The “War on Religion” Falsehood
- Pro Women’s Health
When Republican presidential candidates tire of lying about President Obama’s economic record, they smoothly shift to lying about his hostility to religion and America’s traditional values. According to Newt Gingrich, “The Obama administration is engaged in a war against religion.” Mitt Romney mentioned it in his Nevada victory speech, “President Obama orders religious organizations to violate their conscience; I will defend religious liberty and overturn regulations that trample on our first freedom.” The pretext for these hyperbolic falsehoods is the Affordable Care Act regulations requiring institutions to offer reproductive health care services without additional co-pays. Both Gingrich and Romney ignore the exemption that excludes houses of worship and other religious nonprofits that primarily employ and serve coreligionists from this requirement. Furthermore, religiously-affiliated employers who do not qualify for the exemption can seek a one-year transitional period to determine how to comply with the regulation. Finally, twenty-eight states already require contraception coverage in health care plans. The new regulation simply mandates that these plans now cover the full cost.
The reactionary contention that progressive forces seek to impose secularism on America goes back to the origins of the Republic. A delegate from Maryland named Luther Martin complained of this when the great majority of the “federal convention” voted in 1787 that there be no religious test for holding federal office. In 1791, the First Amendment included language to the effect that Congress shall make no law “respecting an establishment of religion or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.” In both cases, those who Framed and Ratified the Constitution separated religious and political power. Why is this so hard for reactionaries to grasp?
Militantly pious politicians seem to overlook two things. First, the language of the Constitution as amended is intended to protect America and all Americans for the dominance of ecclesiastic hierarchies. Second, ostentatious piety does not properly convey religious devotion; see the Pharisee and the Publican. The first freedom or the right of conscience as it is sometimes called pertains to individual human beings, not to the hierarchies of religious denominations or corporations. As far as the Catholic Bishops go, contraception is an irrelevant issue to them personally. They are, after all, officially celibate. Secondly, all Catholic Bishops are male. Like every other male, they are entitled to their opinions regarding contraception, but they are not entitled to impose their perspectives on females who have a complete right to decide for themselves. If health care plans cover remedies for erectile dysfunction, then they must in fairness cover birth control pills and other contraceptive methods for women.
The rule in the Affordable Health Care Act does not require any person to use contraceptives if they believe it is wrong to do so. It simply prohibits some people from imposing their religious convictions on others who may disagree with them. In particular, it prohibits male clergy from denying female employees access to contraception. In this context, it is instructive to consider information from the Guttmacher Institute. Of the 43 million, fertile, sexually active American women who do not want to become pregnant, 89% practice contraception. Other information from Guttmacher also shows use of contraception to be virtually consistent across various religious persuasions. Consequently, it is highly probable that a fertile, sexually active American woman employed by a religiously-affiliated organization would choose to use contraception. The Obama administration is not attacking religion or undermining the right of conscience, it is defending the right of millions of female Americans to make their own decisions about their reproductive exposure and experience. This is an example of “the free exercise of religion.” Making up one’s own mind on questions of faith and morals is what the First Amendment protects, not the purported right of some religious officials to decide for all members of their denomination.
In respect to traditional American values, one would surely be the principle that all human beings and all American citizens have an inherent, inalienable right to the “pursuit of happiness.” Additionally, the thrills and delights of sexual activity along with the merits and marvels of well planned parenthood must be acknowledged as components of a meaningful pursuit of happiness. By affirming the necessity of fair access to contraceptive methods, the Obama administration gives full support and practical assistance to the right of women to pursue happiness. What could be more aligned with “traditional American values” than an affirmation of one of the nation’s foundational precepts?
The time has come for male Americans to demonstrate solidarity with female Americans and support the right of women to control their own destinies where pregnancy is concerned. It cannot be denied that most males ardently want females to be receptive sexual partners. This being the case males should practice enlightened self-interest and remove one source of reluctance. Reducing the risk of unwanted pregnancy must make females more willing all other things being equal. More importantly, supporting full human and civil equality for our sister-citizens is the right thing to do. This involves not only sexual relations, but employment relations, and the full and equal practice of one’s religious faith. Roughly half the American electorate has been subject to repeated discrimination in health care solely because they are female. This has to cease and desist. It is time for American males to be as good friends to American females as these wondrous creatures have been to us. Reinforcing religious hierarchies power over any people in their employ does not protect religious freedom it allows subordination of some American citizens by other American citizens based on the religiously driven decisions of those in positions of power. Let us recognize this truth and do what is right for those who have been too long denied full equality in health care coverage.
The politicians who seek campaign advantage in raising and exploiting this controversy are so eager that they make fools of themselves when they cite the principled basis for their charges. Willard Romney for example declared in Centennial, Colorado: “Think what that does to people in faiths that do not share those views; this is a violation of conscience,” he said. “We must have a president who is willing to protect America’s first right, our right to worship God according to the dictates of our own conscience.” He added, “The Creator gave every human being his rights. I’m just distressed as I watch our president try and infringe upon our rights. The First Amendment of the Constitution provides the right to worship in the way of our own choice.” First, note that Willard refers to “his rights.” This is probably a mere verbal convention, but it is interesting because contraceptive services are so clearly a matter of “her rights.” Second, note that Willard acknowledges that the matter of conscience pertains to the views and rights of every human being, yet he defends only the rights of people in positions of institutional authority to follow the dictates of their conscience and deny access to birth control. The women affected by these decisions are already making the choice at the 89% level to use birth control. Why does Willard not defend the right of these women against the mostly male administrators who subject them to the dictates of the administrators’ conscience rather than let the women decide for themselves?
This takes us back to the “war on religion” falsehood. The first amendment protects the right of every American not only to profess the religion they choose, but to practice that religion as a responsible adult. This means members of religious denominations have the right to apply the precepts of the denomination as they see fit, not as the hierarchy dictates. Far from attacking the right of conscience, the Obama administration’s regulation defends and empowers it. To reiterate, the First Amendment protects the freedom of conscience of each American, not merely that of male Americans in positions of institutional power. Each American has the right to make these moral decisions for her or him self.
Tags: conscience, contraceptive, moral choice, reproduction, Republicans, rights, sex