As youngsters, we are often taught not to discus politics or religion in social circles. Normally that advice would have merit. In today's environment however, those topics have become intertwined and have sparked some very heated debate concerning the new health care law and its impact on our freedom of religion. That debate is literally on center stage right now.
"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."
Those are the words of the First Amendment to the Constitution of the United States. The amendment was initially conceived and a draft written by Thomas Jefferson. That was followed by various inputs from the founders and the final version was passed in the House and the Senate in 1789. It was ratified by the States in 1791. This most important section of the Bill of Rights has served this country well for over 222 years. However, it is now under siege.
A few years ago, in a letter to the editor, a writer stated that he believed the First Amendment needed to be revised, that it didn't reflect today's United States. He took particular issue with the reference to freedom of speech; claiming it was outdated and he didn't much care for the regular folks having their viewpoints printed in the newspaper. As you know, the range of viewpoints expressed by the public represent the good, the bad, and the ugly . . . without that range of opinion, it wouldn't be "free speech".
Today, as this is being written, Associate Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor granted the Denver based, Little Sisters of the Poor Home for the Aged, its request for an emergency stay of that part of The Affordable Care Act (ACA) dealing with the abortion/contraception issue. The Sisters appeal had been denied earlier in the day by a Federal District Court. The stay by Justice Sotomayor gives the federal government a week to respond, but a decision may not come from the court until the middle of the year.
What is so troubling about this particular issue is that it seems that the ACA clearly violates the wording, spirit, and intent of the First Amendment, as it pertains to religious freedom. The fact that the government has tried to circumvent that amendment by dictating to insurance companies that they provide the abortion coverage "for free" is an insult not only to the amendment, but to common sense. Does anyone think that the government can or should dictate to a company what it must give away "for free"? Obviously, if the insurance companies involved complied with the government dictate, they would simply pass along those costs by charging the policy holders a higher premium. Further, if the government can dictate one thing that must given away "for free", does that then set a precedent, giving the government license to dictate any number of other things that businesses must give away for free? How about a new Cadillac? Or a waterfront home?
What is equally troubling is that, in this case, lower courts had ruled against the sisters' petition. However, in another ruling on the free contraception issue that was brought by the Archdiocese of Washington, the three-judge panel ruled two to one in favor of the archdiocese. Judge David S. Tatel, the dissenting vote in that case said, "Because I believe that appellants are unlikely to prevail on their claim that the challenged provision imposes a 'substantial burden' under the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, I would deny their application for an injunction pending appeal,". What is so disturbing about the position taken by Judge Tatel, and a number of other judges, is their apparent disregard for the First, and arguably the most important, Amendment to the Constitution. One would think that the clause, "or prohibiting the free exercise thereof", is clear enough to be understood by an elementary school student, let alone a person learned in the law. And, importantly, why should a church have to prove a "substantial burden" when some government act flies in the face of its religious tenets? The dictate to provide contraception and abortion services, "free" or otherwise, is a denial of long held religious beliefs and religious freedom.
And, as this is being written, it is not known if Justice Sotomayor's stay will be made permanent or if the lower court's ruling denying the sisters' plea will take effect. We can pray that "justice" will prevail. Should the sisters be denied their petition, future historians may point to that denial as the ruling that led to the ultimate dissolution of the Bill of Rights and the freedoms associated with it.
People of faith are being bullied by those who believe that political correctness and its companion, humanism, should be what guides our country and its people. Neither of those is a substitute for Religious beliefs. As mentioned up front, religion and politics should not be discussed in social circles . . . they're bound to get some people upset.
(Bob Meade is a Laconia resident.)