Friday, February 10, 2012

Birth Control and Religious Freedom

The nation’s Catholic bishops and some other religious leaders are protesting the Obama administration’s determination that church operated schools, hospitals and charitable institutions that provide health insurance to their employees (most of whom are lay people) must include coverage for contraceptive pills and devices. They argue that religious institutions and those who operate them cannot be made to spend money for things that violate their religious beliefs.

Let’s be clear. Nothing in the law requires any person or institution to use or provide contraceptive services. All that is mandated is that employee health plans include coverage for them.

The principle that people cannot be made to pay for things they do not want for themselves and do not believe in could have broad ramifications. Residents of Texas must pay taxes that are used to carry out executions in capital cases. The federal government requires that we pay taxes that are used to support wars, even if we think war is morally wrong.

Now, you might argue that opposition to capital punishment or war is moral, not religious, in nature, and therefore the First Amendment protection for religious freedom doe not apply. However, conscientious objector status has been accorded to exempt persons from the draft if they oppose war on religious or deeply held moral grounds. So, if the bishops are correct, shouldn’t conscientious objectors be allowed to withhold that portion of their tax obligation that supports the military budget?

As for the death penalty, the Anglican and Episcopalian churches oppose it.

The bishops might argue that requiring persons to pay taxes is different from requiring them to buy health insurance. But don’t the bishops lobby to prevent federal tax dollars from going to support abortion?

These are some of the thorny issues that must be engaged as this fight between the bishops and their allies and the federal government plays out.

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