First Amendment, not about Pill, but Bill of Rights
That's the view of two legal scholars on religious liberty issues as they observe what they see as an orchestrated campaign against the First Amendment right to free exercise of religion.
Helen Alvare, associate professor of law at George Mason University in Virginia, says that one of the most prominent religious liberty issues today revolves around the Obama Administration's regulation that would force many religious organizations to pay, through their health insurance premiums, for sterilization and contraceptives, including abortion-inducing drugs, for their employees. This mandate would force the Catholic Church to violate its own teaching.
"The First Amendment protects the free exercise of religion, which includes religious institutions being allowed to operate with complete integrity," says Alvare. That integrity includes the right to offer health benefits consistent with "their origins, their mission statements and the teaching of their Church."
Martin Nussbaum, a Colorado Springs-based attorney who works on religious liberty cases, says that the Obama Administration's claimed compromise -- that would have insurance companies, not the church itself, pay for contraceptive coverage -- is a thin fig leaf that doesn't undo the violation of religious liberty.
"It didn't change the substantive reality at all," he says. For him, the administration's position still compels religious organizations to pay for something even if they morally oppose it.
While the arguments over the health care mandate have taken center stage, Nussbaum argues that the most intrusive act the administration has taken against religious liberty so far was its stance in the Hosanna-Tabor v. EEOC case, in which a Lutheran church was accused of violating employment rights. The case touched on who decides who is a minister in the church, and the U.S. Supreme Court said the government could not make that decision since it involved an internal church matter.
The administration had argued against the "ministerial exception," which grants churches the right to select their own teachers and ministers, though the courts have long recognized that the government has no right to interfere in that process.
"The significance of this is impossible to overstate," says Nussbaum. "(The administration) took the view that government can supervise who your minister is. It can order you to reinstate that minister."
However, the court, in a 9-0 vote, rejected the administration's argument. Both Justices Antonin Scalia and Elena Kagan -- former solicitor general in the Obama Administration -- expressed astonishment during oral arguments at the administration's view.
Attacks on religious liberty can spring from disparate issues, says Nussbaum. For example, he cited an Alabama law -- opposed by Catholic and Protestant church leaders -- that would have caused ministers and volunteers to risk imprisonment if they were found transporting and assisting undocumented immigrants.
"That would have made Good Samaritan work illegal," says Nussbaum, noting that the state of Alabama eventually backed away from that provision in the law.
In New York City, religious groups have been banned from using vacant public school buildings on weekends for worship services, again a blatant violation of religious liberty, says Nussbaum.
While these issues percolate, the most volatile religious liberty questions remain those around disputes about the nature of sexuality.
With the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services mandate to force employers, including many Catholic institutions, to pay for services that violate their religious beliefs, opponents of the bishops use "a 'gender equality/ human rights'" argument, says Alvare. "They hold that sexual expression is itself the good, such that the right to pursue it must be guaranteed to be free of later entanglements or complications."
Nussbaum says those protective of religious liberty need to loudly warn off public officials who overstep their authority and, if necessary, support laws that overturn administrative regulations that infringe upon religious liberty.
In the long term, he says, education on the prime role that religious liberty has played in American life needs to be bolstered. Students, he says, are often familiar with the struggle for individual civil rights. But, he says, they are often in the dark about the rights that religious institutions are guaranteed under the Constitution.
Peter Feuerherd is director of communications for the Diocese of Camden, NJ.
Father Shawn O'Neal: In this debate, remember Church teaching on human rightsAs a means to develop a comprehensive plan to reform our nation's current immigration system, a group of senators has introduced legislation formally called the "Border Security, Economic Opportunity and Immigration Modernization Act of 2013."...
Father Matthew Buettner: Radical ChristianityRecently, the Boston Marathon came to an abrupt end when two bombs exploded near the finish line. Three young people died in the explosion, including an 8-year-old boy who received his first Holy Communion just 11 months ago. Along with these...
The Poor Clares: Joy and sacrificeSt. Paul was a man passionate with zeal and consumed by love for God and desire for the salvation of souls. His actions and words were geared toward one purpose: the claiming of souls from the dominion of the devil, and the deceit used by him...
Brian Williams:The honest 411 on Vatican III recently had the opportunity to take a class about the Second Vatican Council offered through a diocesan adult education program. While much was covered within a relatively short span of four classes, one subject occupied much of our time...
William L. Esser IV: Love and 'gay marriage'It's always best to get your disclaimer on the table early, so here is mine: I'm a lawyer, I love my Catholic faith, and I love my country. So it should come as no surprise that I have been following the recent "gay marriage" cases before the...
Peggy Bowes: Be the stranger"I have always depended on the kindness of strangers." — Blanche DeBois, "A Streetcar Named Desire" I was quietly praying the rosary, holding a "Pray to Stop Abortion" sign outside Planned Parenthood in Winston-Salem, when a delivery truck...
Deacon James Toner: On Christian RealismWe Catholics often find ourselves trying to chart a wise and balanced course between justice and mercy, between solemnity and a touch of appropriate humor, between the classical and the contemporary. So it is with the law of love and the fact...
LETTERS FROM OUR READERS
Warrior saints are found throughout historyRegarding the April 26 letter criticizing St. Nicholas of Flue, I am disgusted that an American would insinuate that a soldier who distinguishes himself or herself in combat is not following...
Who would be worthy?In a letter in the April 26 Catholic News Herald, St. Nicholas of Flue was referred to as someone who "did not follow those teachings" of Christ because he defended the faith with his sword and...
St. Peregrine is a model to followI greatly admire the saints. The stories of youthful saints speak powerfully to me and never fail to captivate me; since I am 15, I can relate particularly to them. When I read the article about...
FROM THE PASTORS
Read and listen to homilies posted regularly by pastors at parishes within the Diocese of Charlotte:
- Fr. Frank Cancro at Queen of the Apostles
- Fr. Patrick Earl at St. Peter in Charlotte
- Fr. John Eckert at St. John the Baptist in Tryon
- Fr. Timothy Reid at St. Ann in Charlotte
- Fr. Benjamin Roberts at Our Lady of Lourdes in Monroe
- Fr. Patrick Winslow at St. Thomas Aquinas in Charlotte
- Watch full Masses live and on demand, listen to homilies and reflections from Sacred Heart Church in Salisbury
- Listen to homilies from St. William Catholic Church in Murphy