When The Right To Religion Conflicts With A Changing Society

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As the White House continues dealing with well-publicized problems with the HealthCare.gov website, there's at least one big question related to the Affordable Care Act that's outside the president's control: Can employers with religious objections be compelled to provide access to contraception coverage for their workers?

Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor has granted a temporary injunction while she considers a challenge to the contraception requirement by a group of nuns called the Little Sisters of the Poor. The Catholic organization serves the poor elderly.

But the case raises questions that reverberate beyond health coverage: How do you protect religious freedom when the beliefs of individuals come into conflict with those of churches or businesses?

The Issue Of A Signature

The Justice Department has argued that the nuns' group is already exempt from providing birth control under the ACA, as long as it certifies its standing as a religious nonprofit. But the Little Sisters of the Poor, represented by the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, argues that documentation simply condones employees getting the coverage elsewhere.

Written By: NPR
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15 COMMENTS

  1. It is a return of those catholic fascists, little sisters of the poor and their brainwashing technique of we will look after the poor and ‘encourage’ them to become as religious as we are.

  2. Why do some religious people seem to think that their faith gives them the right to dictate personal matters such as contraception or marriage to others? No one is asking those nuns to use contraception or even to actively encourage others to do so, just to ensure that their employees have the same rights to health care as everyone else.
    I am sure the same sex couple were perhaps embarrassed and certainly inconvenienced by being refused service in the cake shop and no couple should have to experience that sort of prejudice at what is supposed to be a happy time of celebration; however they were no doubt able to find another baker only to happy to fulfil their order. The church employees denied proper health care seem to be in a much more serious position since finding a new job is likely to be much more complicated than finding a new baker. The bakers prejudice amounts to little more than an empty gesture and the main damage it causes will be to his own business. The nuns prejudice is a serious concern and risks harming others due entirely to the privileged position religion still holds over the rest of society.

  3. No one should have the right to dictate to anyone whether they should or should not use contraception actively discouraging it should not be allowed as children that parents cannot afford should not be born just because some ill informed religious “leader” has told them they can’t use contraception, and children aside there is the health risk from infections that can be prevented with some contraception. The way people are norn cannot be Changed so their rights should always trump the rights of people who choose to follow a religion. You cannot change being gay or being a woman so those groups or any others should never be allowed to be discrimiated against in the name of religion.

  4. Lets look at it from a different angle: faith institutions prefer employees who follow their teachings. Therefore (in this specific case) their employees surely won’t make use of free contraception etc. anyway. So providing information about this possibility does not have any impact anyway. Or do the little sisters of whatever not trust their employees…?

    Also: religious freedom is a subset of general human rights (it is not “human rights vs. religious rights”!). Human rights are the rights of persons, not institutions or churches. A church or religious congregation does not have any religious rights itself, only via its members: because it is used by its members as a tool to perform their religious rights. So as long as its members are free not to use contraception etc. themselves, their religious freedoms are not affected. But the religious rights of any church employee do not give him/her the right to make religiously motivated decisions regarding their fellow employees’ bodies.

    Further, it should be made clear what the word “insurance” actually means: all are paying equally for each other. It’s not only believers who pay for things they don’t like, but also the rest pays for problems caused by religious behaviour, such as e.g. for the hospital care for women who have to be hospitalised because they have refused contraception on religious grounds although they have been advised by their doctor not to get pregnant.

  5. But the Little Sisters of the Poor, represented by the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, argues that documentation simply condones employees getting the coverage elsewhere.

    So the objective is not just to avoid paying towards universal health care, but also to deliberately deprive employees (and customers?) of contraceptive services when they seek those services independently!
    In other words their freedom to be dictatorial bastards interfering with other people’s rights to access medical services???

    • In reply to #8 by Christiana Magdalene Moodley:

      The Little Sisters of the Poor send shivers down my spine… Like Mother Theresa did….

      It’s worth remembering Hitchen’s excellent book The Missionary Position where he tore the veil from Mother Theresa. Not just about her being pals with some of the worst corporate criminals and dictators on the planet but also that the level of care given in her facilities was abysmal. Patient’s lacking some of the most basic things like decent blankets and pain medicine and women being advised against using birth control even for health reasons.

      All that is a secondary issue of course to the fact that if they employ people they have no right to dictate morality to those people.

      BTW, it is also worth pointing out that Obamacare is a right wing idea. No actual progressive in the US really likes it much. We all want true universal healthcare the way the UK, Canada, and most of the civilized world does. The ACA was a compromise that people on the left in the US settled for. It was a product of right wing think tanks such as the Heritage Institute and was first championed by Obama’s last opponent for president Republican Mitt Romney. The ACA was modeled after the free market healthcare reforms that Romney instituted with much fanfare at the time when he was governor of Massachusetts. It was only later, once pragmatists like Obama adopted the idea as the only viable (given US politics) approach to some healthcare reform that the right suddenly hated the idea and started calling it socialism.

  6. Am I missing something?

    Why is it always the organizations whos “employees” are least likely to need contraception the most opposed to the coverage mandate? It seems like their attitude would be to shrug and say “we’re a group of nuns and geriatrics. Pretty sure we won’t be paying for any contraception.”

    • In reply to #12 by Matthew Lehman:

      Am I missing something?

      Why is it always the organizations whos “employees” are least likely to need contraception the most opposed to the coverage mandate? It seems like their attitude would be to shrug and say “we’re a group of nuns and geriatrics. Pretty sure we won’t be paying for any contraception.

      Because in reality that is not the case. I come from a very Catholic family and even in my family where the women literally believe in hell one of them used contraception because the alternative was risk death via pregnancy (a family member had medical complications and the doctor told her the next time she got pregnant would kill her).

      But I agree you’ve really hit on the core hypocrisy. They are supposed to be about morality and morality should be about humans making informed choices. If they don’t want their employees to use contraception then tell them how bad hell is and let them make up their own freaking minds.

      There is another issue though. I don’t know about this specific institution but I’ve worked a bit in Healthcare and I have two very secular atheist friends (a nurse in one case and a graphic designer in another) who both tried to work at a Catholic facility because they were desperate for a job. It’s easy to say (and I’m somewhat guilty of this myself sometimes) “well you work for the Catholics what do you expect” but that ignores the very real constraints working people face in getting a decent job. The Catholic hospitals are huge in some parts of the US and they employ a lot of people who just are looking for a good job regardless of who they work for.

      • I agree that basic health benefits shouldn’t be denied for religious reasons. Thought at first glance it would seem a bit odd to have secular humanists working for a Catholic hospital, I understand the need for employment. Also, the example you used about devout Catholics using contraception is more common than you would think. A Guttmacher study indicated that 68% of Catholic women have used a highly effective method of contraception, and 98% have used a method other than natural family planning. It’s pretty unrealistic for these hospitals to expect a lifestyle change for female employees as drastic as giving up birth control simply because you work for a Catholic employer. The analogy might be a bit of a stretch, but it would be akin to Starbucks restricting access to sites like Fox News and right-wing bloggers on their wifi. The explanation “well, they’re Starbucks! What did you expect?” would be equally unacceptable to me.

        In reply to #13 by Red Dog:

        In reply to #12 by Matthew Lehman:

        Am I missing something?

        Why is it always the organizations whos “employees” are least likely to need contraception the most opposed to the coverage mandate? It seems like their attitude would be to shrug and say “we’re a group of nuns and geriatrics. Pretty sure…

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