What is religious freedom?

Earlier this week a group of Catholic CEOs of secular companies based in Michigan, calling themselves “Legatus,” filed a law suit in federal court against the US Health and Human Services over the issue of providing health insurance coverage that included things that Catholics don’t like such as birth control. This is a fight that has been going on for a while and that I’m sure you’ve heard of.

The Secular Coalition of America, under the leadership if the newly appointed Executive Director, Edwina Rogers, is chiming in.

The law suit seeks a rulting to block the implementation of the rule that requires that all employees get the same coverage, whether they work for a company that happens to be headed by a Catholic or not. The HHS ruling is obviously not only in line with the ideal of separation of church and state, but it is also logical on the general grounds that basic insurance coverage or any other normal benefit should not be withheld on the whims of some crazy-ass beliefs that happen to be held by a company’s owner or CEO.

But Legatus argues the opposite, and thus, the absurd: Holding a company to a legal standard that happens to violate the owner or CEO’s particular belief system violates that individual’s religious freedom. According to Rogers:

Legatus is asking the government to place the religious beliefs of the employer over the individual religious beliefs of the employees, and they are doing it under a smoke screen of religious persecution. True religious freedom allows for individuals to make personal moral and health decisions for themselves.

Every American is entitled to their personal religious beliefs and practices, but they do not have the right to impose them on others –including their employees—or ask for privileging from the government.

A prior attempt in the US legislative process to force employees to bend to the will of their quirky employers (be they Catholics or, say, Cannibalistic Unitarians or whatever) failed. According to a SCA press release:

Rather than infringing on the employers’ religious freedom, the HHS rule actually supports the religious freedom and rights of individual Americans by allowing each person to decide for herself and himself whether contraceptive coverage is appropriate in their life—and not forcing them to follow the religious views and perspectives of their employers—or anyone else.

In addition to cost saving benefits, there is ample scientific data that represents medical benefits of contraception for women who are contraindicated for pregnancy, as well as demonstrated preventive health benefits from contraceptives relating to conditions relation to conditions other than pregnancy. (e.g. treatment of menstrual disorders, acne, and pelvic pain).

It certainly is nice to see the Secular Coalition of America acting on this. It is a shame this even has to be an issue, though. It is utterly obvious that employers should not be able to pick and choose among benefits based on personal beliefs. Seriously. What if the CEO of some big company converts to a different religion and it isn’t Benefit Selection Month! It would be chaos (and not the good kind of chaos). Or, what if this extended to schools. Would the School District’s superintendents dietary preferences, which may well be religious, be imposed on everyone else? Only Kosher food in the cafeteria? Or Vega. Or, I heard of these people who ate dogs in a religious ceremony in a small town in Upstate New York. What if one of those guys was in charge?

Unthinkable. But of course, there is not a lot of thinking that goes into these fights from the Religious Right’s side of things.

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4 thoughts on “What is religious freedom?

  1. The SCA press release also stated that, according to a half-remembered poll from the mid-90s, a majority of the members of the Legatus coalition are in favor of the HHS ruling anyway.

  2. The Secular Coalition of America, under the leadership if the newly appointed Executive Director, Edwina Rogers, is chiming in.

    If she is chiming in? Way to spread the general feeling of mistrust 😛

  3. One of the persistent problems during the Thirty Years War was property rights over a large piece of land changing from a Catholic aristrocrat to a Protestant aristocrat, and all the people living on it being required to change religions every time a death, marriage or sale transferred the deed.

    I realize both Protestants and Catholics were enthusiastic participants at the time, but I would have thought the results of the practice, like killing off one-third of the population and devastating the infrastructure, would have convinced everyone having ‘the boss’ choose what religion the ’employee’ was going to practice is a really lousy idea.

    What’s next? The Catholic are going to advocate bringing back serfdom?

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