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. Paul says:

    Mervel, I agree to some extent but the law “or as you say the goverenmnet” has to have a definition of what a “religious exemption” is. Otherwise we all (instead of the law) can just decide for ourselves. If that were the case “I” am a religious organization and “I” am no longer required to pay taxes! The law has to “decide” not the individual or organization. That is why we are having the discussion.

  2. Just wondering: why is there such a huge percentage of male respondees? Where are the women? Perhaps they don’t have time to respond as they are busy working in and out of their homes, tending children and/or aging parents, volunteering in the community and any of a number of other chores traditionally viewed as ‘women’s work.’

  3. mervel says:

    Knuckle, certainly true, the Catholic Church has supported and does support many of the sorts of initiatives that Barak Obama has supported in his career and life work.

    I think this issue is now being hijacked by the political process. To me it is simply a technical issue relating to a specific point of being free as a religious faith. It is not a right wing or left wing issue, it is not an “attack” on religion by the bad government. I think it is simply a bad law in this case.

    The Catholic Church supports universal health care! I think Obama realizes that; there will eventually be a compromise and we are already on the road to one now, but being a political year it probably will not happen this year.

  4. mervel says:

    Paul I agree.

    But when you have an institution that says we are Catholic, that has it in its by-laws that it is a Catholic institution, that was founded by the Catholic Church, that was founded to do works of charity as part of the Christian mission of the Catholic Church,and has every employee sign a statement saying they will respect the Bishop as the leader of the institution and not in an organizational capacity(not personal) contradict Catholic moral and ethical teachings (as they do at Catholic Charities); and that the Bishop is the head of governing board; I don’t know seems like a reach to claim that it is not a Catholic institution?

  5. anonymous says:

    This argument has never been about ACCESS to, or DENIAL of services. It is about who will PAY for the service(s).
    Catholic leaders feel unfairly pressured into PAYING for services and products that violate their religious beliefs.
    These services and products are LEGAL in the U.S., and are likely to remain so, regardless of who the payer is.
    No one should be forced to pay for products and services which violate their religious beliefs.

  6. Paul says:

    So Mervel you agree that the law (“the government”) has to supply the definition that is all I was saying. You seemed to say in your other comment that the law (the “government”) should not be allowed to make the definition. That is what I did not understand. Here you have articulated what may or may not fit the definition. If the law does not provide the exclusion that the church feels they need than they should try and see if they can get the law changed. If the feel that they are within the exemption than they should sue the government in this case. Politicians love to see us having these kind of heated debates but the fact is they are really unnecessary.

  7. mervel says:

    Paul, yes if you are going to have Church’s qualify as a tax-exempt institution, like all not for profits there would have to be some sort of description.

    The problem is in this case the government is going beyond just supplying a definition, they are also pro-actively forcing an organization to pay for something that goes against their beliefs by saying that your beliefs don’t matter because we have decided that you are not really a Church.

    I would rather the Church lose its tax exempt status, than be forced to pay for abortions as this law requires.

  8. Paul says:

    “saying that your beliefs don’t matter” Mervel, I don’t think that this is true. You actually think that this administration does not think that the church’s beliefs don’t matter? Sure they are trying to facilitate a choice that they think that everyone should have (man and woman, last time I checked things like birth control pills work pretty well for both partners!). Look at it this way even if the government said fine we will give people the option to buy it from us I bet the church would still view this as an affront to their beliefs. But at least there you could say to the church now we are staying out of your affairs so you stay out of ours. Also, that would put some who want to fight this fight in a tough position. Do they have a problem with religious freedom or contraception? They claim it is a religious freedom issue, is it?

  9. mervel says:

    Yes I believe it is a religious freedom issue. The issue is that the Church itself is being forced to pay for those particular prescriptions, not the use of those prescriptions by private individuals.

    All of us have a right to do whatever we please in our private life as long as it is legal; regardless of who we work for including the Catholic Church. I just don’t believe the government has the right to tell my Church you must pay for something that is against our own beliefs and teachings (EVEN if those teachings are widely ignored).

    Notice that this has not even been on the radar as an issue for the Church until now. Medicaid has for a long time paid for B/C prescriptions. But like I said I honestly think Obama is going to work around this; as the Church in general supports universal health care provided by the government.

  10. Paul says:

    So Mervel you don’t think the church would have an issue with the government solving this problem by just providing everyone with free contraceptives?

    Mervel don’t you think that this is an attempt by the church to strip their employees with the free will to choose?

    The church should not try an protect you from one outcome over the other. In Catholicism you are taught that you have been given, by god, the right to choose. What are you saying that the government should somehow have prevented Adam access to the fruit in the garden of Eden and things might be different today?

    Come on people should be given the opportunity to make the right decision no matter which one you think that is. That doesn’t limit you religious freedom in the least. Explain to me how it does?

  11. Mervel says:

    No that is not the point at all.

    You are asking a Church for THEM to pay for what they consider an abortion. If the individual who voluntarily decided they wanted to work for the Catholic Church; wanted to seek an abortion by using the morning after pill or whatever other means they choose, certainly they can do that. But you can’t expect the Church to HELP them do that. In Catholic theology a person who pays for an abortion or performs an abortion or assists in anyway in an abortion is part of the evil that is abortion. So in this bizarre world you are forcing the Church to be complicit, its nuts.

    That is the point, it is not about individual choice, it is about the REMOVAL of choice from the Church; it is a true infringement.

    The government already provides free contraceptives through a variety of government programs, it is not an issue.

  12. knuckleheadedliberal says:

    I want a refund on my tax money that was spent on the war in Iraq. I consider that war to be a criminal act on par with some of the worst of the last 50 years. Millions of people killed and injured, many of them totally innocent women and children.

    Some of my tax money will be going to pay for that slaughter for years in the future – mass murder! I will have to pay for mass murder.

    Where were all of you Catholics when I was on the street trying to stop the push to that war?

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