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Religious Freedom?

Since when does religious freedom equal the freedom for religions to control the lives of people, even people who don’t believe in their religion? Religious freedom is the freedom for people (not corporations as people, not churches as people, but real people) to practice whatever religion they please, without interference from the government. So how does it make sense for a religion to scream when they are not allowed to infringe on people’s freedom?

The health care reform law, already passed by Congress, requires health insurance policies provided by employers to completely cover preventative care, which includes birth control. This was not particularly controversial. Even before health care reform, a majority of states (28, including the home states of both Romney and Gingrich) had laws or regulations requiring the same thing, and I didn’t hear anyone screaming that they were waging war on the Catholic Church.

In fact, the new federal rules went a step further and exempted all churches, missions, or other places of worship that are opposed to birth control (while eight of those 28 states had no exemption for religious organizations of any kind).

Personally, I think even that exemption is silly. The sad truth is that churches own a lot of businesses, and those businesses employ a lot of people who do not belong to that church. Is every doctor, nurse, x-ray technician, and janitor who works in a Catholic hospital a Catholic? Of course not. But Catholic leaders are insisting that they (suddenly) be allowed to deny coverage for birth control to non-Catholics?

What’s next, allowing the Rastafarian church to sell ganja (marijuana) on the street? If not, then why would we exempt the Catholic church from following the law?

Note that the new rule does not require Catholic hospitals or clinics to provide birth control. And just because insurance policies offer contraception for free doesn’t mean that you are forcing anyone — Catholic or not — to use it. You are just giving people the freedom to choose what they believe and do. Why should the Catholic church be able to deny access to anyone for free birth control (even if they are Catholic, but especially if they are not)?

What makes this doubly ironic is surveys have shown that the vast majority of even Catholic women (greater than 97%) have used some form of birth control during their lives, even though the Catholic church says that using birth control is a sin. Not only that, but 60% of Catholics say that insurance should cover access to birth control (the numbers are even higher for non-Catholics).

And what pisses me off about this is that over half (58%) of women who use birth control do so for other health reasons, including reducing the risk of ovarian cancer, treating fibroid tumors and anemia. Not to mention that some forms of birth control (like condoms) reduce the chance of getting or spreading STDs (including AIDS). Does the Catholic church give a damn about women’s health?

I’ve also heard the argument that Catholic churches shouldn’t have to pay for someone to use contraception, but amazingly even this argument is completely false. Studies have shown that providing free birth control does not increase health care premiums or costs, it reduces them. The cost of birth control is far smaller than the health care costs for a pregnancy (not to mention the expense of raising a — possibly unwanted — child).

Or even more ironic, the cost of birth control is less than paying for an abortion. The simple truth is that if you stop providing birth control, not only will the cost of providing health care go up, but the number of abortions will increase. Even when abortion was illegal, this was true. Is that what Catholic churches want?

So now Obama has compromised, but I think in this case he did it brilliantly. Instead of requiring churches to provide insurance that pays for free birth control, he will now require insurance companies to pay for birth control, but only to customers who specifically request it. Churches don’t have to pay for birth control, and it actually saves money for insurance companies. Nobody is forced to use birth control, but it is there if someone asks for it.

Many Catholic leaders are happy with the compromise, including the head of the US Conference of Catholic Bishops (who were were one of the main groups fighting the new rule), and the head of the Catholic Health Association. The president of the University of Notre Dame applauded “the willingness of the administration to work with religious organizations to find a solution acceptable to all parties.”

So will the Republicans stop trying to make this into a campaign issue?

Hah. Rick Santorum, who has previously declared that all birth control should be illegal, said “This is a war of government trying to use its power to force you to do things.” Newt Gingrich dismissed Obama’s compromise, saying “I, frankly, don’t care what deal he tries to cut.” Mitt Romney called it a “deception” and the Heritage Foundation declared it an “accounting trick”.

What unmitigated BS.



  1. Jimbo wrote:

    Let me get this straight ….. 98% of catholic women use birth control and practice safe sex and a bunch of catholic bishops who are male, celibate, unmarried, do not have children and are not medical professionals decide that they know what’s best for women’s reproductive health care based on what they read in the bible???? Amazing!

    Friday, February 10, 2012 at 8:37 pm | Permalink
  2. Dan wrote:

    Jimbo, uhm, do you think the rest of religious preaching is any different..?

    Friday, February 10, 2012 at 9:39 pm | Permalink
  3. john jenkins wrote:

    “Religious freedom is the freedom for people (not corporations as people, not churches as people, but real people) to practice whatever religion they please, without interference from the government.” People are still free to do whatever they want. The Church does not want to pay for and facilitate acts it deems sinful. Doesn’t seem so unreasonable to me, what with the whole central mission of conversion, respect for life and whatnot. Is it worse to frame an insurance policy so that it doesnt cover procedures a certain private institution opposes or to offend 60 million potential voters in an election year? Easy decision, good compromise. I’d say it actually preserves religious freedom seeing as the Catholic Church is indeed a religion.

    Saturday, February 11, 2012 at 12:29 am | Permalink
  4. The sooner people stop listening to the things politicians say, the sooner we can get back to solving actual problems.

    Saturday, February 11, 2012 at 5:43 am | Permalink
  5. TENTHIRTYTWO wrote:

    The Catholic Church is not a religion. Catholicism is a religion. I think more accurately it is a sect of a religion but I digress. The Catholic Church is an entity more powerful and more rich than probably any corporation, and possibly even any government, on the planet.

    Exactly what acts does the church not want to facilitate because it deems them sinful? Intercourse without the purpose of reproduction? That is what birth control does. It stops the pregnant. It doesn’t stop the intercourse. In fact, that’s precisely why these laws are being implemented. Additionally ironic that it would likely reduce the abortion rate, which is a nail they’ve been trying to hammer down for years.

    My wife and I used birth control for years after marriage because we were not ready to have a child. Were we sinning? If they really believe that, that is fine. More power to them. But I want to see THAT plastered all over the news. I want to see all these Catholic organizations come out and say, “sorry folks, but even if you are married, if you have sex without trying to pop out a kid, you are sinning.” Let’s just see how many Americans rally behind that message, that making love to your spouse is evil.

    Saturday, February 11, 2012 at 7:01 am | Permalink
  6. ebdoug wrote:

    Jimbo used the word “celibate”. I suppose some priests are celibate.

    Saturday, February 11, 2012 at 7:18 am | Permalink
  7. Dan wrote:

    @John, “The Church does not want to pay for and facilitate acts it deems sinful.” Does that mean that it doesn’t pay in cash, in case you spend it on something they believe is sinful?

    As someone pointed out, the Catholic Church has no right to impose its beliefs over that of the state. Religious freedom is at the level of the individual and not at the level of some nebulous religious group.

    When it finds itself in opposition to rights, it should stick to preaching and leave coercion to the state.

    Saturday, February 11, 2012 at 8:09 am | Permalink
  8. Iron Knee wrote:

    1032, Santorum has said, repeatedly, that he wants contraception to be illegal, even for married couples. And he as publicly vowed to make the issue “front and center” if he is elected president.

    And yet, he has won more Republican primaries/caucuses than any other candidate. It is nuts.

    I wonder two things — first, how many people voting for Santorum actually know that he opposes birth control, and second, how many of those voters have themselves used birth control.

    Saturday, February 11, 2012 at 9:58 am | Permalink
  9. PATRIOTSGT wrote:

    Sorry, I don’t buy this argument. The currrent arrangement produced by the religious entity knnown as the Catholic church has been working suffeciently with no interference from the government. It wasn’t broke. People decided on their own if they wanted contraception or not. Why does the government feel it needs to change the rules now? Simple to me, it wants to impose its version of how it thinks things should be. Sure there are those that believe the the government is within its right, I don’t know their motivations maybe political, maybe philosophical, maybe good intentions. My point is, it wasn’t broke before as evidenced by the 97% use of contraception by self identified catholics, why do those in charge think they need to change the rules?

    That being said, I think Obama made the right choice in tweaking the rule.
    Another thing, this healthcare law at last esitmates has some 1300-1500 “exemptions” issued by the administration, why are we not opposed to all of them?

    Lastly,Dan said “Catholic Church has no right to impose its beliefs over that of the state”. If the church or religion has no right to impose it’s beliefs what do you think about sharia law? Here’s a good look at not nly sharia but other religious laws tolerated in our country.

    I belong to a local “Jewish Community Center” near my home. They have a gym, pool, all kinds of activities and they invite anyone, Jew or not, to join. They have some special circumstances such as the facility closes early on friday and mostly closed on Saturday. Their beliefs on keeping the sabbath holy. But we none Jews need to abide by those rules even if Saturday would be a great day to visit the pool. Should the government come in and order them to open? No, and few of us would support them doing so. Take Kosher foods for another example, schools and the military need to provide kosher meals, at their expense, to support the rights of Jewish participants. Why no outrage?
    I’d say look at your own political motivations, take the politics out of it and re-ask the questions. Look around at all the other accomodations made to religions then ask why does the government need to be involved.

    Saturday, February 11, 2012 at 10:31 am | Permalink
  10. Iron Knee wrote:

    PSgt, the current arrangement was that the Catholic Church had to provide health insurance that covered birth control, at least in 28 states (my guess is that they probably did it in other states as well).

    And I don’t get it, was someone proposing Sharia Law in this country?

    Saturday, February 11, 2012 at 12:01 pm | Permalink
  11. Dan wrote:

    SPgt, As the article you link to says, “Catholics learned to embrace on their own distinct terms the nation’s commitment to democracy, human rights, religious freedom, and rule of law.” — not the other way around. Mormons backtracked on polygamy, and then on equal rights for blacks when that was necessary.

    This is another moment when the Catholic church needs to adjust.

    About the Jewish Community Center: “But we none Jews need to abide by those rules even if Saturday would be a great day to visit the pool. Should the government come in and order them to open?” — that is clearly a red herring, because there are no rights about forcing pools to open on Saturdays. If the practices of a religion DO clash with state-granted rights, then the church should back off.

    The question is whether you can use religion to excuse yourself from the law. The answer is “no.”

    Saturday, February 11, 2012 at 2:40 pm | Permalink
  12. PATRIOTSGT wrote:

    I get your point Dan. What I am trying to say is the Government should not be trying to decide what is best for a church or its believers. If those believers happen to also be employees the same holds. The effected participants still have to decide for themselves, no one is forbidden under the churches plan from seeking any treatment including contraception. Meaning there is no consequence save the damning of their soul from the pulpit to stop them. As long as the rule or liberty does not harm then it is not the business of the government.

    And your correct on the various religions aquiescing to evolving norms within our society, but it was their decision.

    Finally, on this point “whether you can use religion to excuse yourself from the law. The answer is “no.”
    Thats not quite true. Federal and state discrimination laws demand that religious beliefs be accomodated. For instance, if a pharmacist does not believe in contraception and requests that accomodation from his employer, they are not required to fill an Rx for birth control pills. There a many similar “exemptions” based on religious beliefs accomodated in the law. Why is this one different.

    Sunday, February 12, 2012 at 7:56 am | Permalink
  13. TENTHIRTYTWO wrote:

    Can you kindly give a source for your last point about the pharmacist not being required to fill a prescription? Especially at a federal level.

    In a brief bout of googling, this appears to be on a state by state basis, with some states requiring that you fill the prescription if it is available, and others allowing the pharmacist to not fill the order. But the ones that allow him to not fill the order also require someone else at the place to fill it.

    In other words, the rights of the individual with respect to religion are respected. But the right of the OTHER individual (the purchaser) are also respected. Because the purchaser has no right to have their prescription filled by some specific person.

    Regardless, as I said, there are some states that already require the pharmacist to fill the prescription in spite of his or her particular belief structure. So, why are those states different? Why wasn’t there such a brouhaha about it in the past like there is with this?

    Because this is Obama, and when Obama isn’t being a lazy, good-for-nothing, golfing slacker, he’s busy being a crafty, evil mastermind who is planning on destroying capitalism and Christianity in America. And it just so happens that this story fits in with the rightwing’s second demonization of him, hence why the story exploded.

    Sunday, February 12, 2012 at 8:53 am | Permalink
  14. PATRIOTSGT wrote:

    The origianl source I used explains the practical application and is below.

    The law under the EEOC is:

    And you are exactly coorect that the law protects both sides when it comes to religious beliefs, the do and the not to do.

    Can you provide a source for your statement “there are some states that already require the pharmacist to fill the prescription in spite of his or her particular belief structure”, because that would clearly be a violation of federal law as I read it.

    Sunday, February 12, 2012 at 10:23 am | Permalink
  15. Michael wrote:

    Re 1032@5 (“But I want to see THAT plastered all over the news. I want to see all these Catholic organizations come out and say, ‘sorry folks, but even if you are married, if you have sex without trying to pop out a kid, you are sinning.'”): See The Catholic Church’s prohibition of artificial birth control even for married couples is nothing new. So these organizations have been saying that, in essence, for about 45 years. The exception, though, is that “natural” family planning (i.e., the rhythm method) is allowed.

    Re the idea of “the Church does not want to pay for and facilitate acts it deems sinful,” it is very, very important to understand what is actually going on here. This policy does not apply to primarily religious organizations. Rather it applies to religious-affiliated institutions that primarily have a secular purpose. For instance, when my wife gave birth at a Catholic-affiliated hospital, the main function of that hospital was to provide a secular service. Almost every person involved in providing us this service was not Catholic. I know this, because my wife was also an employee there and we knew a lot of them personally.

    Let’s be clear, here. This policy is simply about limiting the power of employers over their employees. Neither my wife nor I are Catholic. So why should her employer have the power to force our insurance provider to not cover legitimate and legal medical costs? Because that’s what birth control pills are. They require a prescription. They are medicine. Should employers be able to restrict employees’ access to legal and legitimate medical care, even indirectly? For instance, should the Christian Science Monitor be granted an exception that lets them refuse to offer coverage of any medical procedure? The CSM serves primarily a secular purpose and mostly employees people who are not Christian Scientists. However, it is owned by the publishing arm of that Church.

    Re P@9, your analogy is wrong. Letting employers force their religious morality on employees, even indirectly, would be more akin to Patriotsgt’s Jewish Community Center refusing to allow its employees from bringing non-Kosher foods into the building. In such a case, the JCC isn’t directly prohibiting non-Jewish employees from eating non-Kosher foods, but they are creating an undue burden. The employee either needs to follow the employer’s religious doctrine or pay extra money to buy lunch out somewhere.

    Sunday, February 12, 2012 at 12:59 pm | Permalink
  16. PATRIOTSGT wrote:

    I get the comply with law piece. I get the 28 states piece. What I don’t get is there are between 1300 and 1400 waivers and exemptions issued by HSS and the administration. If the point of the arugment from this post and the next is everyone must comply, then why is the church’s objection to just one part of the bill so objectionable. OK, perhaps they should have just quietly asked for a waiver, donated money to the party that grants waivers and gone on their merry way. Holy cow, there are unions, states other healthcare insurers, smaller companies, larger companies all who have requested and recieved waivers or exemptions. So is the gov’t trying to “pick on” this particular group or what. If we want to be fair them there should be no waivers or anyone can have a waiver. Again, we’re picking winners and losers.

    I understand the point also that you don’t want employers telling employees what they can or cannot have. But employers and government sort of do that anyway with everything from wages, where you work, if they send you to a class thats 54 miles away vs 55 you get reimbursed. I understand also that some believe all insurance should be the same, for everyone. Then on the other side I see it as an incentive to work for company x vs company y who offers something different. I also understand people think healthcare is a right, but it’s not. People think driving a car is a right, but its not its a priviledge.

    I just don’t see the fairness or equity when some groups get waivers, some groups don’t. Some things are waiverable to some, but not to others. Is there another solution? Should the government provide free contraception and abortion pills in its new insurance for those plans that don’t? If all the government forces employers to quit providing insurance with excess requirements and gets its single payer gov run healthcare they’ll have to do it anyway.

    Sunday, February 12, 2012 at 2:10 pm | Permalink
  17. TENTHIRTYTWO wrote:

    I’m not sure about the links you posted.

    The first is not a federal statute, but instead a blog about California. You’d have to read a tiny part of section 3 to come away with a conclusion that this supports your statement. Instead, read the whole thing. Or, read the topic sentence of section 3: “Employers do not have to tolerate business disruptions.”

    The second is the generic religious discrimination dealio. But again, you do not have absolute power over your employer. Employers are required to give you reasonable accomodation… ie you need 5 minutes every day for a prayer. But employers are not required to allow you to refuse to do your job. Being in the computer industry, I could not come in and say that I have found a new religion which demands that I not touch a keyboard or mouse, or read a computer monitor, but I still expect to remain employed in my current position at my current salary.

    I’m making this distinction for a reason…the legislation we are talking about has nothing to do with requiring a person to do something. It has to do with requiring ENTITIES to perform functions. It really has nothing to do with religious discrimination.

    As a side note, I find this to be a really slippery slope. If a pharmacist can refuse to dispense BC for religious/moral reasons, I can see quite similar arguments that could be made to allow them to not dispense medications for STDs, including HIV/AIDS. But, I’m not the one crafting the legislation.

    As for my source,

    “New Jersey’s law (effective November 2007), prohibits pharmacists for refusing to fill prescriptions solely on moral, religious or ethical grounds.”

    Sunday, February 12, 2012 at 3:43 pm | Permalink
  18. Michael wrote:

    @P, I’m curious where this statistic of 1300-1400 waivers and exemptions comes from. From what I have seen, the only waivers have been temporary waivers aimed at groups that might immediately drop coverage until the law goes into full effect. For instance, fast food restaurants that currently offer really crappy insurance for part-time workers are getting waivers so they don’t drop that benefit right now to save money until they’re required to offer better coverage. In the long-run (about 5 years from now), those exemptions go away. I have not seen examples of permanent waivers and exemptions, but I haven’t looked closely. So I don’t see any evidence that this is about “picking on” the Catholic Church, because the Church is the one raising the issue.

    As for the claim that employers tell employees what they can or cannot do, your examples are (in order) non sequitur, red herring, irrelevant. Employers do not dictate specific actions through wages, so that does not follow from the discussion. Employers do not control, except on a very gross scale, where one works. Employers have absolutely no say in whether you live in this neighborhood or across town. So that’s a red herring. Getting reimbursed for travel…you’re talking about performing job duties. That has nothing to do with the employer dictating whether or not an employee does legal activities in their personal time. Irrelevant.

    And, again, let’s not get too far off topic. We are talking about health care. Employers should have no say in what legal and legitimate medical care employees receive.

    Sunday, February 12, 2012 at 4:42 pm | Permalink
  19. Michael wrote:

    1032, spot on.

    Sunday, February 12, 2012 at 4:44 pm | Permalink
  20. Iron Knee wrote:

    Not to belabor this, but I think the whole thing would be solved if you removed the tax exempt status from secular businesses owned by churches. Personally, I think such favoritism is unconstitutional, since it allows the IRS to decide what religions are acceptable and give them money (tax breaks), which violates the establishment clause.

    Sunday, February 12, 2012 at 8:48 pm | Permalink
  21. drew wrote:

    Curious if you have a source for this statement:

    And what pisses me off about this is that over half (58%) of women who use birth control do so for other health reasons, including reducing the risk of ovarian cancer, treating fibroid tumors and anemia. Not to mention that some forms of birth control (like condoms) reduce the chance of getting or spreading STDs (including AIDS). Does the Catholic church give a damn about women’s health?

    I don’t doubt that it’s accurate, but I’d like like to see what those numbers actually describe.

    Tuesday, February 14, 2012 at 12:43 pm | Permalink
  22. Iron Knee wrote:

    Drew, the source is in the article.,0,1701470.column

    To make it absolutely clear, those 58% who use birth control for other reasons, some of them are also using it to avoid pregnancy. But the point here is that there are legit health reasons to take the pill beyond avoiding pregnancy. Not to mention that avoiding pregnancy is also a legit health reason.

    Tuesday, February 14, 2012 at 1:44 pm | Permalink

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