Can the state force the hand of faith?


Imagine for a moment that you are on the Board of Governors of the Watchtower Bible and Tract Society (whose followers are better known as Jehovah’s Witnesses). Imagine the government required you to purchase health insurance for your employees. You gladly do so. Now imagine the government demanded that the coverage you provide to your employees MUST include coverage for blood transfusions.

One of the elements of the Jehovah’s Witness faith is a prohibition against blood transfusions. Might as well require them to curse God and die. They won’t do it.

Knock knock.

Can the government FORCE the Watchtower Bible and Tract Society to provide health insurance that covers blood transfusions?

It’s a difficult question. Who is able to answer it? That is, who is qualified to discuss this issue? Would you bring in a Jehovah’s Witness? Maybe for show, but the truth is it’s not a question about the Jehovah’s Witness faith. It’s a question about governmental power and its restrictions. How about bringing in 10 people whose lives were saved by blood transfusions? Again, some emotional power there, but it fails to address the central question: can government force a religious organization to provide insurance coverage for a practice that violates that religion?

Now, there may be, within the Watchtower Bible and Tract Society, an expert in Constitutional law as it applies to religious organizations. Wouldn’t be surprised to find more than one such follow in the Watchtower Society, which has battled the federal government on First Amendment grounds numerous times in the past. In that case, the person would not be qualified by his expertise as a Jehovah’s Witness, but by his expertise in Constitutional law, since that is the question at hand.

Can government force the Watchtower Society to provide health insurance that covers blood transfusions?

It is not an insult to Jehovah’s Witnesses to suggest that merely being a Jehovah’s Witness does not qualify you to answer that question.

It is not an insult to people whose lives have been saved by blood transfusions to suggest that receiving the blood transfusions that saved their lives does not qualify them to answer that question.

It is not an insult to the American Medical Association to suggest that an entire panel of doctors who perform blood transfusions and can vouch for the practice’s safety is not qualified to answer that question.

Because the question is not one of faith, is not one of the value of the practice or of the safety of the practice.

The question is whether it is Constitutionally permissible for the Federal Government to require a religious organization to, in essence, fund a practice that is antithetical to its beliefs.

I can understand why the original congressional committee that discussed birth control did not allow Sandra Fluke to speak when she was offered to address the issue. Her issue was not the one being discussed. Fluke made a passionate case for birth control coverage in health care/health insurance policies (a case I find myself in agreement with). But it wasn’t the point. The question wasn’t whether health insurance should cover birth control. The question was whether the Federal Government has the right to compel the Catholic Church to offer health insurance that covers birth control when birth control is antithetical to the teaching of the church. People were being called in to testify about an issue of Constitutional law, not one of women’s health.

I’m not going to dignify what a certain someone said to demean Fluke in response to the testimony she gave to a different congressional group sometime later. Fluke did not deserve the bile that hurled in her direction.

But the larger point that got lost in all the controversy, the one it’s probably now too late to retrieve, is that a hearing on the power of the presidency and the legislative branch has been misrepresented, and the omission of certain tangential but ultimately irrelevant witnesses has been grossly mischaracterized.

It is a shame the organizers of the original hearing did not find any women to discuss the central question about the power of government to tell the Catholic Church what to do. That question, not the availability of contraception, was the central issue being discussed. It raised many issues, all of them worthy of discussion. Being a woman neither qualified someone as an expert nor disqualified her. Expertise in Constitutional law, not gender, was the qualifying factor that determined who would and would not testify.

I applaud Sandra Fluke’s stand and I agree with it, but it strikes me as only tangentially relevant – if that – to the question being debated at the hearing where she was not allowed to testify.

Her omission was not an insult to women. If anything, women should be insulted that neither Republicans nor Democrats could find women to testify about the actual issue being debated.

The mischaracterization of that original hearing, however, should insult us all.

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7 thoughts on “Can the state force the hand of faith?

  1. It is not the people’s obligation to pay for someone’s birth control. Sorry Raf…. If you want to play… you have to pay…

    As for the Gov’t, they absolutely have nor right to legislate that a religious institution has to fund something that goes against their beliefs. Personally I don’t feel they even have the right to force any company to provide any coverage. Health care is not a right… It sounds neat, but has no constitutional basis.

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  2. I don’t know: if a private health insurer wants to cover birth control, more power to them. It’s not the point.
    And we’ll see what ends up happening with Obamacare as far as its constitutionality is concerned. I’ll refrain from comment to preserve my objectivity in case I need to cover any of it.

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  3. Agreed.. if a PRIVATE health insurer…. that’s their call.

    Anytime the government wants to basically take control of 1/6 of the private economy, I find it hard to believe they will find it constitutional. I find it interesting that what they are doing really falls under the heading of fascist. How ironic eh?

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  4. Sorry, I know I am a little late to this party, but I am going to reply anyway.
    Question 1…..What about the rights of the insured? (by that I mean the employee) What about their beliefs?
    Question 2…..What if the Catholic Church (or religious based businesses) suddenly decided that they didn’t want to cover pap smears or treatment for Cervical Cancer? (since doctrine states that a man and woman should be virgins when they marry…then the problem should never come up….right?)
    Question 3….same question for coverage of unmarried pregnant women.

    Question 4….Is it right for ALL the employees to have to pay higher premiums because birth control is not covered? Pregnancies cost the insurance company a LOT more than birth control….therefore, premiums for everyone will be higher. (yup, that is how it works, why do you think all the insurance companies started covering pap smears back in the 80’s? Because it was the “right thing to do”? heck no….they realized that the cost of treating cancer was 100fold more than paying for early detection) Not covering Birth Control is a risk, that risk is covered by higher premiums…since it is group insurance, you cannot raise the premium because someone female, therefore everyone has to pay more.

    Now my own personal opinion is that, back when I was on birth control, I had to pay for it….but the visit was covered, and insurance covered all but my co-pay. Probably something like $15 a month. I don’t really feel that this one prescription should be absolutely free, but I think it ought to be covered.

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    • Very good points, all, Tigz.
      1. Beside the point. Hate to be blunt about it, but I can’t ask the state to force you into a contract just because it benefits me.
      2. Most churches rely in some measure on conversion to grow its ranks and would thus not presume to make judgments based on how someone lived prior to joining that faith.
      3. Good point, but one the church would probably argue has a balancing aspect to it: because the church holds the unborn child as sacred, covering the pregnancy would be in keeping with the sanctity of the life of the child.
      4. Assuming you are correct, I refer back to my answer for point 1.

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