Russell and Duenes

Your Conscience Must Bow Before the Secular Juggernaut

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Many have sounded the alarm about the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare), not mainly because of its economic implications, but because of fears that it will allow for government funding of abortion and will seriously strip Americans of their religious freedoms. These issues came to the fore in Newland v. Sebelius, decided by Judge John L. Kane in the U.S. District Court for the District of Colorado.

Briefly, the Newland family owns Hercules Industries, Inc, a heating, ventiliation and air-conditioning manufacturer and distributor, what the court tabbed “a for-profit, secular employer.” The Newlands are also devout Catholics who follow the church’s teachings on abortion and contraception, and who “seek to run Hercules in a manner that reflects their sincerely held religious beliefs.” The ACA “requires employers with fifty or more full-time employees to offer health insurance.” As part of this health insurance, the ACA requires employers to provide their employees with “the full range of Food and Drug Administration-approved contraceptive methods, sterilization procedures, and patient education and counseling for women with reproductive capacity.” Of course, “contraceptive methods,” doesn’t just mean contraceptives, but also abortion-inducing drugs such as the so-called “morning after pill,” which kills the child after conception. As you might imagine, the Newlands don’t go in for this kind of thing, and so they sought an injunction against the ACA in their case. For the ACA puts the Newlands in a bind, either “include no-cost coverage for contraception in its group health plan or face monetary penalties.”

There were numerous legal intricacies involved in this decision, but two things stand out. The first is the sense I have that Congress’ desire in mandating that employers like the Newlands cover contraceptives, abortifacients, and sterilizations goes beyond a mere desire to promote women’s health and reproductive freedom. I don’t mean that I think there’s some kind of sinister plot going on in order to oppress religious people. I simply mean that I think a marginalization of religious freedom and an exaltation of secular primacy is standard operating procedure for those who gave us the ACA. There are clues of this throughout the decision.

The government wants the Newlands, and all others like them, to provide contraceptives and sterilizations ostensibly in order “to effectuate Congress’ goals of improving the health of women and children and equalizing the coverage of preventative services for women and men so that women who choose to do so can be part of the workforce on an equal playing field with men.” Yet, “[t]he government has exempted over 190 million health plan participants and beneficiaries from the preventative care coverage mandate; this massive exemption completely undermines any compelling interest in applying the preventative care coverage mandate to [the Newlands].” If the government’s interest in women’s health were so crucial, they would not have exempted anyone from the requirement. So it’s not really about all women having access to these health services, they already do, but about the government retaining power to engineer certain social and political outcomes.

The second striking feature of this case, and it’s really a corollary to the above point, is the government’s desire the legally enforce the privatization and marginalization of religion. Here’s what I mean: There has long been a shift in our culture whereby we are willing to tolerate religious faith, so long as its adherents practice their faith in private and bow to the primacy of secularism in the day-to-day warp-and-woof of life in the public square. Again, this is clear in the decision, where “the government argues that as a for-profit, secular employer, Hercules cannot engage in an exercise of religion.” Catch that? The world of business and daily public life is the world of “secularism” and must be governed by “secularism.” Any exercise of religion must be safely cordoned off in private churches or overtly “religious” organizations that employ those of “the flock” and preach mainly to those same co-religionists.

In other words, you can have your religious freedom in your churches on Sundays and when you’re doing “non-profit” stuff with your Christian buddies, but out here in the real world, you must violate your conscience and put all that aside before the secular juggernaut. You must compartmentalize your faith. The fact that the government could achieve its stated goal of providing contraceptives and sterilizations, easily and efficiently, through various other means, but refuses to do so, belies an underlying goal that, in my view, goes beyond women’s health. I can’t help but think that it is part of the ubiquitous subtext that runs through so much of what our government does these days, namely, bringing public lives of faithfulness to Christ to heel, marginalizing them so that the overweening power of the state can be brought to bear upon us with ever greater force.

The Newlands rightly called the administration’s bluff and were granted a temporary reprieve for their efforts. But Judge Kane made it perfectly clear that his decision was applicable solely to the Newlands. Any wider application of his arguments against the ACA’s  encroachment upon religious freedom will have to wait for future decisions.


Written by Michael Duenes

August 10, 2012 at 10:56 am

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