By Mike Appleton, Guest Blogger
In Portrait of the Artist As A Young Man, Stephen Daedalus is asked by his friend Cranly whether, having forsaken Roman Catholicism, he will become a Protestant. “I said I had lost the faith,” he replied, “but not that I had lost selfrespect. What kind of liberation would that be to forsake an absurdity which is logical and coherent and to embrace one which is illogical and incoherent?”
But God works, as they say, in mysterious ways. A black man, accused of being secretly a Muslim, a socialist and an illegitimate pretender to the presidential throne, has accomplished what all of the post-Vatican II reconciliation committees and joint worship services and inter-faith conferences could not. Rev. Mike Huckabee has declared that Protestants will at last abandon illogic and incoherence. No longer will the Pope be called the Antichrist, nor Holy Mother Church the Whore of Rome. Once again, he says, we are all Catholics. My late Irish grandmother’s faith has been vindicated.
Christians have reunited under the banner of Richard “Coeur de Lion” Santorum to defeat apostasy and reclaim America for Christendom. The enemy this time? An HHS regulation requiring most health insurance plans to include FDA approved forms of contraception in coverage for preventive health services. There is, of course, an exception for churches, but not for religious institutions serving the general public. The outrage has been intense, widespread and misguided.
The newest crusade, like its historical predecessors, is largely fueled by the bad faith of its leaders and the ignorance of its foot soldiers. The President has graciously described the controversy as a difference of opinion between reasonable people, but his comments are undeservedly charitable. The argument that the requirement is an assault on religious freedom is legally frivolous. The suggestion that it raises serious questions under the Free Exercise Clause or the Religious Freedom Restoration Act is laughable, unless one is a graduate of the Michele Bachmann School of Constitutional Revisionism and Beauty Culture.
It has never been the law that the First Amendment exempts religion from all civil authority. The First Amendment “embraces two concepts,-freedom to believe and freedom to act. The first is absolute but, in the nature of things, the second cannot be.” Cantwell v. Connecticut, 310 U.S. 296, 303-304 (1940). Public policy demands have been found to trump freedom of religion in a number of contexts. The Mormon practice of polygamy was long ago held to be subordinate to criminal statutes. Reynolds v. United States, 98 U.S. 145 (1879). Jehovah Witnesses have been compelled to comply with child labor laws prohibiting the sale of printed materials on public streets by minors. Prince v. Massachusetts, 321 U.S. 158 (1944). Bob Jones University was unable to prevent the loss of its tax exempt status despite its religious convictions opposing interracial dating and marriage. Bob Jones University v. United States, 461 U.S. 574 (1983). And the courts have frequently ordered the provision of emergency medical care to minors over the religious objections of their parents.
The new regulation implements portions of the Affordable Care Act intended to expand the availability of preventive health services to women by requiring insurance companies to provide coverage for those services. Meeting the public health needs of millions of women pursuant to a grant of legislative authority surely fits any reasonable definition of a compelling governmental interest. And the impact on religious expression? None. Religious institutions are not required to change their moral views on contraception. No woman will be compelled to practice birth control.
But if the regulation does not raise constitutional issues, why all the fuss? The answer is that the reaction is a contrived and cynical political attack for election year consumption by Catholics and right-wing evangelicals. It is an effort to extend the notion of religious expression to include what are clearly non-ministerial functions. It is also part of an effort to further weaken the wall of separation between government and religion. Indeed, the position of the Catholic bishops reinforces my opposition to the entire faith-based initiatives program. How is it that a religious body can assert the propriety of accepting public tax dollars to support what it asserts to be a public function, such as operating a general hospital, and simultaneously insist that the operation of that same hospital is protected religious expression for all other purposes?
The government is obligated to respect the free exercise of religion. Religious bodies engaged in the operation of public facilities are obligated to respect the rights of all employees, including those having incompatible religious beliefs, and to comply with applicable laws. Once this has been made clear to all, Christians can return to warring among themselves.