spiritual needs of Wiccan cadets. Do we....should we support religious liberty for the religious practices of witchcraft-related and other pagan religions? I think not, but this is where the religious liberty argument will take us, and I think that this is precisely where President Obama is allowing it - if not wanting it - to go (for the purposes of a much larger social engineering agenda).

Also Catholics seem to have forgotten that religious liberty, as an established doctrine, only dates back to Vatican II. Prior to that, Catholicism had gradually incorporated a pragmatic approach to religious tolerance, but the Church historically not only condemned and persecuted what it deemed to be heresy, it condemned and persecuted heretics as well.

It makes me wonder if Obama isn’t waiting for just the right moment to bring up the Inquisitions, the Crusades, and the decimation of native New World populations by (Spanish-Catholic) Conquistadors. And let’s not forget that for centuries Christianity did not condemn slavery but in fact commanded slaves to obey their masters. (Something that we will look into another time but has already been floated by media mongers.) I can hear Obama scoffing (with the god-like reverb that seems to accompany all his speeches): “Catholics? Religious liberty? Come on, give me a break!” - and then roars of approval and thunderous applause. Scary.

The truth about those things and how the Church actually intervened to tame the excesses of what were essentially state-sponsored ventures (at least in the case of the Inquisitions, the conquest of the New World, and slavery) won’t matter. Perception is everything, and the Church, still limping from its clergy sex abuse wound, will be blasted  out of the public arena by the Obamanites as Jew-burning, Indian-killing, Muslim-brutalizing, slavery-advocating, child-molesting, woman-subjugating, medieval pretenders to religious freedom. And we are marching right into this with signs held high!

The absolutely amazing thing  is that the USCCB’s cry for religious freedom is not even necessary. Obama, unintentionally perhaps, has already given the bishops all the exemption they need. Let’s review:

The mandate exempts religious employers and defines a religious employer as:  (1) has the inculcation of religious values as its purpose; (2) primarily employs persons who share its religious tenets; (3) primarily serves persons who share its religious tenets; and (4) is a non-profit organization under Internal Revenue Code...

Most Catholic organizations already qualify under the IRS code, so let’s look at the others. (1) What is keeping the bishops from simply stating that all of its institutions, its hospitals, schools, clinics, orphanages, etc., have “the inculcation of religious values as its purpose”? Do we not exist first and foremost to share the Gospel of Jesus Christ in word and deed?

Incredibly, one of the arguments proffered by the USCCB leadership has been that not even Jesus, since he cared for everyone, would qualify for the exemption. This amazing statement presupposes that Jesus’s primary purpose was to heal the sick, not save them! That we can even float this argument with any degree of seriousness from the official rostrum of the USCCB is an indication of just how far our commitment to social justice has gone to replace our duty to save souls.

As for (2) employing or (3) serving people who share our religious tenets we can simply say “we don’t know” and shift the burden of proof to the government. A religious employer can no more determine the level of adherence in the heart of an employee or patient to its church’s religious tenets than could a priest determine the level of adherence to Catholic religious tenets in the hearts of those who regularly attend Sunday Mass. And the government would have no means of doing so either.

In fact, this is Bishop Curry’s point. After stating that the imposition of the contraceptive mandate is not in itself unconstitutional, Curry points out that the language of the exemption in which Obama attempts to define what constitutes a religious employer is the part of the mandate that IS unconstitutional. For not only does the President NOT have the authority to define what constitutes a religious employer, he neither has the authority to measure whether or not, or to what degree, a person employed or served by a religious institution subscribes to its religious tenets.

Imagine the conundrum. A non-Catholic patient in a Catholic hospital responds to his government interrogator:  “Yes, I believe in the Trinity, that Jesus Christ is God, that he died for my sins and opened the gates of heaven, and that he established his Church on earth. It could be the Catholic Church. I’m not sure yet. I’m looking into it.” Or imagine a Catholic working at a Catholic university saying “Yes, I believe in the Catholic Church as the true Church but I don’t go along with the Church’s teaching on divorce and birth control.”

In short, the exemption is impossible to police and the USCCB, in barking about religious freedom, is simply barking up the wrong tree. But to change course and exploit the exemption the bishops would have to say that the primary purpose of every Catholic institution is to share the Gospel of Jesus Christ and that while they would like to be able to determine the level of adherence to that Gospel by the people they employ and serve, they have no means of doing so.

By merely stating so, Obama and his contraceptive-sterility-mad matron (Sibelius) could not touch the Church. However, the fact that it appears that we have either not thought of this, or there is in fact a reluctance to claim our institutions and our work for Jesus Christ, is evidence that our Church may have bigger problems than Obama.

*****

That said, regardless of how the Church fairs in its stand-off over the exemption, the rest of us who are not directly in the employ of the Church, are already being forced to fund, through our insurance premiums, the evil that our Church condemns.

For the rest of us, our only hope is for the individual (not the contraceptive) mandate to be declared unconstitutional (the case is being heard as of this writing), and barring that, the election of a president and a congress who are committed to the repeal of the whole Obamacare monstrosity - for it contains many other such death-driven surprises.

Meanwhile, let us hope that our own Archdiocese will claim that all of its institutions have “the inculcation of its religious values as its purpose” and in so doing avoid having to fund the evil our Church rejects. The rest of us will just have to look out for ourselves. But we can at least make sure that the congressional candidate of our choosing this November is committed to the death of this whole evil edict. We shall see.

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