Currently there is a debate roaring through the legal system in the United States in regard to freedom of religion vs. a federal government mandate. The United States constitution guarantees its citizens the ability to practice religion without any impediment from the federal government, and he current health care legislation mandates insurance coverage from medical facilities including those from the Catholic Church.
Some of these mandates are in direct conflict with the values of those who are practicing Catholics and run these institutions. Those on the other side of the debate feel that this is not a violation of freedom of religion but rather a violation of woman’s rights to healthcare for woman’s issues. I fear that this is an issue of freedom of religion that if violated can have long reaching consequences for all future religious issues that the united states government will one day feel it will dictate. The following paragraphs will explore the possible arguments that both sides of this debate may have.On January 13, 2012 President Obama announced a new policy to improve access to contraception for all citizens of the United States.
Obama said that all women no matter what should have access to contraception at no additional charge. The issue that arises is that this new law will mandate that certain religious institutions such as catholic hospitals and schools that purchase medical insurance for its faculty will now be mandated to include contraceptive care in the insurance plans. The problem that I have with this plan is that Obama is now saying that religious employers must cover contraceptive care in the insurance plan that they provide which is a clear violation of the first amendment of the United States of America. The first Amendment states “congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof”. Forcing one to purchase a product which is against their beliefs is a clear defiance of our constitutional rights.
Many argue that having contraceptive care mandated and thereby readily available will not improve the rate of unintended teen pregnancies. If contraceptive care is readily available for everyone, teens will think its okay to begin sexual activity at an earlier age which will counteract the reduction in unintended pregnancies. Studies made by Peter Arcidiacono have shown that “increasing access to contraception may actually increase long run pregnancy rates even though the short term pregnancy rates may falli. On the other hand policies that decrease access to contraception and hence sexual activity may lower pregnancy rates in the long run”.When the President announced this new mandate he did mention the aspect of freedom of religion in regard to this mandate, he said that “the rule will have no impact on the protection that existing conscience laws and regulations give to health care providers”.ii However when you look closely at the religious exemption it’s not very reassuring.
The exemption is for “religious employers” but as Professor Richard Garnett said this exemption is “so stingy as to be nearly meaningless. It does nothing for individuals or insurers, and it applies only to employers whose purpose is ‘the inculcation of religious values’ and that hire and serve primarily those of the same religious faith”.iii Most religiously owned institutions serve more than just their own religion like hospitals, colleges and charities so they will not qualify for this exemption. What the Obama administration is saying is that they will now begin to determine if a religiously owned institution is actually considered religious, which is not the way our founding fathers intended for it to be.Allowing the president to go through this unconstitutional act will not only affect our freedom of religion regarding this one detail of contraception, it will affect the future of our freedom of religion at large. If we let this one law I then it will be easier for future laws that breach our freedom of religion to get passed, and who knows what could be next, Perhaps laws that will not allow circumcision or laws that will intrude on our Sabbath, the fundamentals of our beliefs.
We cannot allow our government to do this, if this law were to get in surely more will follow. Many argue that for the government to require institutions owned by Catholics to cover contraception is not a violation of freedom of religion, rather woman have the right to choose Whether or not that they will use the pills and by requiring the institutions to cover contraception they are not forcing the women to use the contraceptive care and go against their religion. Obama also announced that the requirement of covering contraceptive care will certainly not raise the price of the insurance; this can perhaps save the insurance companies money by having less abortions and child births. Secondly, a poll was taken and fifty three percent of catholic voters favor the benefit of easy access to contraceptive careiv, in addition ninety eight percent of Catholic women have received contraceptive care throughout their lifetimev.
The argument is that for simply requiring contraceptive care to be covered doesn’t force anyone to use it, they don’t have to believe it’s correct to have it covered, but for health and safety reasons it must be covered. Another argument on the side of the mandate being a contraceptive issue is that if you make a law that says that religious employers do not have to have contraceptive care covered for their employees than you are in effect imposing the employers’ religion on the employees. Another reason why it should not be a religious problem to follow is that there are already 28 states that have the same mandate and the Catholics have not had any issue adjusting to the mandate.vi