USCCB triumphans

Let’s have a blast from the past: Katha Pollitt in the Nation in December 2011.

Who matters more to President Obama, 271 Catholic bishops or millions upon millions of sexually active Catholic women who have used (or—gasp!—are using right this minute) birth control methods those bishops disapprove of? Who does Obama think the church is—the people in the pews or the men with the money and power? We’re about to find out. Some day soon the president will decide whether to yield to the US Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB), which has lobbied fiercely for a broad religious exemption from new federal regulations requiring health insurance to cover birth control with no co-pays—one of the more popular elements of Obama’s healthcare reform package. Talk about the 1 percent and the 99 percent.

There’s already an exemption in the law for religious employers, defined as those whose primary purpose is the “inculcation of religious values,” who mostly serve and employ people of that faith, and qualify as churches or “integrated auxiliaries” under the tax code. That would be, say, a diocesan office or a convent or, for that matter, a synagogue, mosque or megachurch. Even this exemption seems unfair to me—why should a bishop be able to deprive his secretary and housekeeper of medical services? The exemption is based on the notion that people shouldn’t have to violate their religious consciences, but what makes his conscience more valuable than theirs? I would argue that it is less valuable—he’s not the one who risks getting pregnant.

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How did we get here?

So now I’m trying to work my way back through the history of RFRA, to try to figure out why it had so much support, from the left as well as the right.

The ACLU has a relevant article on its site…but it has no date, which is very unhelpful. But for what it’s worth…

Religious freedom is a fundamental human right that is guaranteed by the First Amendment’s Free Exercise and Establishment clauses.[1] It encompasses not only the right to believe (or not to believe), but also the right to express and to manifest religious beliefs. These rights are fundamental and should not be subject to political process and majority votes. Thus the ACLU, along with almost every religious and civil rights group in America that has taken a position on the subject, rejects the Supreme Court’s notorious decision of Employment Division v. Smith. In Smith, Justice Scalia wrote that the accommodation of religion should be left “to the political process” where government officials and political majorities may abridge the rights of free exercise of religion.[2]

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Christian football

You know how team sports is the source of all virtue? Not so much.

Conor Friedersdorf talking to New York Times religion reporter Mark Oppenheimer

I was particularly intrigued by your article about Christians who play football–how they reconcile their faith, with its emphasis on humility and turning the other cheek, with their sport, where hitting opponents as hard as one can, to the point of trying to hurt them, is the norm. How was that article received in our football loving culture? Did any of the feedback help you to better understand the phenomenon? [Read more…]

One law

From the White House press briefing yesterday; the first question was about the Hobby Lobby ruling.

The Supreme Court ruled today that some bosses can now withhold contraceptive care from their employees’ health coverage based on their own religious views that their employees may not even share.  President Obama believes that women should make personal health care decisions for themselves rather than their bosses deciding for them.

Today’s decision jeopardizes the health of women who are employed by these companies.  As millions of women know firsthand, contraception is often vital to their health and wellbeing.  That’s why the Affordable Care Act ensures that women have coverage for contraceptive care, along with other preventative care like vaccines and cancer screenings.

We will work with Congress to make sure that any women affected by this decision will still have the same coverage of vital health services as everyone else.

President Obama believes strongly in the freedom of religion.  That’s why we’ve taken steps to ensure that no religious institution will have to pay or provide for contraceptive coverage.  We’ve also made accommodations for non-profit religious organizations that object to contraception on religious grounds.  But we believe that the owners of for-profit companies should not be allowed to assert their personal religious views to deny their employees federally mandated benefits.

Now, we’ll of course respect the Supreme Court ruling and we’ll continue to look for ways to improve Americans’ health by helping women have more, not less, say over the personal health decisions that affect them and their families.

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Congress should narrow RFRA

The Washington Post gives its (as it were corporate) view of the Hobby Lobby ruling and what it implies.

When business owners enter the public marketplace, they should expect to follow laws with which they might disagree, on religious or other grounds. This is particularly true when they form corporations, to which the government offers unique benefits unavailable to individuals.

The Supreme Court weakened that principle Monday. Congress should revitalize it.

That’s one good way of putting it. The public marketplace, like most public places, is fundamentally secular. [Read more…]

Guest post: It’s not about “corporate personhood”

Originally a comment by the philosophical primate on The American Humanist Association comments.

I wish people would quit talking about this case in terms of “corporate rights” and “corporate personhood” and the like. That’s a red herring. The decision prominently mentions the legal relevance of the fact that Hobby Lobby (and the other plaintiffs) are “closely held corporations” — that is, owned by a small number of shareholders rather than being publicly traded companies — and the decision was rationalized (I won’t dignify it with the word “justified”) on the basis that it protects the religious liberty OF THOSE INDIVIDUAL PERSONS. Yes, those persons own a company, but the rights at stake were the rights of the owners as persons, and religious rights were not in any way imputed to any corporation. [Read more…]