As Americans, we deeply cherish religious freedom. It is so important that it appears in the First Amendment of the United States Constitution, which states, “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.” Even though, based on this amendment, our federal government is clearly not supposed to dictate how a religious group chooses to practice its religion, that is exactly what one provision of the health care bill has done. Now, how does religious freedom relate to the health care bill? Under previous regulations by the Department of Health and Human Services, “all religious institutions except for houses of worship would be required to cover birth control [in their employees’ health plans], including hospitals, schools and charities.”
While it makes sense that houses of worship should be exempt from paying for birth control if they choose, other types of religious institutions are forced to act against their values. Some groups, particularly Catholics, firmly oppose the use of contraception because they believe all birth control should be completely natural — anything else violates the sanctity of marriage.
As a result of complaints from the Catholic church and other religious institutions, the Obama administration came out with a compromise this week. Under the compromise, any religious institutions, such as churches, charities or universities, can choose to opt out of providing birth control. However, the insurance companies that provide health care for those institutions must offer, for free, contraception to any woman whose employer chooses to be exempt from the requirement.
The timing of this compromise, which was presented while the campaign for the 2012 election was beginning to pick up, definitely seems like a political strategy for Obama. It is expected to be a tough election, and since there are approximately 70 million Catholic voters in the U.S., he must avoid alienating a significant number of voters.
Unfortunately for Obama, it appears the strategy may not work. The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, the most powerful group of Catholic leaders in the country, issued a statement saying that this “proposal continues to involve needless government coercion of religious people and groups to violate their most deeply held convictions.”
Furthermore, John Garvey, president of Catholic University of America, teamed up with three professors from Harvard, Princeton and Notre Dame and issued a statement that the compromise “changes nothing of moral substance and fails to remove the assault on religious liberty and the rights of conscience.” So far, more than 160 law professors, program directors and deans of Catholic universities have signed the statement. Clearly, many of those in the Catholic church, including those who Obama wanted to appease, are not happy with the compromise.
So, exactly how does the compromise violate our country’s cherished religious freedom? On the surface, it appears to solve the problem. However, if one examines the impact that the compromise will have in the future, it will become clear that it solves nothing.
If, for example, a religious institution decides not to pay for a female employee’s birth control, she will get it for free from the health insurance offered by that institution. But where does that money come from? Obviously, the health insurance companies do not get contraceptives for free; they must find a way to pay for them.
Even though the effect may not be immediate, the requirement of the health insurance companies to provide free birth control will result in higher premiums for everyone, including the religious institutions who had purposely tried to avoid paying the extra money. As a result, those institutions will end up paying for contraception, which is a direct violation of their religious doctrine.
As a non-Catholic Christian student who attends a Christian university, I take great issue with the notion that the federal government can begin mandating anything that deals with the core values of a religious institution. Our freedom is what makes this country so great; we can choose to practice the religion of our liking, and we can practice it how we see fit.
It frightens me that the federal government can read the Constitution and still feel it has a right to tell a religious institution what it must financially support. I firmly believe that if any company wants to provide contraception for its employees as part of its health care coverage then it absolutely has the right to do that. However, they must actually want to. It becomes an issue of fundamental, constitutional rights when a private company is forced into paying for something it morally opposes.
Story by Lindsey Hubbart Columnist
Hubbart is a sophomore majoring in business management. Comments can be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org.