An increasing number of institutions are claiming religious exemptions from the contraceptive mandate of the new federal health care law. There’s nothing “moral” about this bruising political battle: it’s designed to increase the power of organized religion, and to decrease Americans’ options for sexual expression.
The notion that certain institutions can simply opt out of the country’s laws because of some “moral objection” is dangerous—particularly when a small group of wealthy religions has seized the power to define which moral objections are allowed this privilege. If YOU find it morally objectionable that you have to pay and promote women the same as men, you still have to do it. If YOU find it morally objectionable that your taxes support a war in Afghanistan, you still have to pay them. And if YOU have a loved one on Death Row, you can’t get their sentence changed simply because you find capital punishment morally objectionable.
The idea that a multi-billion dollar, multi-national religious corporation gets to select which laws it will follow is ludicrous.
The health care law doesn’t force anyone to use birth control—but to hear the protests, you’d think President Obama was personally putting condoms into boxes of Wheaties, and birth control pills into fonts of holy water.
The original 2010 law exempted the thousands of corporations operating churches and other houses of worship. But now religious charities, universities, and hospitals are loudly objecting as well.
The Catholic Church is the single biggest operator of hospitals in this country; you probably live near one. The Church operates thousands of schools, including colleges in or near your city. Employees of these many institutions should have the same rights as all other Americans. We should expect that these institutions play by the same rules as their competitors, customers, and neighbors.
Nothing in the health care law interferes with an organization’s ability to teach that contraception is wrong. The Church’s opposition to this regulation is a frank acknowledgement that Catholics reject this teaching (95% of American Catholic women use Church-prohibited birth control). The Church wouldn’t fight this law nearly so much if it knew that the faithful were, well, more faithful.
When President George W. Bush developed the notion of funding “faith-based” organizations as a way of funneling billions of tax dollars to his Religious Right supporters (while exempting them from normal administrative oversight or anti-discrimination law), some of us howled that this created a slippery slope. When President Obama continued and even expanded this anti-democratic practice, we howled some more. In today’s faith-based challenge to Obamacare (and in the Administration’s pathetic, conciliatory response), we have slid even further.
It’s a dangerous double-dip: first, organized religion gets enormous tax breaks, so non-believers are forced to financially support their proselytizing and their attacks on secular democracy. Then they demand exemptions from the laws of the country, further undermining its secular nature. The predictable outcome is expanded recruitment through their tax-supported network of madrassas, um, parochial schools, massive home-schooling program, and other institutions.
Organized religion continues to carve out a parallel state within the country: separate rules for taxes, zoning, expression, education, hiring discrimination, and now health care coverage.
And they often use a sexuality-related issue to do it. Our culture’s deep ambivalence and shame about sex makes sexuality an ideal vehicle to undermine secular democracy and the separation of church and state. You notice that churches don’t talk much about wanting their buses to be exempt from safety inspections. But they talk a lot about wanting to shape our laws regarding sexuality.
When its special exemptions are challenged, the church cries religious discrimination. They mis-read the Constitution: it prevents the government from dictating what people believe or how they worship. But it does not require the government to distort the country’s economic, political, and health care system to avoid offending religious sensibilities.
Meanwhile, the church’s blatant attack on Americans’ rights to sexual expression and sexual privacy continues full throttle. Having all but destroyed the option of legal abortion for most American women, it is taking full aim at contraception, the morning-after pill, and STD prevention such as the HPV vaccine. States are withdrawing support for birth control clinics and peer counseling on college campuses.
Organized religion is working overtime to drag this country back to a time when non-marital sex was shameful, hidden, and punished with unwanted pregnancy. It’s bad enough that it wants to do that with its own believers, who are welcome to any private superstition they like. But it’s aggressively doing that to the rest of America as well, and our government is doing far too little to resist it.