U.S. Bishops’ statement on religious liberty is a call to civil disobedience

Vincent Phillip Muñoz, associate professor of political science at Notre Dame University, has written a political analysis of the U.S. Bishops’ stand for religious liberty, posted earlier in this blog.  Muñoz notes that the bishops are calling for civil disobedience:

The bishops call on Catholics in America, “in solidarity with our fellow citizens,” not to obey the law. They implicitly compare the HHS regulation to a segregation-era statute, and even cite Martin Luther King Jr.’s “Letter from a Birmingham Jail.” In a not-so-subtle manner, the bishops tell the Obama administration that they are willing to go to prison rather than comply with the mandate’s provisions.

As Muñoz notes, the bishops have moved beyond accommodation and negotiation.

Now the bishops have made clear that the contraception mandate must be rescinded, because, in their view, even a more expansive exemption cannot sufficiently protect religious freedom.

The bishops did not have to take this route, but all those who cherish religious liberty should be glad they did. If the bishops settled for a more expansive accommodation, they might have been able to get an exemption for their hospitals and universities (including my own, Notre Dame). That would have been the easy way to “preserve” religious liberty while also retaining the mandate.

Thank God that our bishops are leading boldly on this issue.  The analysis continues:

But what, then, would the bishops have said to business owners who likely would not have been covered by a more expansive exemption? How could church leaders say that it’s wrong for church institutions to pay for contraception and abortifacients, but that Catholic business owners must cover these costs?

The exemption approach might have allowed the bishops to secure religious liberty for their institutions, but not for all their followers. That would have been a failure of moral authority and political strength to protect the common good.

Our bishops clearly see that we are coming to a time of confrontation.  We will be tested.  Will you obey this law?  Or are you willing to go to jail to stand up for what is right?

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One Response to U.S. Bishops’ statement on religious liberty is a call to civil disobedience

  1. dougindeap says:

    The Bishops’ arguments on the health care law have gone from wrong to ridiculous.

    First, the Constitution. Confronted by questions about the government requiring or prohibiting something that conflicts with someone’s faith, the courts have generally ruled that under the Constitution the government cannot enact laws specifically aimed at a particular religion (which would be regarded a constraint on religious liberty contrary to the First Amendment), but can enact laws generally applicable to everyone or at least broad classes of people (e.g., laws concerning pollution, contracts, torts, crimes, discrimination, employment, etc.) and can require everyone, including those who may object on religious grounds, to abide by them. (E.g., http://supreme.justia.com/cases/federal/us/494/872/case.html)

    When the legislature anticipates that application of such laws may put some individuals in moral binds, the legislature may, as a matter of grace (not constitutional compulsion), provide exemptions for conscientious objectors.

    The real question here then is not so much whether the First Amendment precludes the government from enacting and enforcing the generally applicable laws regarding availability of health insurance (it does not), but rather whether there is any need to exempt some employers in order to avoid forcing them to act contrary to their consciences.

    Second, no need for an exemption. While some may well oppose the law’s policy of promoting the availability of medical services they find objectionable, the law does not put employers in the moral bind some suppose. Many initially worked themselves into a lather with the false idea that the law forced employers to provide their employees with health care plans offering services the employers considered immoral. The fact is that employers have the option of not providing any such plans and instead simply paying assessments to the government. Unless one supposes that the employers’ religion forbids payments of money to the government (all of us should enjoy such a religion), then the law’s requirement to pay assessments does not compel those employers to act contrary to their beliefs. Problem solved.

    Some nonetheless continued complaining that by paying assessments to the government they would indirectly be paying for the very things they opposed, seemingly missing that that is not a moral dilemma justifying an exemption to avoid being forced to act contrary to one’s beliefs, but rather is a gripe common to many taxpayers–who don’t much like paying taxes and who object to this or that action the government may take with the benefit of “their” tax dollars. Should each of us be exempted from paying our taxes so we aren’t thereby “forced” to pay for making war, providing health care, teaching evolution, or whatever else each of us may consider wrong or even immoral? If each of us could opt out of this or that law or tax with the excuse that our religion requires or allows it, the government and the rule of law could hardly operate.

    In any event, those complaining made enough of a stink that the government relented and announced that religious employers would be free to provide health plans with provisions to their liking (yay!) and not be required to pay the assessments otherwise required (yay!). Problem solved–again, even more.

    Nonetheless, some continue to complain, fretting that somehow the services they dislike will get paid for and somehow they will be complicit in that. They argue that if insurers (or, by the same logic, anyone, e.g., employees) pay for such services, those costs will somehow, someday be passed on to the employers in the form of demands for higher insurance premiums or higher wages. They evidently believe that when they spend a dollar and it thus becomes the property of others, they nonetheless should have some say in how others later spend that dollar. One can only wonder how it would work if all of us could tag “our” dollars this way and control their subsequent use.

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