It is interesting (I’m trying to watch my language here) to see so-called “religious freedom” proponents cite the First Amendment’s Establishment Clause while opposing the Obama administration’s Health and Human Services contraceptive mandate. They complain their religious freedoms are being violated but without batting an eye and without a trace of embarrassment continue to press their agenda – a 100% religiously-based agenda – on the rest of America.
No, you can’t have contraceptives because they violate our beliefs; no, you can’t have an abortion, no, not even if you were raped, because it violates our beliefs; no, you can’t even learn about contraception because it violates our beliefs – our beliefs only allow you to learn about abstinence; no, you can’t marry someone of the same sex because it violates our beliefs.
An example of this outrageous rhetoric is an opinion piece at CNN by Mary Matalin, “Religious liberty at stake in battle over contraception rule,” Ms. Matalin’s bio in short: “a founding member of the board of Conscience Cause, a coalition opposing the Department of Health and Human Services’ mandate, has worked for Presidents Ronald Reagan, George H.W. Bush and George W. Bush and was counselor to Vice President Dick Cheney.” Her credentials pretty much tell the entire story, because there ain’t no surprises here.
Ms. Matalin’s opening salvo is the aforementioned Establishment Clause, which took me back just a bit, knowing what I know about the religious right’s agenda and more importantly still, their track record. I am the guy here, after all, who compiles and tracks their legislation in our Dirty Thirty. My initial reaction was “Oh no, you did not just go there.” Yes, she did go there. She complains,
In recent months, a far-reaching regulation emanating from “Obamacare” and imposed by the Department of Health and Human Services requires church-affiliated hospitals, agencies and universities to pay for services that violate their faith (such as contraception, sterilization, and abortion-inducing drugs) in the health insurance they provide employees.
It’s called healthcare, Ms. Matalin. It isn’t rocket science, it damn sure isn’t religion: it’s healthcare. If you don’t want to take contraceptives, don’t. If you don’t believe in abortions, don’t have one. Seems straight-forward enough to me. But people have a right to healthcare and her right to oppose certain forms of healthcare does not trump their right to have access to it. It’s a strange way to show support the Establishment Clause by demanding that her religious beliefs be legislated into law.
For the first time in our nation’s history, the government has launched a full-fledged assault on our religious institutions to force them to pay for services that go against their religious convictions. The compromise offered by the administration allowing religious institutions a year to transition to the new system is no compromise. They are still forced to pay for services in direct conflict with their faith or incur severe penalties that could effectively drive them out of business.
This is hardly the first time in our nation’s history that non-Christians have been assaulted by our government. It’s been a pretty regular thing since Bush took office in 2001. And how about the tax payers, atheists, Muslims, Pagans like me, forced to pay to support your Faith Based programs? We should be forced to pay for things we don’t believe in and don’t support but you shouldn’t? One is an attack and one is not? My tax dollars are being used to pay for religious groups to fire and refuse to employ people because they don’t approve of their lifestyle. Yet you complain?
This is the most despicable violation of religious liberty that this nation has ever seen. Cardinal Timothy Dolan, archbishop of New York and president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, outlined it best when he said, “In effect, the president is saying we have a year to figure out how to violate our consciences.”
Obviously Ms. Matalin is not well-read in American history or perhaps she only reads David Barton. We know facts were irrelevant to the fantasist administrations she served. So no, I will show you what is despicable, Ms. Matalin – the record of religious-based legislation imposed on American citizens over the past two years alone, that religion being the very one you are defending here – Christianity.
You may not care about the rest of us who don’t subscribe to your doctrines, but I assure you, we have not forgotten our rights. We are quite aware of the stakes. As far as the Catholic Church goes, what it is essentially telling the American people is this: “accept the fact and the reality of Christian theocracy. Our religion is better than yours, only our beliefs matter, and therefore you must all obey our doctrines even if you do not subscribe to them.” It’s a refrain that’s been heard for nearly 2000 years: “Do what the Church tells you to do.”
Um, no. No, no, no, no. We’ve seen where that road leads, thank you very much.
It’s odd to see the Catholic Church play the victim, the same church now led by a Pope who says “Truth” (HIS truth) trumps tolerance. After all the harm it has done throughout its history, all the harm it has done in recent memory by raping children and young adults, male and female alike and then covering up its misdeeds, while attacking an organization of nuns for doing exactly what Jesus says to do, we’re supposed to see the Catholic Church as victim? It is an especially weak argument when you consider that whatever the sodomizing clergy says, most Catholics use contraception or have no problem with their use and availability.
Ms. Matalin claims to defend the Establishment Clause while supporting its destruction at the hands of the Catholic Church and conservative Protestant groups. She is not opposed to the establishment of religion; she is arguing for the establishment of religion – her religion.
Ms. Matalin’s weakest play is this:
The Obama administration and some of its allies in the press have attempted to make this a debate over contraception and tried to position opponents of the mandate as waging “war on women.” Nothing could be further from the truth. There is no effort to limit access to contraceptives.
Contraceptives are widely available to women — and men. For $9 a month, birth control pills can be purchased at major national retail chains. This is all typical Washington-speak to create a rhetorical diversion from the real issue at stake.
There is no war on women? I beg to differ, Ms. Matalin. Take a look at your non-existent war on women here, or here. In fact, the Republican war on contraception is, as Elizabeth Warren points out, a war on healthcare.
Please explain to me in what way these Republican-sponsored laws are not religiously-based and in accord with Christian doctrine. The war on women is far more than the availability of contraception, though that is in fact a real issue. When was the last time you went to a hospital that wasn’t church-owned, St. This or St. That? Methodist This or Lutheran That?
Ms. Matalin wants to pretend that retail chains are a substitute for healthcare facilities. That’s rather like the old Republican claim that the American people have healthcare because we have hospitals – sure, hospitals that won’t treat us if we don’t have insurance Republicans say we don’t need; hospitals that won’t give us the care we need because their religious beliefs trump ours, pharmacists who won’t dispense medication we need because it violates their beliefs.
How are laws that support these attitudes not in violation of the Establishment Clause themselves?
And in fact, contraceptives are no longer so widely available thanks to Republican legislation. It seems to me that if the argument is as Ms. Matalin frames it, an issue of forcing religious institutions to provide something they find morally repugnant, they should leave it at that and cease legislating against those things outside of religious institutions. But their attack does not stop there because their real goal is to ban contraception and healthcare for all Americans everywhere. Surely, Ms. Matalin is aware of this. The rest of us certainly are.
So when Ms. Matalin claims that “This debate is about whether the full force of government can be used to force religious institutions to violate their own faith and pay for services and products that violate the tenets of their teaching” I can only stare in incredulity. No, what this debate is about is whether the full force of government can be used to force moderate Christians and non-Christians to violate or surrender their own beliefs (or non-belief) because government has surrendered to the extremist views of one particular religion.
My religious beliefs do not oppose contraception; my religious beliefs do not oppose abortion; my religious beliefs do not oppose same-sex marriage; Yet you are telling me none of those beliefs matter because they offend you based on your religious beliefs.
Where then, Ms. Matalin, is the Establishment Clause? Your religious beliefs do not trump mine and these specious attempts to undermine true religious freedom in this country under the guise of defending them is morally repugnant and hypocritical.
Ms. Matalin says that “Our nation has had a long-held tradition backed by legal foundations and precedents that religious groups are allowed ‘the free exercise’ of their beliefs.” That’s true. And Ms. Matalin and the rest of the Christian Right claim to be champions of religious freedom; but the only freedom they care about is their freedom to ignore ours.
You have to wonder how people like Ms. Matalin can keep a straight face.
Hrafnkell Haraldsson, a social liberal with leanings toward centrist politics has degrees in history and philosophy. His interests include, besides history and philosophy, human rights issues, freedom of choice, religion, and the precarious dichotomy of freedom of speech and intolerance. He brings a slightly different perspective to his writing, being that he is neither a follower of an Abrahamic faith nor an atheist but a polytheist, a modern-day Heathen who follows the customs and traditions of his Norse ancestors. He maintains his own blog, A Heathen’s Day, which deals with Heathen and Pagan matters, and Mos Maiorum Foundation www.mosmaiorum.org, dedicated to ethnic religion. He has also contributed to NewsJunkiePost, GodsOwnParty and Pagan+Politics.