Michael Maiello's picture

    Freedom of Religion or Freedom From Laws?

    Your religion, should you choose to have one or choose to hang onto the one you were born with, is your own.  I will never take it away from you and would prefer that you not try to force it on me.  Our society, however, is not entirely your own or mine.  It is ours and we sometimes have to make rules for it.

    An Anonymous reader of TPM today wrote the site to complain about its coverage of regulations that require health plan providers to cover contraception the same way they cover other pharmaceuticals and medical devices.  There is, apparently, an exemption for churches and religious organizations who don't want to provide their employees with such coverage.  We've also seen this issue come up when the question of offering benefits to same sex spouses is raised.  Religious exemptions have also been raised in efforts to defang anti-bullying laws, with some religious adherents apparently worries that they might not be allowed to harass homosexuals who they believe are sinning.

    TPM's reader wants due consideration of his or her beliefs and wants these exemptions to be taken seriously, both by legislatures and lefty commentators.  If I could sit Anon down for a discussion, I think the only question I'd need to ask is, "on what grounds?"

    Society is yours and mine.  We both own it and are beholden to it.  If, as a society we decide that health coverage should cover contraception, that benefits extended to heterosexual married couples should be extended to same sex married couples or that we need stricter anti-harassment laws, these things should apply to everyone.  There is no grounds for a religious exemption that I can imagine.

    Religion is, after all, just a belief system.  We all have beliefs.  Many of mine are downright weird.  But let's start with Tea Partiers and Libertarians.  They believe fervently that the government has no right to mandate that they purchase health insurance.  Should they be exempted from the mandate?  I believe fervently that I should not have a higher effective tax rate than Mitt Romney for 2011.  Can I be exempted if my bill turns out to be higher?  I have some thoughts on marijuana laws, as well.  And also paying for wars.

    I think using the slippery slope is appropriate here.  There's no rational difference between a citizen being asked to be exempted from the requirement that they provide health insurance that covers contraception and a citizen asking to be exempted from marijuana laws on the basis that they disagree with them.

    We have to get over the idea that a belief is "special" just because it's religious.  The world is full of beliefs and groups that espouse them. Anon wants nothing more than special treatment.  Either extend it to everybody (and enjoy an ungovernable society) or don't extend it to anyone.



    While I take your point, there are special exemptions to the law—such as being a conscientious objector to serving in the military—that do have religious overtones. Not wanting to shoot at enemy soldiers is, of course, a long haul from wanting to deny others insurance coverage for contraceptives—but our legal system does treat certain religious beliefs as special.

    Your comment about being a conscientious objector made me do a little research. This was probably the best site I found: http://madhominem.wordpress.com/2011/01/06/atheism-and-conscientious-obj...

    Basically, you can theoretically be an atheist and be a conscientious objector, but your statement that it has "religious overtones" is still correct. It's much harder to prove that you're a conscientious objector if you're not a Christian, and especially if you're an atheist.

    I think there are still some places that are dry on Sundays, because of Christian religious ideals. I know that the convenience stores in PA hang tarps over their beer coolers on Sunday morning. When I was a kid, we had even more blue laws, whereby stores just weren't open on the Sabbath. Then small Mom & Pop stores were allowed to be open, and then the supermarkets opened with limited staff, then all hell broke loose devil and Sunday became another shopping day, though most places still don't open until 10 or 11 AM.

    Well, blue laws are an interesting topic here.  If the majority in my community thinks there should be a day without retail alcohol sales, well... that's that.  What the Catholics want is an exception to the law.  It would be like me saying, "The majority here wants to liquor sales on Sunday.  But since I believe that I should be allowed to buy cognac any day of the week, I demand an exemption."  The answer for me is not that I should get an exemption but that I should either work to change the local consensus or drive outside the country to get what I want.

    I was listening to Tom Sullivan's show last week and caught some discussion about this.  It's just too easy to explain why this concept of "religious freedom" doesn't work.

    Some Jehovah's Witnesses don't believe in blood transfusions.  What if a JW org wanted to start a hospital, like the Catholics operate all over the nation, but they want to refuse transfusions in their emergency room?  What if that ended up being the only ER in town?

    No one accepted this same argument when it was made by tax protesters during the Vietnam War.  It's very much like the Dr. Laura argument that her right to free speech was somehow violated because her private employer didn't want to pay her to talk like that anymore.  If organizations don't want to comply with federal employment law, they can get out of the employment business.

    The 1st Amendment protects one's belief from being manipulated by the government ... one is free to believe whatever one wishes. However, it seems the religious community has pushed the issue to include religious activity in the secular community. In short, a business running a hospital has to follow specific government policies and guide lines whereas a religious-based hospital is given a few free passes because of the 1st Amendment ... they get the skirt the law because of their religious beliefs.

    Once a religion steps beyond the church doors and out into the public, the 1st Amendment should no longer apply ... not everything a church does outside of their sanctuary is covered by the mantle of the 1st Amendment.

    While the 1st Amendment gives one the right to profess their beliefs in a manner of their choosing, it does not apply to their life activities in the secular world of other faiths.

    The TPM reader's remarks provide another example of people are all for making personal sacrifices for the common good as long as they are not personally required to make the sacrifice. 

    I believe fervently that I should not have a higher effective tax rate than Mitt Romney for 2011.  Can I be exempted if my bill turns out to be higher?

    This provides as good as any example of the slippery slope of which you speak.  This is what democracy is about.  I want a more fair tax system - then I need to get those elected officials who agree with me into office.  Until then, I need to keep abiding by the law.

    If I strongly object, I can choose the path of civil disobedience, which accepts the fact that there will most likely be consequences as a result of this action. 

    Anon wants nothing more than special treatment.  Either extend it to everybody (and enjoy an ungovernable society) or don't extend it to anyone.

    A governable society requires that the individual sacrifices something to ensure the ability to achieve something closer to the greater good.  The debate going forward (ad infinitum) is what is meant by the phrase "common good" and, if we can agree on that, how do we get there.  The conservatives, citing an increase in investments back into the country, believe the lower tax rate for the type of income Romney enjoys does lead to a greater benefit to the common good.  And so on and so on. 

    I think we can hold that a good portion of the country believes women should have access to contraception - that this improves the common good.  This belief may or may not be directly informed by one's religious beliefs - this is irrelevant. 

    If the Catholic Church wants to deny access, then they need to persuade the public this is wrong way not just for themselves for society as whole - that their way will add to the common good.

    Well put, destor. 

    "Speaking", I said, "as your attorney, when you live in a christian theocracy, it pays to be a christian church."

    The rational objections raised by our resident wrestler are obviated by the mandate of the first amendment.

    Turning to an area of personal interest, the marijuana example is made poignant by the Ayahuasca and Peyote exemptions from normal law enforcement granted the Native American Church and a Brazilian variant.

    Thus we venture into the thicket of distinguishing rules of general application to one's which directly impact sacramental substances.

    The arguments that D rightly brings to bear vis-a-vis Catholic medical or educational institutions militate as well against permitting a church per se to refuse to provide medical coverage for abortion services to the cleaning personnel.

    My solution, free peyote, free dmt, free medicine for all...(free beer & chicken, too...)

    When I was in the military, I objected to taking the flu shot because I was vegan and it was cultivated using chickens or eggs or whatever.

    I was told by the command chain all the way up that since 'vegan' isn't a religion, my complaint was invalid even though I held my belief system in a higher regard than any of my colleagues abusing their religious beliefs for privileges.

    Interesting.  And an excellent point.  Thanks!

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