Obama’s war on religion and conscience

Matthew Hoy
By Matthew Hoy on January 31, 2012

President Obama and his administration haven’t been particularly understanding of religious beliefs—especially if they are in any way Christian and depart from any tenet of modern-day liberalism.

The first evidence of this was the case of Hosanna-Tabor Evangelical Lutheran Church and School v. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. The case involved a private school teacher whom the church considered a “minister” for purposes of her employment. Though she taught other subjects, some of her duties included religious teachings. When the school fired her after she threatened to sue them—in violation of church tenets that disputes between believers be handled in the church—the EEOC stepped in and sued. They did not sue on narrow terms, but sought to have the Supreme Court apply employment law to churches and to those the churches consider ministers or clergy.

On the surface, that may sound reasonable, but in practice, it would be an odious infringement on freedom of religion. Such application of the law would lead to a Muslim Imam being able to sue a Catholic Church for not making him a priest and other ludicrous possibilities. While liberals often praise the so-called separation of church and state, they saw no problem in tearing down that wall and allowing the EEOC, judges and juries to meddle in the establishment of religion. (For an excellent analysis of the decision, see this by Michael Stokes Paulsen.)

(I’m sure Tom Friedman would’ve approved, since that’s the way they handle churches in China.)

And that assault has continued now that the “Catholic” head of the Health and Human Services Department has issued a final rule as part of the implementation of Obamacare that would require religious institutions to pay for coverage of contraceptives and other drugs that can be used to cause abortion. This rule (as regards the contraceptives) is mainly offensive to Catholics, but other religious groups would also find such requirements a violation of their religious beliefs.

Apologists for the Obama administration maintain that religious employers aren’t really affected because there is an exemption for them.

Group health plans sponsored by certain religious employers, and group health insurance coverage in connection with such plans, are exempt from the requirement to cover contraceptive services.  A religious employer is one that:  (1) has the inculcation of religious values as its purpose; (2) primarily employs persons who share its religious tenets; (3) primarily serves persons who share its religious tenets; and (4) is a non-profit organization under Internal Revenue Code section 6033(a)(1) and section 6033(a)(3)(A)(i) or (iii).  45 C.F.R. §147.130(a)(1)(iv)(B).

While they pretend this is a broad exemption, it is actually tailored so narrowly that Jesus Christ wouldn’t qualify for it.

The most egregious example thus far of dishonest and willfully obtuse analysis happens to be contained in a Politifraud “fact check” of GOP presidential candidate Newt Gingrich’s disgust at this rule.

After honestly analyzing the rule and the law, Politifraud labels Gingrich’s charge “mostly false” as they engage in an amount of hand-waving that would enable human flight without the aid of wings, engines or the other commonly required tools.

Still, if you consider a Catholic church to be a "Catholic institution," or a synagogue to be a "Jewish institution," Gingrich isn't correct that the recent federal rule on contraceptives applies. Those nonprofit religious employers could choose whether or not they covered contraceptive services.

It’s pretty clear that Gingrich chose his words carefully here and Politifraud is muddying the waters. When I hear the words “Catholic institution” I think of everything Catholic that isn’t the church. I think of hospitals, soup kitchens, homeless shelters, adoption services, the Knights of Columbus, etc. Maybe it’s just because I’m likely more familiar with religious terminology than the (snark on) godless heathens (snark off) who populate many newsrooms, that I interpret it this way. But if the difference between a “True” or “Mostly True” ruling and a “Mostly False” ruling is over whether the word “institution” includes the church or not, then there’s way too much parsing going on.

Gingrich said that "the Obama administration ... would impose on every Catholic institution, every Jewish institution, every Protestant institution the Obamacare standard of what you have to buy as insurance."

He makes a broad statement in reference to a rule dealing specifically with co-pays for preventive care -- making it sound as though there's a blanket "Obamacare standard" for all insurance policies. The reality allows for states to set benchmarks for private individual and small-group plans.

Here’s the hand-waving. In the video Politifact links to of Gingrich’s statement (provided by none other than Think Progress), Gingrich makes it clear that he is talking about the rule issued “last week.” The rule issued last week was the one regarding religious employers covering contraceptives in their health plans. Politifraud dishonestly expands that specific criticism of that specific rule into states can set their own benchmarks. No, they can’t. Not when it comes to the rule that came down “last week.” That rule says they MUST cover contraceptives.

Meanwhile, he ignores an exemption in the federal rule for nonprofit religious employers such as churches and synagogues. That exemption has been condemned by Catholic bishops as too narrow and has been challenged in court. But it makes Gingrich's statement that the rule would "impose on every ... institution" inaccurate and misleading. We rate it Mostly False.

And the exemption that isn’t an exemption, that the Christian Church from day one wouldn’t qualify under, somehow makes everything OK in Politifraud land.


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January 2012



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