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.
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.