A recent decision from the Obama administration grabbed my attention. The Department of Health and Human Services announced that religiously-affiliated institutions such as hospitals and universities will no longer be exempt from the regulations of the Affordable Care Act. The Act requires insurance providers to cover contraception with no employee co-pay. There is an exemption for religious institutions whose primary purpose is to promote religious belief such as houses of worship. Therefore, a Catholic hospital must provide contraception to their employees despite the fact that the Catholic Church maintains the "teaching that deliberate acts of contraception are always gravely sinful."
Predictably, Catholics and Evangelicals attacked the decision by the administration as an assault on the religious liberty of churches. Catholic Advocate described the decision as the Department of Health and Human Services turning its back on people of faith. The National Association of Evangelicals were "deeply disappointed." New York Archbishop Timothy Dolan framed the issue as forcing citizens to choose between violating their consciences and forgoing their healthcare. There are some religious groups are working with the Becket Fund (a conservative religious liberty law firm) to file a lawsuit challenging the regulation.
In my opinion, this is another example of religious institutions showing their selfishness when it comes to the concept of religious liberty. I find it appalling that for these institutions the concept of religious freedom only applies to them. In any conflict between the rights of conscience for themselves and those with whom they disagree, they only seek to protect themselves. In this instance, these groups seek to control the consciences (and bodies) of their own employees by attempting to erect a barrier between those employees and contraception.
Furthermore, there is the issue of fairness in government funding to be considered. What makes many of these issues so complicated is that these religiously affiliated institutions are receiving government funds in order to operate their facilities. These institutions then want to dictate to the government the terms on which the government will give them money to do what they want. If an institution is going to take government money, they don’t get to beg and choose.
Sarah Posner at Religion Dispatches has written recently about the attempt by Catholics and other Evangelical groups to reframe discrimination as an assault on the liberty of the religious (I have written about this recently as well). This is a fundamental redefinition of what religious freedom has meant in this country.
Unfortunately, there is a faction of the Adventist Church that has fallen in lockstep with this movement. Some forsake the historical Adventist stand on religious liberty in order to join with the aforementioned groups to use the government to enforce doctrinal views on homosexuality and other social issues. Those who would use freedom so selfishly should consider the possibility that someday the tables might turn, and that they might find themselves in the very position that they have created for those that they despise. Adventists would do well to remember that this movement was established differently from other Protestant denominations. In fact, we believe in our eschatology that persecution will come because others will attempt to use the force of government to dictate how we live out our religious beliefs. How odd that we would seek to do the same to others.
—Jason Hines is an attorney and doctoral student in Church-State Studies at the J.M. Dawson Institute of Church-State Studies at Baylor University. He blogs about religious liberty and other issues at http://thehinesight.blogspot.com
Image: Harriet Hosmer, Beatrice Cenci, 1857.