These are the times that try men’s souls…..Okay, that’s a bit much. But there are definitely letters to the editor that try both my woman’s soul and my (very limited)store of patience. One of them was in the Sunday Indianapolis Star.
It was the all-too-typical complaint that, by requiring “religous-based ministries” to offer birth control coverage, the hated Obamacare was violating the writer’s “right to practice our faith and not be persecuted with onerous fines if we won’t deny our faith and worship the national religion of casual sex.”
The profoundly misinformed woman who signed this letter got nearly everything wrong. For one thing, “ministries” aka churches are not subject to the regulation she so completely misunderstands. The First Amendment Free Exercise Clause exempts churches from all manner of secular law–no matter how reasonable–that those institutions deem inconsistent with their beliefs.
The Affordable Care Act does require that other religiously affiliated institutions–hospitals, universities and the like– include birth control coverage as part of their comprehensive health insurance policies. Despite the letter writer’s assertion, this is not a mandate to worship Mammon, nor does the inclusion of an option allowing female employees to get reimbursed for the costs of contraception equate to a requirement that they use it.
What we have here is a longstanding dispute about the nature of liberty and the definition of discrimination. The letter writer and other shrill moralists–the ones who believe they know precisely what their version of God wants–define liberty as freedom to do the “right” thing. And that they should get to define what the “right thing” is.
Furthermore, they believe that if government isn’t imposing their definition of right behavior on the rest of us, it’s discriminating against them. (Think I’m exaggerating? Read one of Micah Clark’s newsletters some time. Bet you didn’t know that government recognition of civil marriage equality is really a war on Christians, Western Civilization and (probably) helpless puppies.)
Unfortunately for the Puritans, and fortunately for the rest of us, that pre-Enlightenment view of liberty isn’t the definition that informed the Bill of Rights. In the system bequeathed to us by the nation’s founders, liberty means personal autonomy–the right of each of us to make our own moral and ethical decisions, free of interference by government or our neighbors, so long as we aren’t thereby causing harm to others.
There can be genuine and difficult disagreements about what constitutes “harm to others,” but it takes real chutzpah to claim that covering the costs of birth control for those women who freely choose to use it constitutes an attack on religious liberty.