Crying Religious Intolerance While Violating Rights

Last week Notre Dame and more than 40 other Catholic institutions announced they are filing lawsuits suing Obama on the contraception mandate. As usual, they’re claiming that the government is running all over their religious rights.

Meanwhile, bills have been proposed claiming to protect the conscience of employers to opt out of providing coverage that goes against their religious convictions, including the Bunt Amendment and a similar bill in the Arizona Legislature.

Are Catholic Bishops and other employers the only people who hold religious beliefs? Or the only ones whose religious beliefs count?

You’d think so to hear the debate on the matter.

In the face of this war on women progressives have rarely questioned whose religious rights are in play. And so conservatives have undisputedly argued that employers – Bishops or otherwise – must be free to follow their conscience. But that leaves women forced to follow the conscience of their employers. The argument is then framed as “right to contraception” vs “religious rights” which makes the latter stronger since that is undisputedly in the constitution.

Maybe women’s religious beliefs are ignored because the perspective of the powerful tends to trump the perspective of the powerless. The powerful have a history of airing their beliefs and they can bully from their pulpits. The Catholic Church has historically been powerful. Women have not. Business leaders have historically been powerful. Women have not.

I was heartened to hear Salon editor, Joan Walsh, finally make the reverse argument last week, five months after the start of this debate. She pointed out that the Priests have religious freedom backwards as they try to force their religion on everyone else. They and the Republican Right are working to impose their religion on the country. Maureen Dowd and the New York Times editorial page have thankfully followed suit.

Shouldn’t the pious be the ones to sacrifice for their convictions instead of asking everyone else to sacrifice for their beliefs?

And when there is a conflict, the religious beliefs and conscience of those whose bodies, health and well-being are directly affected should certainly trump the conscience of those who simply hold the purse strings.

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I have a Ph.D. from UCLA in sociology (emphasis: gender, social psych). I currently teach sociology and women's studies at Foothill College in Los Altos Hills, CA. I have also lectured at San Jose State. And I have blogged for Feminispire, Ms. Magazine, The Good Men Project and Daily Kos. Also been picked up by The Alternet.

Posted on June 1, 2012, in feminism, gender, politics/class inequality, psychology, reproductive rights, sexism, women and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 30 Comments.

  1. I guess this is great for people who might not pay for their insunarce, but just because birth control is going to be free’ doesn’t mean insunarce won’t go up. It’s probably going to skyrocket after all of this goes down. I would rather pay the $9 a month for a pack of birth control than pay however much insunarce would go up

    • Actually the opposite. Insurance should go down.

      That’s a big part of why the administration passed the law.

      Do you have any idea how much cheaper it is to pay for birth control than to pay for a pregnancy, and complications from pregnancies, and to pay for medical care for a child once it is born?

      And if you were paying $9 for birth control, do you really think insurance wasn’t covering almost the entirety of that cost? You were practically getting it for free.

      • Just checked, and without insurance by birth control pills would cost $651 per month. That’s nearly $8,000 a year.

        Some poor women make only double that. So they don’t use anything and get pregnant. Which often costs society much more.

  2. P.K. Andersen:
    If you had read the ANPRM and had paid attention to the news back in February 2012, then you would know that the departments “announced plans to expeditiously develop and propose changes to the final regulations… [to] meet two goals–accommodating non-exempt, non-profit religious organizations’ religious objections to covering contraceptive services and assuring that participants and beneficiaries covered under such organizations’ plans receive contraceptive coverage without cost sharing.”

    The administration is trying to balance the supposed First Amendment “right” of non-exempt religious organizations to impose their religious beliefs on their employees while increasing their employees’ access to contraception, which promotes their health and well-being (and saves health-related costs in the future). It will likely shift the cost of the contraceptive coverage from the religously-affiliated employer to the insurer (; So, the non-exempt religious entities you care so deeply about will be accommodated, but the details haven’t been entirely worked out. Perhaps “the devil’s in the details,” but I doubt the administration is going to backtrack from its decision to grant religiously-affiliated entities an accommodation.

    If the idea of a compromise bothers you, even though religious entities in all likelihood won’t have to pay the cost of contraceptive coverage and no one is forcing birth control pills down the Bishops’ throats, then your issue is simply that you don’t believe that other women should have access to contraception, which quite frankly isn’t any of your business, and not so-called “religious freedom.”

  3. P. K. Andersen

    I believe you are referring to 76 Fed. Reg. 46621 (3 August 2011). This rule reads, in part,

    “Consistent with most States that have such exemptions, as described below, the amended regulations specify that, for purposes of this policy, 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 section 6033(a(1) and section 6033(a)(3)(A)(i) or (iii) of the Code. Section 6033(a)(3)(A)(i) and (iii) refer to churches, their integrated auxiliaries, and conventions or associations of churches, as well as to the exclusively religious activities of any religious order. The definition of religious employer, as set forth in the amended regulations, is based on existing definitions used by most States that exempt certain religious employers from having to comply with State law requirements to cover contraceptive services.”

    Apparently, persons who work in churches, synagogues, and mosques are not covered by the HHS rule. So far so good.

    However, religious groups also operate hospitals, schools, universities, adoption agencies, soup kitchens, and other charitable organizations. Are such organizations also exempted from the HHS rule? According to the four criteria set out by HHS, they would not be.

    Of course, the four HHS criteria are not to be found in the First Amendment, which protects the free exercise of religion. The Constitution stands in the way of those who would expand the scope and power of the national government. Hence, they are attempting to circumvent the Constitution by defining what qualifies as a religious activity.

    The Supreme Court has recognized the difficulties in trying to decide which activities are to be considered “religious” in nature:

    “It is a significant burden on a religious organization to require it, on pain of substantial liability, to predict which of its activities a secular court will consider religious. The line is hardly a bright one, and an organization might understandably be concerned that a judge would not understand its religious tenets and sense of mission. Fear of potential liability might affect the way an organization carried out what it understood to be its religious mission.” [Corporation of Presiding Bishop of Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints v. Amos, 483 U.S. 327, 336 (1987)]

    I am unwilling to throw out the First Amendment just so some people can get free stuff.

    • I don’t get why you think churches and employers should have more religious freedom that the people whose bodies are actually affected. Why shouldn’t the First Amendment apply to women?

      • P. K. Andersen

        Your reply is puzzling. Perhaps it would help to examine the text of the First Amendment. It is short and to the point:

        Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.

        The First Amendment prohibits the government from abridging our freedoms of religion, speech, the press, or assembly. However, the government is not required to supply anyone a church, a podium, a printing press, or a meeting hall. Nor may the government compel other parties to supply these things.

        Likewise, there is nothing in the Constitution that abridges your freedom to use contraceptives if you choose. At the same time, the government is not required to supply you with contraceptives. Nor may it compel others to do so.

      • Providing free birth control does not create a law respecting an establishment of religion, nor does it prohibit the free exercise thereof. Catholic Bishops and right wing employers are not forced to go against their religion and use birth control. Making it available to their employees does not go against the religion of the bishops/employers. And they have no right to try to force employees to live by the dictates of a right-wing religion.

        And that is just what they are trying to do.

        However, preventing women from getting birth control because of the conscience of an employer — bishop or otherwise — prevents women from exercising their freedom of religion (or freedom from religion), since right-wing Christian extremism is then forced on them (because if women can’t afford birth control, they won’t have access, and the only reason is their employer’s religion).

        And the whole point of right-wing politicians and religionists here is to control women, as fundamentalists always try to do. They’re making small digs at women’s autonomy, in line with that religious perspective.

    • P.K. Andersen: Apparently, you only know half of the story. Houses of worship are exempted from the federal rule and religiously-affiliated insitutitions that do not have a religious purpose and employ people of diverse religious backgrounds will be accommodated. Their employees will have access to contraceptive coverage, but their religiously-affiliated employer will not have to pay for it. The cost will be shifted from the employer to the insurer. The advanced notice of proposed rulemaking (Mar. 21, 2012) is available online. This isn’t about people getting “free stuff.” It’s about basic health care women need and can’t afford without insurance coverage. The First Amendment does not give you the right to impose your religious beliefs on others.

      • P. K. Andersen

        If you read the “Advance notice of proposed rulemaking (ANPRM)” (Federal Register, Vol. 77, No. 55, Wednesday, March 21, 2012), you will see that nothing has been decided. The Departments involved (Treasury, Labor, and HHS) promise to issue more guidelines to accommodate religious groups. Perhaps the accommodations will be satisfactory; perhaps not. (I am guessing not.)

        Apparently the aforementioned Catholic organizations do not trust the Administration to do the right thing. Hence their lawsuit.

        Contrary to what you have written, the proposed rules clearly are about free stuff. The ANPRM states (at least 20 times by my count) that contraceptive coverage must be provided “without cost sharing.” That means someone other than the beneficiary must pay. It is a favored tactic of statists to grow government by offering something for nothing, i.e., free stuff.

        Your final statement about the First Amendment is perplexing. I have not tried to impose my religious beliefs on anyone. In fact, I have not so much as mentioned my religious beliefs here. Mine is not a religious argument, but a philosophical, economic, and political one.

        For the record, I am not Catholic; nor do I share the Catholic Church’s beliefs regarding contraception. However, I respect the right of Catholics and non-Catholics alike to be left alone to exercise their religion freely, without interference from the federal government.

        My position is consistent with the First Amendment, posted previously. The Amendment is explicitly a limitation on the power of government. When it comes to religion, the federal government is required to keep its hands off.

        How you can misconstrue this straightforward idea of religious freedom as an imposition of one’s religious beliefs on others is beyond me.

      • I know that the contraception is free. That’s beside the point. Here are the points:

        Right-wing employers, including Catholic bishops, want to keep their employees and students, etc. from having a right to something that all other women have a right to. And they’re blocking it by claiming that their (the employers) religious rights are being blocked even as they try to block the religious freedom of women, whether the women’s religious views allow contraception or whether they want freedom from religion, entirely.

        Why should government allow employers to block women’s free exercise of religion?

        If there is a struggle between the free exercise of religion for women versus their employers, those whose bodies are actually affected should prevail.

        And it is all a ruse anyway to chip away at women’s right to their own bodies and autonomy. See this post:
        Amanda Marcotte: As Cries of “Religious Freedom” Grow Louder, It Is Clear Anti-Choicers Are Targeting Contraception

  4. To me, what makes the opposition to the mandate particularly offensive is that the federal rule does not require religious institutions to pay for contraceptive coverage. So, even under the federal rule, non-profit institutions that have “the inculcation of religious values as its purpose” and “primarily employ[] persons who share its religious tenets” can continue to discriminate in accordance with their religious beliefs. People who work for religiously-affiliated institutions that do not have a religious purpose and employ people of diverse religious backgrounds will receive contraceptive coverage in their health plans, but their religiously-affiliated employers do not have to pay for it. The insurance company will have to provide it. So, the fact that the Bishops are still annoyed even though their own institutions and institutions affiliated with them don’t have to pay for coverage of basic medical care shows that their position is really about controlling women’s bodies and private lives and not about their religious beliefs.

  5. P. K. Andersen

    This does not strike me as an especially difficult issue to resolve.

    Employers (including the Catholic Church) should be free to decide whether to include contraception as part of their employee compensation plan. If they choose not to, then the employees should be free either to seek employment elsewhere or to pay for their own contraceptives.

    That way, no one’s rights are violated.


    • Hey PKA, look at the extra burden that places on women. For some birth control will be so expensive that they can’t afford it. Or can’t afford it till they find a new job. And finding another job, especially in an economy like this one, would be very stressful, and quite possibly unsuccessful.

      The reality is that if the Catholic church has its way, many women will be without contraception. And I highly suspect that that is both the Church’s and the religious right’s motive.

      • P. K. Andersen

        Why is it an extra burden only on women? Presumably, any woman who seeks contraceptives is involved sexually with a male partner. Both of them bear the responsibility for the cost of their contraceptives.

        As a general rule, I believe that those who enjoy the benefits of an activity should also pay the costs of that activity. Do you disagree?


      • First, her body, and more generally her life, ends up with the extra burden. But I am perfectly happy helping men pay for contraception, too.

        On paying the costs, when women don’t use birth control we have more abortions and higher social costs when the women are poor. So we all end up paying. Contraception is cheaper.

        Most insurance pays for Viagra and until recently many didn’t also cover contraception. Why is it fine for men to have the pleasure but women to bear the cost (financially, bodily, sacrifice jobs to raise kids)?

        My main concern is with Bishops and the religious right trying to make everyone follow their religion. Why should a woman have to tell her employer why she wants contraception in order to get it covered?

        Fundamentalists constantly try to limit women’s rights to their bodies and to their autonomy, generally. This is just a way to chip away at that autonomy.

  6. Ugh, this has become a recurring theme in my waking thoughts, in my conversations, and in my poetry. I can send you a few links, if you are interested.

  7. I seriously have no respect for the Catholic church or any instituion who actively tries to take away the rights of others while crying persecution.

  8. I think these questions are incredibly important, especially as you ask, “Are Catholic Bishops and other employers the only people who hold religious beliefs? Or the only ones whose religious beliefs count?” The answer, however, might be, “Controlling reproductive rights of women and men are part of these bishops’ religious beliefs.” It seems to me that exercising authority over others is an integral part of their faith and religious identity. I actually hope to blog on this within the next week or so.

    On a slightly related note, E.J. Dionne, columnist for the Washington Post and a liberal Catholic, has an excellent piece on this issue here: . He points out that while 13 of the nation’s diocese have gone to court against the federal government, 195 have not, pointing to an interesting division among Catholic leadership.

  1. Pingback: “A House Divided” in Catholic Bishops’ Masculinities (Mark 3:19-27) « Biblical Masculinities

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