Is it “war on women” or a fight for religious liberty?

This morning, NCPR begins several days of conversation with people in the North Country wrestling with moral and political questions surrounding social and family planning issues, as well as religious freedom.

We begin with an in-depth conversation with Bishop Terry LaValley, head of the Diocese of Ogdensburg, which you can hear here.

This issue sparks a lot of really thorny, tangled questions.

Is it fair, appropriate or constitutional for the Federal government to require faith groups to provide insurance coverage for care that some churches disapprove of, including contraception, vasectomies, and so-called “morning after” birth control pills?

Should existing state laws in New York be overturned?
Is it fair for faith groups to deny those insurance services to employees — including non-believers — thus denying them the right to make their own individual moral choices?

And what about the social services that faith groups provide, often with taxpayer support?  Should those be shaped by religious conviction, even when the services are provided to people of other faiths, or to people of no faith at all?

Do you feel that religion is “under attack” in America?  Or do you feel that religious groups are trying to shape laws that will force you to adopt their moral codes?

These are the questions that we’re exploring this week and I’m interested for your views.  This is difficult stuff, not exactly water cooler conversation.  So please chime in, but keep it thoughtful and civil and respectful.

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62 Comments on “Is it “war on women” or a fight for religious liberty?”

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  1. wj says:

    Brian wrote this and it is an accurate echo of what the church, Conservative activists and their Republican representatives say:

    “Is it fair, appropriate or constitutional for the Federal government to require faith groups to provide insurance coverage for care that some churches disapprove of, including contraception, vasectomies, and so-called “morning after” birth control pills?”

    But this wording is a gross misrepresentation of the Affordable Care Act and the accommodation reached by the White House.

    There is no part of the law (or the accommodation) that requires churches to provide insurance coverage of – or even provide access to – contraception or abortive drugs/procedures.

    Insurance companies are now required to cover this – at no cost to women or their employers.

    The bishop, the church and the political right are engaging in the worst kind of propaganda.

    I know, I know.. it’s what they do. But I’m sick of it. And it’s time to call them on it.

  2. Nodrog says:

    Is it any wonder that the number of practicing Catholics has dropped like a rock? The Catholic Church is so out of touch with modern thinking(and has been for decades)it surprises me they can’t seem to figure it out and change to attract more followers. I was born a Catholic and found the whole premise of it so hypocrytical I was done with it before I reached the age of 10. Let the Republicans and the church keep going full tilt in the direction they have chosen and the president will certainly be re-elected in November.

  3. dave says:

    It is both.

    The church is fighting for religious liberty so it can continue to wage war on women (and groups of people it disagrees with)

  4. Pete Klein says:

    Let’s look at it in perspective. Is it fair for religious leaders in Muslim countries to impose through the government Sharia law upon believers and non-believers alike?
    Was it fair for the US government to prevent Mormon men from having more than one wife?
    If the bishops and other religious conservatives had an ounce of honesty, they would need to admit they would like the government to impose all of their moral beliefs and codes on everyone and make every sin (according to them) a criminal offense.
    If the bishops want more “souls” to save, all they need to do is allow priests and nuns to marry and procreate like bunnies.

  5. War on women or fight for religious liberty? Why is this phrased like the two are mutually exclusive?

  6. War on women or fight for religious liberty? Incidentally, this is how the Taliban defines its struggle.

  7. Jim Bullard says:

    The role of religion is to guide our actions in the moral sphere. The limits of morality vary between religions. Because they don’t agree and the aim of our founders was liberty. “Religious liberty” means both the freedom to practice the religion of one’s choice and the freedom from having the beliefs of another imposed on one who does not follow that religion or for that matter one’s own religion.

    Even when religion is dealing with its own followers, its beliefs are something it should encourage and support its members to adhere to but it does not have the right, and should not aspire, to enforce compliance. Compliance to religious law that is devoid of sincerity is no guarantee of salvation if you read what the Bible says about it.

    The health care law is a social and governmental law designed to benefit society as a whole. No one is compelled under its provisions to access any health benefit that they do not personally agree with based on their religion but the choice must remain with the individual. What a religion decides to tolerate is a matter of defining membership. If the Catholic church wants to excommunicate all those members who have used birth control, they are free to do that. They are not free to deny them the choice.

  8. Terence says:

    Looking forward to the rest of the series this week! Here’s my take on the issue:

    Religion is not under attack in America. Hypocrisy and irrationality, however, are being called out. Many Americans are simply growing up — sometimes with painful nostalgia for the days of easy certainty — and realizing that no one gets a free pass any more just by saying “Because a supernatural being tells me so.”

    Imagine asking Santorum this question: “So, a supernatural being wants you to be president, and to pass legislation depriving women of control over their own reproductive systems, and to inform tens of thousands of same-sex couples that it (the supernatural being) is offended by their loving commitments to each other?” Or Gingrich. Or Romney.

    All respect to spirituality and a sense of wonder — but good riddance to all the rest of it!

  9. marcusaurelius says:

    The fact that the bishops have singled out issues like contraception while ignoring other issues deemed by the Vatican as sinful and contrary to Catholic doctrine, such as the pro-torture, preemptive war mongering positions of some GOP candidates, sure makes it look like a war on women.
    It seems incredible to say there is a war on religion when it has seemingly permeated every aspect of daily life. What happened to religion being a deeply personal relationship between an individual and God instead of a Super PAC and a policy agenda?

  10. marcusaurelius says:

    P.S. The tax free status that the IRS affords churches would hardly indicated that there is a war on religion.

  11. Paul says:

    Do you feel that religion is “under attack” in America? No.

    Or do you feel that religious groups are trying to shape laws that will force you to adopt their moral codes?


    This thing has gotten totally out of control.

  12. Peter Hahn says:

    this is neither (war on women or fight for religious freedom). Both of those are opposite spins. This an attempt by the Affordable Health Care Act to provide medical care for all Americans, and an attempt by the Catholic Church to maintain their no contraception under any circumstances doctrine.

  13. Peter says:

    In my understanding of faith, God gave humans free will – the will to choose how – and what – to believe. God’s hope, to the faithful, is that we will make the ‘right’ choices, essentially respecting – showing love to – each other, ourselves, and creation in general.
    It seems that Religion has evolved to – in many cases – attempt to take free will away from individuals and impose each denomination’s own interpretation of right and wrong. Examples of this can be seen from the Taliban to the Catholic Church to evangelical protestants to Judaism, Hinduism, even some Amish, etc. It doesn’t happen in all branches of all religion, but it seems that once Power mixes with faith, there’s going to be some abuse.
    I feel that while Religious Leaders (those wielding earthly power) are raising a stink about government taking “free will” away from their institutions, they are simultaneously depriving individual believers of free will. They should examine the huge splinter in their own eye before griping about the mote in Government’s eye.
    Once a religious organization becomes an employer, that organization should meet the requirements other employers must meet. Render unto Caesar that which is Caesar’s, as a certain preacher/rabbi/carpenter once reportedly said.
    In America religion is not under attack. Faith may be under attack, but not by Government, per se. Those who say it is should compare what’s happening here to what’s going on in places where religious practices are really crushed by the State. You’ll see that we – all those of all faiths – should count ourselves as blessed in our freedom of belief and worship.

  14. Paul says:

    The Affordable Care Act specifically deprives you of the ability to NOT have health insurance if you so choose.

    Personally, I am fine with this provision. But that is what it does.

    Pete, based on your comments don’t you think that the church should have the free will to choose to not do certain things?

  15. mervel says:

    All that needs to happen is that we follow the law which exempts religious institutions. All Churches are already exempt from this law if they so choose and that should be enforced consistently. But it is not enforced consistently; the state has now decided that IT knows what is Catholic or Christian or Religious and what is not, which is indeed a violation of the constitution.

    As far as the health of the Church goes, the Church is fine; there is no magic number a more devout smaller American Church is much preferable to a larger American Church where people go for social or traditional reasons and not because they actually have faith.

  16. Peter Hahn says:

    Paul – “The Affordable Care Act specifically deprives you of the ability to NOT have health insurance if you so choose.”

    Thats not really correct. The act deprives you of the ability to NOT PAY for health insurance if you so choose. You are still covered by everyone else through other means – you can still go to the emergency room and get treatment – that you also don’t have to pay for (although they send you a bill).

  17. oa says:

    Brian, why is “war on women” in quotes and “fight for religious liberty” not in quotes?

  18. TomL says:

    Why do women – including women who work for a business owned by the Catholic church – use birth control? Because they are not emotionally prepared to have children. Because they can’t afford to have a child. Because they have a very young child, and can’t physically, economically, or emotionally raise two at the same time. Because a pregnancy may risk the mother’s health and her life, and potentially leave her other children without a mother. Because a woman’s physician has prescribed birth control pills to alleviate irregular or absent menstrual periods, menstrual cramps, acne, PMS, endometriosis, for Polycystic Ovary Syndrome or other health problems

    Is it the employers business to know why his employees need particular medicine and health care? Should an employer get to pick and choose on medical coverage, and decide for others based on what he wouldn’t choose (or wouldn’t need) for himself. In my mind, this is about basic fairness to employees. If you are going to hire employees – even if you are a church – you provide all of the benefits that they are legally entitled to. You can preach at the pulpit all you want for your church members to skip the benefit, but your HR department must provide employees the compensation and coverage they are entitled to by law if they want it.

  19. Paul says:

    “The act deprives you of the ability to NOT PAY for health insurance if you so choose.”

    Peter, help me out I don’t follow this.

  20. Peter Hahn says:

    Paul – its a slight stretch of definitions. But… today, if you need health care and haven’t paid for health care insurance, you will still get treatment. You will get billed for it, but you probably won’t be able to pay. Most people don’t pay in that circumstance. This is a form of self-insurance and its absolutely free. If the amount is small enough to pay for out of pocket, you pay. If its too much, you declare bankruptcy, and everybody else pays.

  21. Terence says:

    @Mervel: “As far as the health of the Church goes, the Church is fine; there is no magic number a more devout smaller American Church is much preferable to a larger American Church where people go for social or traditional reasons and not because they actually have faith.”

    Right. Imagine the nerve of some people — attending church for any reason other than wild-eyed enthusiasm for irrational doctrines! I also agree, obviously, that anyone who fails to meet your own definition of a good Catholic is therefore faithless. You tell ’em, Mervel! I hope you and that *extremely small* group of True Mervel Believers have a lovely time on Sundays, reassuring each other that you’re the true faithful. You can be like the kids who don’t get invited to the prom, and who spend their lonely night trying to convince themselves that it means they’re really popular. Just in a magical, mysterious way that no one else understands. Just hope they don’t turn on you one day…

  22. Paul says:

    Peter, I follow that but it is not exactly a “choice”. Besides that is only for emergency care. Try showing up at the emergency room for chemotherapy or open heart surgery. Look like I said I agree with the mandate but I think you are fooling yourself if you think that it isn’t mandating you to do something that you did not have to do prior to that part of the act going into effect. Sure you may have had the same level of care but it was done a different way.

    I hate to say it (and I can’t wait for the onslaught when I do) but for this discussion you really need to detach it from all the emotional baggage to make sound judgments. Just like the court will have to deal when ruling on the mandate we discuss above you have to kind of get into your Mr. Spok zone and try and think logically.

  23. Paul says:

    Terence, Mervel didn’t say anything in that comment about his personal beliefs or practices??? He could have been talking totally in the abstract.

  24. Peter Hahn says:

    Paul – I think if you show up now needing chemotherapy or open heart surgery you will get it. Thats the problem (sort of). You probably won’t get all the follow up care that you might have gotten, and you certainly wound get routine preventative care.

    But to your main point – yes you will be forced to obtain health insurance – although not necessarily to pay for it all.

  25. Terence says:

    Sorry, Paul: I think you missed Mervel’s actual arguments of “devout = better” and “who cares how small the Church gets, as long as it’s devout”. Read his post again, and compare it to others from the past. Arguments about actual people and their actual reasons for going to church are not abstract. Most of the problem in this debate is that the church authorities make abstract pronouncements about how we should live, without paying attention to what we actually believe and do.

  26. Pete Klein says:

    Anyone here objecting to paying for health insurance want to start complaining about the law requiring you to have auto insurance?
    Oh, I know. You don’t need auto insurance if you don’t own a car but borrow or steal someone else’s car.
    But getting back to the bishops, cardinals and popes and a comment above that rightly pointed out how they are still living in the distant past. If you want proof, just look at the silly clothes they wear.
    I don’t recall Jesus dressing in expensive robes. He wore the work clothes of his day. And it wasn’t him who made a big deal out of sex. It was Paul who usurped Peter as the head of the Church.

  27. Paul says:

    “Most of the problem in this debate is that the church authorities make abstract pronouncements about how we should live, without paying attention to what we actually believe and do.”

    This is no big surprise. That is how it works. Having grown up as a Catholic what I learned is that the church doctrine determines what we as Catholics should strive for. The church doctrine is not based on how I prefer to live or what I actually do. It is top down not bottom up. In this country we have traditionally given any religion the freedom to make sure they can operate in this way even if we don’t like it or some of it’s outcomes. The question here is how does it affect everyone else, and if it does so in a negative way is there a way to prevent that and still allow the church to have that freedom.

  28. Paul says:

    “Anyone here objecting to paying for health insurance want to start complaining about the law requiring you to have auto insurance?”

    No objection just curious how this will play out in the court. When making these decisions you should always turn it on its head and consider the ramifications for when the government mandates you to do something that you don’t think is a good idea just because you are a citizen of the country. There is always more than one good way to solve a problem. In my opinion you always want to steer toward the solution that allows you the most amount of freedom while still getting the job done. Is stripping you of this small amount of freedom the only way to make sure that everyone is insured or receives health care? Maybe.

  29. SirLeland says:

    It is NOT an attack on Religious Freedom. Can we PLEASE dispel this GOP talking point now? You’re still permitted to preach and believe and practice whatever you want. The Church is SEPERATE from the law, and when the law dictates something different from what your religion happens to be or teaches, that is not at attack on your religion. That is a secular law. Nothing to do with your religion. You know, in the 1880s it was “religious freedom” for the LDS to practice polygamy. Then Utah endeavored to become a state. When they were told by the government that polygamy was illegal by law, then the Mormons decided, “well…we’re not married to the idea” They weren’t too keen on Black people either until the 1970s I would add. Same with the Catholics, if you recall. Used to be you couldn’t eat meat on ANY Friday, not just during Lent. Then a Pope proclaims, “well, we’re not so married to the idea”. The Patient Protection and Affordability Act is yet another progression in our society and governance. If you don’t agree with it on religious grounds, then I sugget you do what your own church and the LDS has done once more time and time again. Become unmarried again. One other thing…is it just me, or am I missing the clause in the Patient Protection and Affordability Act where it states categorically and in no uncertain terms that Catholics are mandated to exercise contraception? I’m reading it now, and golly, I just can’t seem to find that one in there anywhere.

  30. mervel says:

    It comes down to forcing someone to pay for something that is against their beliefs. The Catholic Church cannot tell people what to do, it is a voluntary private organization. If you voluntarily want to be part of the Catholic Church by working for it; you might not expect it to pay for things it finds wrong. YOU can pay for them, but if you desire an abortion using the morning after pill it is totally irrational to expect the Catholic Church to pay for an abortion which is what this law does.

  31. mervel says:

    If I were the Church officials I would not offer any health insurance, problem solved. Simply increase the employees pay by the amount of the employer contribution and let them buy their own.

  32. Paul says:

    Mervel, you could do that but I suspect that the church (despite its recent beating on this topic) cares about the welfare of their employees and they understand that they can receive far better care if they purchase the insurance as a group than as an individual.

    If we are all entitled to these services why doesn’t the government just give them away for free? Why use the church as a middleman and put them in this position?

  33. Gary says:

    Ok While we’re on the subject of paying for things we don’t personally use,
    Can someone explain to to me why a single person pays more in taxes than a person with children, as well as having to pay school taxes for other peoples children to go to school ??

    I don’t mind paying my school taxes, but it bug me when I’ve worked side by side with folks who have kids, and their Take home paychecks are larger than mine and then when it come to tax time they get a relatively huge return, while I’m lucky to get any.
    It seems to me in these times of limited resources , that we shouldn’t be rewarding people for personally trying to populate the world, while there are others paying for it.
    I know I’m just being selfish, but to me what’s the difference between my gripe and the churches ?? PS . I pay taxes and not the Romney kind :)

  34. JDM says:

    Brian: we have some mosques in our area.

    Be sure to find an Emam or two, and ask them how they view the Federal Government’s role in dictating such choices.

  35. Richard Leonard says:

    Is the bishops’ phoney religious liberty campaign a back door effort to enforce Humanae Vitae on not only Catholics but also a much larger segment of the American population? Humanae Vitae strongly condemned contraception and was even more resoundinfly rejected by the laity to the extent that Paul never issued another encyclical.

    The Catholic hierarchy is a unique caste of celebate males who have absolved themselves of the responsibilities of parenthood, which invalidates their claim of moral authority over the reproductive practices of the Catholic laity and, indeed, all humanity in accordance with papal ideology.

    In November 2002, Cardinal Ratzinger, head of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith issued a Doctrinal Note on Participation of Catholics in Political Life, which, in sum, requires Catholic politicians to comply with Catholic (papal) social teachings, regardless of the circumstances in which they live and work. I suspect Santorum would adhere closely to this direction. Forunately, there are those who do not.

  36. Mervel says:

    JDM this is a Catholic site didn’t you know that.

    Actually there are numerous other faiths that are opposed to this law, its not just a Catholic issue.

  37. TomL says:

    Mervel, JDM, you should be aware that most versions of Islam have no problem with contraception. The government of Iran provides it as part of the national health care. It’s available over the counter in pharmacies in Saudi Arabia, apparently. There are, no doubt, anti-contraception fringes in Islam, but on the whole it is apparently not an issue.

  38. JDM says:

    TomL: That doesn’t mean that they may or may not have a view on Federal Government intrusion into the practice of their religion. That is the issue, and it will have consequences that could affect them.

    Ask them. See if they want the Federal Government telling them what they have to do in their mosques.

  39. oa says:

    JDM, the local NYC government is able to spy on Muslims with impunity, and doesn’t care what they think. So that answers your question.

  40. Liann says:

    All religion in America is voluntary. Employees who work for a religious organization are under no compulsion to obey the tenets of that religion. Religious freedom means employees do not have to convert to their employer’s religion. There is NO COMPULSORY RELIGION in America, and there never will be. Women whose religious beliefs allow birth control cannot be bullied by employers to waive a medical benefit of their health insurance. There is no freedom of bully-religion in America. If catholics want women to waive birth control, they have to ask nicely, and accept whatever answer they get back.

  41. JDM says:

    oa: what question are you answering?

    I made this “statement” to Brian Mann: “Be sure to find an Emam or two, and ask them how they view the Federal Government’s role in dictating such choices.”

    This issue will affect them.

  42. erb says:

    “I can’t sell contraceptives.”
    “Because God says so.”
    “Well, my God says to tell your God that She’s changin’ the rules. From now on, men have the babies, clean the house, and get paid less than women. Oh, and by the way, have you heard about polyandry?”

    It could happen.

  43. Frankie J. says:

    It is one thing for churches and religious organizations in this nation to be non-taxable entities.

    However it is quite another animal when these same churches and religious organizations gladly and open-handedly receive tax payer dollars.

    When any church gives up raking in Federal tax dollars (not that tax exempt status), then perhaps I will agree that they can dictate to their employees what will be terms of employment, even if it means making employees convert to that faith in order to keep employed. Otherwise, they should come under the same secular laws as every other employer in this nation.

    As a previous writer has said, “render unto Caeser what is Caesars’ and unto God what is Gods.”

  44. JDM says:

    The concept of “tax exempt” refers to the “greater” and “lesser”.

    The “greater” taxes the “lesser”.

    In the case of church and state, there is no “greater” and “lesser”, so one does not tax the other.

  45. JDM says:

    The concept of “greater” and “lesser” is exactly what is at issue, here.

    The media would like to focus on the trivial matter that brought this issue to light.

    Obama wants to make the government the “greater” and therefore, govern the religious institutions.

    The religious organizations, from Catholic to Muslim, should see this, and some do, as a power grab, and refuse to let Obama succeed.

    Obama is simply wrong.

  46. mervel says:

    Employees who work for a Christian organization indeed can be required to support the values of that organization. The choice is about who you choose to work for; the Church has the right to follow its teachings. Which would mean for Catholics, never to be part of what it teaches is an “intrinsic evil” an abortion which can be caused by the morning after pill.

    It is nuts for the government to force churches to pay for abortions, and that is what this is about, period. It is not complex unless you want to make it complex.

    Of course individuals can choose to do anything they want, but that choice also applies to the Church, which can never be part of an abortion.

  47. mervel says:

    The best case made against the Church stance is that these institutions accept government money, I understand that logic. However, that is not the logic of this law, the law says we the government will decide if you are Christian or Catholic “enough” to get a religious exemption and it has noting to do with government funding. If you happen to serve everyone then you are not under our definition enough of a Christian or Catholic to be defined that way. It is a true intrusion into religious liberty, it is close to the government deciding on ‘acceptable’ churches or not.

  48. knuckleheadedliberal says:

    Bill Moyers points out that Barak Obama’s first work as a community organizer was funded by the Catholic Church.

  49. knuckleheadedliberal says:

    JDM, by your logic AARP, ACLU, NRA, and WWF (not the wrestlers) stand as co-equals with the Catholic Church and US government.

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