Thursday, March 08, 2012

Government Power vs. Religious Beliefs

Anyone who has read my blog knows that I am a staunch supporter of the separation of church and state.  I believe the wall should be so high for government intrusion into issues of faith as to be almost impossible to even see over.  I believe Native American religions that use peyote in a sacramental way should be allowed.  Ditto for Rastafarians (I have to admit I know next to zilch about Rastafarianism so I could be off base here) with regards to marijuana.  I get really uncomfortable even at government interference that requires a Christian Science family to provide medical care for their children.  That is how I feel about these issues.  That is not the way things work.

Today I read an article in The American Thinker by Tom Trinko in which he attacks liberals like Sandra Fluke for wanting the government to intrude on religious beliefs.    Here's an important quote from the article...
What greater crime can one commit against a person than using the force of government to coerce him to become an apostate to the faith he believes in?
Now, I'm not going to argue the issue at hand, even though I believe the Obama administration's solution was perfect and that the real issue for most conservatives has nothing at all to do with using the power of government to offend religious believers.  At it's core, I agree with the statement and would bet that I believe it a lot more strongly than Tom Trinko, although I can't be sure of that.  Here's why the argument doesn't work.  The government does that all of the time and these folk raise no concerns.  The government prohibitions against Native American use of peyote and Rastafarian use of marijuana are simple examples.  
Let me give two personal examples.  I am a pacifist.  I believe that the history of Christianity, the scriptures, and the person of Jesus allow for no other interpretation.  Still, I am required to pay taxes that go to supporting military interventions all over the world.  Indeed, we spend more on the military than basically everyone else combined and depending on how one reads the numbers, as much as 50% of our federal budget is related to "defense."  I am not given a religious option to abstain.  Now, you might say that the difference is personal beliefs vs. institutional beliefs.  The entire Roman Catholic Church stands against contraception.  That argument doesn't fly, though, as there are a number of denominations in the Anabaptist movement, known as "historic Peace Churches" that are officially pacifist.  The force of government is used to coerce us to be apostate to the faith we believe in.  A second example - I do not believe as a follower of Jesus that there ever is a time when capital punishment is appropriate.  Ditto again for the historic Peace Churches.  And again, I/we cannot opt out of paying for such barbarity and are so forced to act in denial of our expressed beliefs.

I would agree that there are times when the government can stop certain religious practices.  I don't care what you believe, the government has the power to curtail human sacrifice.  Bottom line though, that is not what this issue is about.  It has nothing to do with freedom of religion and everything about culture wars and the oppression of women.  And then, there is the fact that Sandra Fluke was speaking on behalf of a lesbian friend with no worry about pregnancy but who uses birth control pills as a means of halting the growth of ovarian cysts... but why confuse a good argument with facts.


Michael Mahoney said...

There's a couple of flaws in your argument here, Roy. First, peyote is not illegal when used by Native Americans for religious ceremonies, and never has been, and was codified as exempt in 1978. I don't know enough about the Rastafari to comment about how deeply ingrained marijuana is in their culture, but it's illegal in just about every country, including Jamaica.

One significant difference between the current state of the injustices forced on us by the Obama administration and your analogy of pacifism is how it affects the individial. While you (as a taxpayer) or a tax-paying organization, cannot earmark where your taxes go directly, you have a say every time you stand to vote. That's the nature of a representative government. However you (as a person) cannot be made to be a combatant in a war, even when service is compulsory.

The administration, however, is making individuals and individual organizations act in a way that is contrary to their beliefs in many cases. To say that any church, Catholic or otherwise, MUST pay to provide insurance that covers contraception and abortion is , in fact, defining morality and, in effect, establishing what a religion may and may not do.

This is not saying "we will tax you and provide the coverage." This is saying "You have to provide the coverage." The irony is that organizations that buy insurance are exepmt, but those who self-insure (to avoid this kind of regulation at the state level) are not. The administration is also requiring insurance companies who insure those who object to provide the coverage free of charge! I would imagine that this will eventually (and rightly) get tossed out in court.

For the record, I think that Rush Limbaugh's attack on Sandra Fluke was uncalledfor, crude and mean. The man deserves everything he gets for it by way of lost sponsors. That said, his point is on the money. Why are we financing peoples, um, recreational activities? If someone wants go out and have a good time, then they should pay their own bills. I know people who can't get food or rent or heat money from the government, why are we worried about contraception and abortion?

trinko said...

You are incorrect. First Catholics already pay taxes that go to pay for abortions. The US is very eager to abort brown babies overseas and we Catholics have to help support it.

The problem with the current HHS Mandate is that the government is telling Catholics that they, the Catholics, must buy insurance that covers things that Catholics object to. That's a far greater degree of cooperation than just paying taxes. Catholics could just drop insurance for their employees but that's not very nice and the government would fine them anyway.

Also your examples of drug use are not valid. You're showing cases where the government prohibits some practices not where the government forces people to do things they believe are immoral.

They are examples of federal encroachment on religion but they are not similar to the current situation. A more valid example would be forcing a Jewish deli to serve pork.

roy said...

Here is a good commentary on the larger issue from Nicole Neroulias

She, as did Sandra Fluke, argues that "birth control" pills are often used for other medical conditions.

Michael Mahoney said...

That's quite true, just like some abortions are done to protect the life of the mother. In both cases, we're talking about a small majority of cases.

However, there are other drugs that have multiple uses. For example, viagra is not only used for E.D., but for certain heart conditions. However, most insurance will not cover it, even if it's prescribed for a heart condition. Still, no one is forcing companies to include it in their prescription plans, and no one is on a soap box about that.

roy said...

I'm not sure about a couple of your statements... First, you said that a "small minority of cases" of those who use birth control pills are for reasons other than birth control. That simply has not been my experience. A number of women in my family have used those pills for other reasons. That it was also a contraceptive was a side effect.

As for how many insurance plans cover Viagra, I have no idea. And that it is prescribed for heart issues, I had never heard of that although I can see how it may be as it is a vasodilator. If you want to talk about a minority of cases, I'd expect Viagra as a heart medication is WAAAAYYYY down there.

As for peyote use, I stand corrected... sort of. A 1990 law put the use of peyote in religious ceremonies in jeopardy and a '94 law made it clear that it was allowed, but the wording of the law is interesting. It specifies the use can only be by an Indian... so something else is going on here. I guess if I were to join the Native American Church, I would be precluded from the "sacrament" because I have no Indian blood. Also, state laws vary. And I think there are instances that are still prohibited such as in use in ceremonies in prisons... not sure.

Michael Mahoney said...

Federal law says you must be a member of a recognized Native American tribe to be exempt. Each tribe has its own rules as to membership. But, that should suffice for any legitimate issues.

One news report I read is that Viagra is only covered by about half of the insurance plans in the US, even when prescribed under a different trade name for heart conditions. (certain types of hypertension) There is one significant factor, though. In 100% of the cases, Viagra is prescribed to treat a medical condition. In other words, to help the body to do something it is supposed to do.

Contraceptives are used most of the time as a lifestyle choice. In other words, it is used to get your body to not do something it is supposed to do.

In any case, it is just about always up to the employer to select an insurance plan that suits their financial and business interests. Some plans cover generics only, some cover formularies, some cover costs at 80%, some cover half, etc...

But no, this ONE issue has to be mandated! We can't mandate that braces or kidney transplants or ED meds are covered, but we MUST mandate that birth control and abortificants are covered? There is not any way someone can twist logic to make that make sense.

thatboyaintright said...

I have no problem with the Catholic Church's argument that government shouldn't mandate the insurance coverage. After all, a religious organization should be free of government control. However, there is another piece at play here and that is government money. Once the Catholic hospitals take public funds, they are no longer completely private but quasi-public entities. If they take Caesar's money, they have to take Caesar's rules. Otherwise, the hospital or college down the road that also takes government money can charge government is giving the Catholic organization preferential treatment. By giving the money but not the same rules, the Catholic organizations are getting a special deal the private organizations do not. If the Catholic organizations don't want the rules, don't take the money. That's how the tax system works. By taking the tax money, the taxpayer has an expectation the organizations will act in the public domain, for the public good, with the public rules and like all other public entities.