Today, a federal judge in Nebraska threw out a lawsuit against the Obama Administration’s proposed rules on contraception coverage. The reason was two-fold: some of the plaintiffs lacked standing because they are already exempted from the rule, and the law hasn’t been implemented yet, so there’s no proof that it would actually infringe on the religious freedom of institutions that oppose contraception.
“…although the Rule that lies at the heart of the plaintiffs’ complaint establishes a definitive, final definition of “religious employer,” … [it] is currently undergoing a process of amendment to accommodate these organizations. The plaintiffs face no direct and immediate harm, and one can only speculate whether the plaintiffs will ever feel any effects from the Rule when the temporary enforcement safe harbor terminates….” – Judge Warren Keith Urbom
This fight is far from over, as I’m sure there will be appeals and new filings in an effort to have the rule struck down. There are also several more lawsuits currently in play, so this probably won’t be over until the Supreme Court gets involved. The debate over the contraception rule has been framed as about religious freedom, but scrutiny of the law doesn’t place the anti-contraception groups on firm legal footing.
“Nothing in the regulation requires someone to use birth control or purchase birth control directly, nor does the rule prevent anyone from preaching against birth control or trying to convince others not to use it. Indeed nothing prevents an institution from issuing a disclaimer saying that it is covering birth control only because the law compels it, in order to ensure that compliance is not equated with acceptance. But paying for birth control coverage is simply too ephemeral a transaction, especially in the above instances, to be seen as substantially burdening religion.”
For some time I have been ruminating on the subject of religious freedom as a religious minority in the United States, and instead of simply re-hashing those arguments to you now, let me instead point to some recent essays I’ve written here that outline my thoughts on the matter.
“The compromise offered by the Obama Administration seems more than fair to the moral sensibilities of Catholics and other groups opposed to contraception. Any steps further would enshrine a status quo that simply privileges the majority, and create a rights system that is beholden to whichever religious group is currently in power. While that may seem ideal to Catholics and evangelicals now, I would remind them that no group’s fortunes prevail forever, and there may come a day generations from now when Pagan hospitals are asking for exemptions from the desires of Christian patients. At such a moment, they will no doubt want the majority to be extra-sensitive to their beliefs and needs, to their different moral views.”
“The problem with these attempts to codify “religious freedom” into law is that almost always benefits the majority at the expense of the minority. I have seen time and time again, in a number of different circumstances, when laws and policies that are supposed to be viewpoint neutral end up empowering one expression of faith in the public square. That’s bad when it involves adults struggling over the issue, but it becomes pernicious when we use our children as proxies in a fight over the nature of religious freedom and secularism within our country. It shows just how desperate and anxious sections of our Christian majority have become.”
“Whatever valid concerns Catholics, Evangelicals, and other conservative Christians might have over religious freedom in the United States, they are continually tempered by their insistence on being the sole definer of where that concept begins and ends. No one is asking Buddhists, Pagans, Hindus, or practitioners of Native religions for their input, and in many cases the same Christian leaders and lawmakers who cry persecution are thevery same who ignore our concerns, or are outright dismissive of non-Christian religious expressions.”
A common theme in my recent writings it is that the dominant religious forces in the United States have little care for how their exemptions or “freedoms” may impact the freedoms and conscience of minority faiths in this country. Whether it is this issue, or marriage equality, their vision of morality is the only one allowed to enter the debate and all other worldviews are marginalized. When a new balance or equilibrium is sought those in power fight it viciously thinking (perhaps rightly) that it signals an end to their moral hegemony. The truth is that we need a new approach to the question of religious freedom, one that acknowledges that the Abrahamic paradigm doesn’t exist in a moral vacuum.