Religious Liberty and Contraception under “Obamacare”

Religious Liberty and Contraception under “Obamacare”
By Donald P. Shoemaker
Pastor Emeritus,
Grace Community Church of Seal Beach
Chair, Social Concerns Committee,
Fellowship of Grace Brethren Churches

A couple’s personal, private decisions on contraception should be just that—personal and private.

If they belong to a religious community, they need to consider that religion’s teachings, at least if they seriously claim to be part of that faith community.

This couple would likely not want the government to have any directive in this matter. And in decades past most would not have expected the government (taxpayers) to pay for their contraception decision, or force others like religious colleges to pay for what they decide.

Fast-forward to “Obamacare” and contraception is now being treated as if it is a sacrament, a “Secular Eucharist” dispensed freely by government grace.

The administration’s original highhandedness (the statement by Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius on January 20, 2012) that would have run roughshod over religious scruples has morphed a lot, but there are still issues. At one end, the government would exempt “houses of worship”—a slender concession. At the other end, debates and court decisions mushroom over the mandate to secular businesses owned by people with religion-based objections to contraception—people trying to lead their businesses in the light of their values. In the middle are religion-based institutions other than churches—schools, hospitals, social agencies, etc.

That these institutions, absent a compelling state interest, should be able to implement policies reflecting their core moral values is, to me, a clear right. Enter Americans United for Separation of Church and State. One would think by its title this group would not want the government to boss the affairs of religious organizations, thereby breaching “the wall of separation”. But no, AU is seeking to intervene in behalf of students at the University of Notre Dame to ensure that their health plan gives access to contraceptives.

AU asserts, “Even if the University’s religious exercise were substantially burdened by the challenged regulations, there is a compelling interest for the imposition of that burden, namely, providing the affected women with access to contraception and the consequent control over their sexual lives, bodily integrity, and reproductive capacity.” Be sure to think through this statement carefully!! If the government has a “compelling interest” for burdening religious groups so as to grant women “control over their sex lives, bodily integrity and reproductive capacity”, that would include a duty to pay for ABORTION.

The key words here are “substantially burdened” and “compelling interest for the imposition of that burden.” This argument would override religious protection provided by the federal Religious Freedom Restoration Act (1993).

I find it interesting and frustrating that AU argued quite differently in 2002 when it opposed Catholic Charities (Catholic Charities of Sacramento vs. Superior Court) in a similar case about insurance coverage of contraceptives. AU argued then that the 1999 California statute requiring contraceptive coverage “should not be deemed to impose a ‘substantial burden’ on the exercise of religion because CC can opt to pay a stipend for contraceptive coverage rather than purchasing the coverage itself and can still issue statements and disclaimers against the use of contraception.” CC could also comply with the law by simply not offering prescription drug coverage at all, the California Supreme Court said! Not a good thought!

I’ll let legal experts debate Obamacare’s contraception mandate. I’ll continue to pray and work for a libertarian understanding of religious freedom.

I conclude here with, first, the observation that AU’s defense of separation of church and state is very often a veneer for the pursuit of its own liberal agenda. Second, AU has trotted out a letter signed by 1000 clergy that demands equal access to contraception. At the end of its blog labeling these signers “conscientious clergy” AU says, “This is not a theocracy, no matter what the Religious Right and its allies say.”

Come now! It is not theocratic to let a religious institution define and live out its own creed and mission.

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