“War on Women” or “War on Religion”?

“War on Women” or “War on Religion”?

Americans United for Separation of Church and State (AU) said in a statement April 27 that Catholic bishops and the Religious Right are “waging what can only be described as a ‘War On Women’.”

AU styles itself as “a non-partisan organization dedicated to preserving church-state separation to ensure religious freedom for all Americans.”

In reality, much of the time its stated mission of “ensuring religious freedom” is a veneer covering a leftist agenda.  The cases it highlights on its home page (au.org) are 8-0 in opposition to perceived “right wing” threats as opposed to “left wing” threats.

AU once described its understanding of when government can override religious freedom this way:

“The government should be permitted to infringe on religious liberty only in extremely rare instances where a clear and compelling government interest is demonstrated.”

This is excellent.  Thus, it’s hard to understand how AU can fight the Catholic Church’s claim it should not be required to providing contraceptive coverage in its health insurance for employees.  The government simply cannot claim a “compelling state interest” (a very high fence***) in this case, in my opinion.

Speaking at an April 29 “Unite Against the War on Women” rally at the U.S. Capitol, Rob Boston (as reported on the AU Website) framed the debate this way:

“In order for religious freedom to be preserved, we are told, the most private and intimate decisions of others must be curtailed – indeed, their very health care must be subjected to unwanted sectarian intrusion,” I told the crowd.  “This is the twisting of words like pretzels.  It is an attempt to wrap a theocratic power grab in the noble garment of religious liberty.  It must not be allowed to stand.”

So, the conviction that religious liberty should prevent Catholic institutions from being coerced by the government is “a theocratic power grab”?  Talk about twisting words like pretzels!

He adds, “Our beef, I said, is not with religion.  It’s with zealots who seek to turn houses of prayer into houses of right-wing politics.”  Now, that’s a strange way to describe American bishops in the Roman Catholic Church, whose social agenda is usually liberal.  How about the abundance of zealots who turn houses of prayer into houses of left-wing politics, as we will see often in this election year?

Which is it?  A “War against Women” (AU says it can “only be described” this way) or a “War against Religion”?  Actually neither, and civil discourse isn’t helped by putting a declaration of war into the mouths of one’s opponents.  This is a skirmish, but one with important implications.

Here in California, more and more urban expansion into wilderness areas sometimes pits residents against wildlife that is simply trying to live in its environment as it always has.  Preservationists try to protect this wildlife so it can live and thrive as before.

Government expansion is more and more working its way into areas of life previously seen as belonging to religion and governed by religious convictions.  Religious groups that resist are simply trying to live in their sphere as they always have.  Religious liberty advocates try to protect them so they can thrive as before.  The clash between church and state wouldn’t be there in many cases if government didn’t impose new demands on religion that conflict with core convictions or impose burdens that make the free exercise of religion more difficult to practice.

That’s called the “wall of separation” – keeping government out of the affairs of the church, as the First Amendment intended.

And that’s how I frame this current war, no, this current skirmish and debate!

Donald Shoemaker


***A “strict scrutiny” test requires that the government establish a “compelling state interest” and show that its action is “narrowly tailored” and is the “least restrictive means” to achieve that interest.  The “strict scrutiny” legal test is the highest of three standards used to review laws and government policies.  The following is taken from legal dictionary.thefreedictionary.com and Nolo’s Plain English Law Dictionary.

The rational basis test is the lowest form of judicial scrutiny.  When employed, it usually results in a court upholding the constitutionality of the law, because the test gives great deference to the legislative branch.

The heightened scrutiny test considers whether the statute involves important governmental interests and whether the law is substantially related to the achievement of important government objectives.

The strict scrutiny test is the most rigorous form of judicial review.  Once a court determines that strict scrutiny must be applied, it is presumed that the law or policy is unconstitutional.  The government has the burden of proving that its challenged policy is constitutional.  To withstand strict scrutiny, the government must show that its policy is necessary to achieve a compelling state interest.  If this is proved, the state must then demonstrate that the legislation is narrowly tailored to achieve the intended result.

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