Methodist Against Religious Liberty
Jim Winkler, the General Secretary of the General Board of Church and Society of the United Methodist Church, apparently got enough heat over the GBCS shilling for the Obama administration on the contraception mandate that he felt the need to respond. In the process, he ignores the old saying about what to do when you’re in a hole. He writes in the GBCS newsletter:
A review of the letters we received places them into four categories: right of conscience vs. right of access; who should pay for contraception; the Bible and contraception; and whether social justice should be achieved voluntarily through the church or compulsorily through government.
Following is my analysis:
1. Right to conscience vs. right to access
The conflict over contraception has been billed as a conflict between the U.S. Constitution’s protection of religious liberty rights and our United Methodist assertion of the right of all people to health care. Both rights have legitimacy and they must be balanced.
Actually, there is no “right to health care.” It is, as Winkler says, simply a “United Methodist assertion,” one that is especially inapplicable in this instance. As for the idea that religious freedom—one of the foundations of Western civilization in the modern era—and a “right to health care” should be balanced: sorry, I’m not buying it, particularly not when the government gets to be the arbiter of what’s “balanced.”
Religious liberty is not absolute. Some religious groups in U.S. history, for example, have advocated permitting men to have multiple wives. The U.S. public has seen fit to tell them, “Your religious liberty does not go that far.”
Technically, this is correct. Religious liberty is not an absolute. The circumstances under which it can be curtailed, however, are very limited, and primarily have to do with public health and safety (I’ll get back to the “health” part in a moment). Those curtailments are, to the best of my knowledge, pretty much always a matter of prohibition: “you may not take multiple wives,” “you may not sacrifice virgins,” etc. So this argument of Winkler’s has two problems: 1) the contraception mandate is a positive requirement by the state of something that a religious organization must do, regardless of its conscience and beliefs; and 2) it must address a “compelling state interest,” as the Supreme Court would put it. Establishing that is going to be well-nigh impossible on this issue.
The Obama administration has sought to find balance between religious freedom and the right of all people to health care. The fact that 28 states already mandate employer-provided contraception may come as a surprise to many people. Some provide an exemption to faith-based employers. Some do not.
I’ve heard this a lot in the last several weeks. I suspected it was a half-truth at best, and upon checking with the National Conference of State Legislatures, found out it was:
At least 26 states have laws requiring insurers that cover prescription drugs also provide coverage for any Food and Drug Administration (FDA)-approved contraceptive. These states include: Arizona, Arkansas, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Georgia, Hawaii, Illinois, Iowa, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Missouri, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, North Carolina, Oregon, Rhode Island, Vermont, Washington, West Virginia and Wisconsin. An additional two states—Michigan and Montana—require insurance coverage of contraceptives as a result of administrative ruling or an Attorney General opinion. Two states—Texas and Virginia—require that employers be offered the option to include coverage of contraceptives within their health plans. Twenty-one states offer exemptions from contraceptive coverage, usually for religious reasons, for insurers or employers in their policies: Arizona, Arkansas, California, Connecticut, Delaware, Hawaii, Illinois, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan (administrative rule), Missouri, Nevada, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, North Carolina, Oregon, Rhode Island, Texas and West Virginia. (These states are indicated with an * in the table below.) Several states require employers to notify employees of their refusal to provide contraceptive coverage.
That’s as of last month. Twenty-eight states require coverage for an FDA-approved contraceptive. Of those, 75% have religious exemptions, which means that only Colorado, Georgia, Iowa, New Hampshire, Vermont, Washington, and Wisconsin don’t. Why that lack hasn’t been challenged in court, I don’t know, but they should be, and in any event those mandates don’t really speak to a national, blanket policy.
2. Contraception payment by employer vs. insurance company
The debate has fostered the misunderstanding that contraception is an extra cost to an employer: a cost that some religious employers do not want to pay. The truth is that because contraception prevents unwanted pregnancies — and contraceptive barrier methods may prevent other diseases as well — contraception is a cost-saver.
This line has also been going the rounds recently. It begs the question: if coverage for contraception actually reduces insurance company costs, why don’t all insurers include it? Perhaps because they don’t have enough evidence that this is really the case. According to FactCheck.org, “We’ve found plenty of evidence. But it’s often conflicting — and ultimately inconclusive.” Until it can be proven, I’d say we have to go with the insurance companies, who know more about their business than your typical church-and-society bureaucrat.
3. What can be inferred from the Bible on contraception?
This is completely irrelevant. Regardless of whether you get the Roman Catholic position out of the Bible or not, the fact is that the largest religious organization in America, with membership that dwarfs the Protestant Seven Sisters (UMC, ELCA, PCUSA, UCC, ABC, TEC, and Disciples) combined, holds that artificial contraception is a grave moral evil. It makes no more difference to the issue of religious freedom whether Methodists agree with them or not.
4. Achieving social ends voluntarily through the church vs. compulsorily through government.
We received several comments suggesting the fairly widespread belief that it is good for churches and other voluntary associations to do socially beneficial things, but it is not good for government through the compulsory power of taxation to do so.
This belief denies the interconnectedness of humans in society. Persons with contagious diseases are a burden not only to themselves, but to all with whom they have contact. It is therefore appropriate that all should share the burden of protecting society.
This is the part that is really frightening, for several reasons. First, he’s saying that basic liberties must take a back seat whenever liberals decide that a new entitlement is needed in order to “protect society.” Second, he’s suggesting that what society needs to be “protected” from is children. Third, he’s drawing an analogy between pregnancy and contagious diseases, suggesting that being pregnant is some kind of public health problem. Fourth, he’s saying that once the state has decided that something is for our own good, we all become beholden to give the state what it wants, regardless of our conscience. So on the one hand, Winkler thinks that children are something that society needs protection from, and on the other than the government should be entrusted with deciding when our freedoms should give way in the pursuit of that “protection.” Seems to me that we’ve seen this story before.
This is the basis for the legislation that all people are entitled to access to contraception. It is not because society wants to deprive people of some resource to unfairly benefit someone else. It is because society recognizes that if contraception is not provided now to those who need it, every member of society will pay a long-term price, probably a much higher one.
Having already exposed himself as a good little German Christian, Winkler finishes with a flourish that confirms his foolishness. Despite the overwrought rhetoric of the last several weeks, no one—not Barack Obama, not Katherine Sabellius, not Sandra Fluke, not the hysterics at Planned Parenthood—have been able to demonstrate that contraception is not universally available and affordable. Nor has anyone—not Rick Santorum, not a single Catholic bishop, no one—has proposed banning birth control, lying assertions to the contrary notwithstanding. In other words, there is no need for the federal government to be mandating that anyone—much less religious employers who have well-documented and long-standing objections to doing so—be required to provide “free” birth control for anyone. Only in the fantasy world of the left, both political and religious, is such a federal mandate, and such an burden on religious liberty, needed at all.
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