Nel's New Day

February 8, 2012

Conscience = Discrimination

Conscience. What a strange word to use when discriminating against people. Once again, religious groups have co-opted a term to oppose the scientific view that conscience is probably learned or imprinted (like language) as part of a culture.

The concept of conscience has provided the latest firestorm against President Obama regarding the requirement that all health insurance plans cover birth control without co-pay with exemptions those provided by churches and other places of worship. Because the Catholic Church operates an unbelievable number of businesses including private schools, universities, hospitals, and charities, millions of employees in these institution are not Catholic. Catholic leaders don’t want to follow the president’s guidelines—except in the 28 states that already require insurance plans to cover all FDA-approved contraceptive drugs and services. No matter that the Church will not be paying for birth control; the insurance carriers do this as part of the benefits.

Republicans are delighted with their war on contraception because they can scream from the rooftops that President Obama is violating the First Amendment right of religious freedom. But what will the result be from their constituents? Republicans are ignoring the fact that 58 percent of Catholics believe that all employers should provide no co-pay birth control, and 98 percent of Catholic women use or have used contraception. Eighty-five percent of all Catholics support expanding access to birth control for women who cannot afford it, higher than the 82 percent of the general population who favors this, according to a survey by the Public Religion Research Institute in Washington, D.C.

The decision to provide free birth control to women was based on an Institute of Medicine study concluding that birth control is medically necessary to “ensure women’s health and well being,” echoing similar recommendations by other medical organizations such as the American Academy of Family Physicians and the American Public Health Association.

Demonstrating the extremes to which conservatives are going to fight the health benefit of birth control for women, MSNBC commentator Eric Metaxas compared the requirement to provide contraception to women to the rise of Nazi Germany. Men in Congress have again retreated from solving the economy and jobs problem to again trying to control women’s bodies.

Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) has introduced legislation promoted by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, an organization with $26 million in its annual lobbying budget. This legislation would make all women who work for Catholic-operated institutions—nurses, janitors, teachers, etc.—purchase their own birth control unless state law provides that all employee insurance provide birth control or Catholic institutions already include this provision in the insurance policies.

House Leader John Boehner (R-OH) has sworn that Congress will overturn the administration’s mandate. Rep. Jeff Fortenberry (R-NE) claimed that the requirement of contraception coverage in employers’ insurance plans was a “bailout for Planned Parenthood” because birth control “is unrelated to the basic needs of health care.”

“What we are seeing now is the unfortunate fruits of the logical extension of the cesspool of Jacques Rousseau and his civil religion, whereby which your true religion was tolerated as long as it was subservient to the state,” Rep. Thaddeus McCotter (R-MI) said. “That is not what this nation is about–it is a clear violation of your constitutional right to freely exercise your religion.”

In response, Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D-IL) said, “Women’s health care should not depend on who the boss is.”

As Rep. Gwen Moore (D-WI) explained, the administration’s rule has exempted 335,000 churches and other places of worship. “The concept of separation of church and state protects these 335,000 places of worship, but the concept of separation of church and state does not mean that a church can use their bully pulpit to separate millions of women from critical healthcare benefits,”Moore said, adding that separation of church and state does not trump women’s access to contraception.

Conscience is also the excuse in Virginia to give private adoption agencies the right to refuse parents based on sexual orientation or religious and moral beliefs. Under consideration in the state is adding state-funded, faith-based agencies to the list of agencies that can choose which parents are suitable for adoption based on the agencies’ beliefs. At this time, gay and lesbian couples are prevented from adopting because unmarried couples cannot adopt and gays and lesbians cannot get married in Virginia and eight other states. Thus gay and lesbian parents will be forced to contribute their tax dollars to an agency that, in turn, refuse them its adoption services.

The state currently permits single people, including gays and lesbians to adopt.  At this time, approximately 2,279 same-sex couples are raising about 4,558 children inVirginia, most adopted in Virginia, allowing only one parent to have custody.The new law will be more restrictive than the existing one, allowing agencies to refuse adoption by a single gay or lesbian.

Although the federal government has some protection against discrimination, Virginia allows faith-based organizations to discriminate based on gender, age, religion, disability, sexual orientation, and family status. These discriminations will almost certainly continue with the new law despite the 1996 Supreme Court ruling that gays and lesbians are a distinct legal classification and entitled to collective protection under the Fourteenth Amendment due process and equal protection clauses.

As with the birth control bruhaha, the Virginia legislature ignores the will of the people. Last year a Washington Post poll showed that 55 percent of Virginians think that gays and lesbians should be able to legally adopt children, and a Quinnipiac University poll showed that 59 percent of Virginians think that state-run agencies should not ban prospective parents based on their sexual orientation.

The basic question is how far religion can discriminate in the name of religious freedom. For example, if state-funded organizations can deny service to gays and lesbians in adoptive services, can they also deny services to them in hospitals? If Catholic institutions can discriminate against non-Catholic employees in providing health care, can they then discriminate against them in hiring? How far can religions go in infringing on other people’s rights in the name of religious freedom? Why should religions be able to use their beliefs to exclude rights and services when they receive government funding? Why should people be forced to contribute financially to organizations that refuse to provide services to these same people?

If an Islam-operated hospital were to insist that its employees be bound by Sharia law, Congress would be screaming that this is wrong. Their position on freedom of religion is attached only to the Christian religion, which means that they don’t actually believe in religious freedom—just in the political clout that the argument might give them.

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