Freedom of Religion is also Freedom FROM Religion

HHS Mandate Ruling Loses (Temporarily) in Court

A second company has won its court case granting it an injunction on the HHS ruling regarding contraception.  This case occurred in Michigan.  U.S. District Judge Robert Cleland has granted Weingartz Supply Company an injunction on the mandate that is good until Jan. 1 2013.  This is quite problematic to me.  Precedents are being set, and as far as I am concerned, no one is dealing with the real issue: freedom of religion.

In his opinion, Cleland stated that the HHS mandate poses a risk, “of substantially infringing the sincere exercise of religious beliefs” and said that the “loss of First Amendment freedoms, for even minimal periods of time, unquestionably constitutes irreparable injury.”

Cleland is both right and wrong.  He is correct when stating that any loss of First Amendment freedoms, no matter how brief, is a major deal and may be “irreparable injury”…though that phrase is likely hyperbolic.  The First Amendment is central to how our society functions and the five “freedoms” it lists must always be protected.

Cleland is wrong in applying it to this case.  The basic framework of Weingartz’s case is that providing birth control to its employees would be a violation of the owner’s conscience and religious freedom.  This is a poor argument for several reasons.

a)      Our government has never cared about any of its citizens’ consciences.  There have always been people who object to just about everything our government does.  At times, these objections are for large issues, such as war and taxes, at other times, the issues are small and local.  Either way, an objection of “conscience” can rarely be used to exclude someone or a group of people from law.  A notably effective use of a conscience argument comes to conscription for Quakers and Amish.  They are exempt…though those exemptions are controversial.

The fact of the matter is, just because a citizen or group of citizens has a “conscience objection” to something does not automatically imply exception.  In fact it rarely does.

b)      No one’s religious freedom is being attacked as a result of the HHS mandate.  Employers are not being forced to use birth control and, as a result of a government compromise, do not even have to pay that portion of their employees’ health care.  Catholic employers are entirely free to continue on practicing their religious faith—as devoutly or not as they choose.

The Catholics who are fighting this issue are attempting to accomplish very two very troublesome goals.  First, they are attempting to force their religious views onto their employees.  If a Catholic employer does not wish to use birth control who cares?  However, they have no right to impede their employees access to this basic human right—particularly when the no longer have to pay for it.  Obama’s compromise allowing them to avoid payment should settle this issue.  I could see a case being made IF the employers had to pay for something they opposed…they don’t, and the story should end there.

Second, they are attempting, once again, to redefine what the freedom of religion means.  They are having some success in this area largely because most of my fellow citizens are lacking in Constitutional knowledge.  The freedom of religion also very much includes the freedom FROM religion.  This is what the Catholic Church is attempting to subvert and change.  If the Catholic church is allowed to win this case, a precedent will be set regarding a new definition for the First Amendment religious clauses.  This can and will open the door to much more litigation in the future and will give religions a powerful tool.

I have written on this topic quite a bit and think that it may be time to revisit it in detail if these cases are seeing their day in court.  In short, no secular American should remain silent on this issue—even closeted atheists can speak their mind on this issue.  I feel that they (we) must.  We are learning that there are many more of us than previously thought.  We are a voting bloc that can and should count for something.  If we cannot band together and speak up about a flagrant violation of our freedom FROM religion, then we are in trouble.

I will write more on this topic in the near future.  There are way too many angles and topics to discuss in one post.  If interested, make sure you stop back soon.

Thanks for reading.  I look forward to your comments.


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6 thoughts on “Freedom of Religion is also Freedom FROM Religion

  1. Loren Miller from United States

    I think something that is being lost in the issue of freedom to/from religion is the private nature of religion and the fact that one's private beliefs are not necessarily universally shared. Certainly, a person has the right to conduct his or her life as they see fit within the prescriptions of their belief set, but when they either insist that someone other than themselves conform to THEIR belief standards, whether that someone who may be a family member, an employee, or a total stranger, they are violating that person's freedom FROM the first person's religion!

    This is something which those who disparage the concept of freedom from religion fail to see: that it's not just atheists who value freedom from religion, but anyone who values their beliefs and has a desire to maintain them, free from coercion from third parties. ANY belief system or LACK of belief system deserves such security, whether from unwelcome proselytism or from the superimposition of morals based in a given belief set which do not match up with someone else's.

    When an employer takes on that duty, like it or not, part of his job is to service his employees EQUALLY and with deference to THEIR belief systems. If the employer cannot or will not deal with that kind of diversity, then he's in the wrong business.

      1. hausdorff from Troy, MI, United States

        Yeah, I was thinking about that too. Depending on how you ask it, they might be imagining Islam taking over our government, which is understandably difficult to visualize at this point in time. It might help to consider a different breed of Christian than them. And actually, if you choose a very small change it might make it hit home a little more.

        "What if catholics were in charge and mandated that all churches MUST provide kneelers in the pews for prayer?"

        Something small and simple might be in the realm of believeability and yet be something that the person would not want to happen.


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