The Obama administration continues to twist and turn the mandate of birth control in order to alleviate tension with religious groups who oppose the order. Religious groups will never be happy with this birth control mandate no matter how Obama tries to adjust it. What happened to separation of church and state? Obama has every right to pass this order to mandate that health insurance cover birth control, but he should not require religious institutions or groups to provide birth control to their students or members.
While the now infamous Georgetown student, Sandra Fluke, says that faith-based institutions should stop delaying “what is now inevitable,” a new bill proposal championed by Republican Representative Jeff Fortenberry is showing that in no way is this abuse of power “inevitable.” Fortenberry’s proposed bill would allow certain health care providers to opt out of covering contraceptives. This bill now has the support of more than 220 House members.
The Supreme Court has always seemed to back the 1952 ruling in Kedroff v. Saint Nicholas Cathedral where the court ruled that churches have the “power to decide for themselves, free from state interference, matters of church government as well as those of faith and doctrine.” Churches have the right to decide for themselves matters of “faith” and “doctrine.” Because birth control is viewed as wrong in the eyes of the church, religious based institutions should not be forced to provide such services that are not part of their “faith” or “doctrine.”
Now we sure have progressed since 1952 and certainly public opinion on social issues has changed since then, but the Supreme Court sided with religious freedom using this ruling earlier this year. The court ruled in favor of a Lutheran School in Pennsylvania over its firing of a teacher citing that job laws do not apply to religious institutions in the case of theology teachers or those who perform religious work. While critics say this will further discrimination by allowing religious institutions too much freedom in their hiring and firing, it is clear that the Supreme Court is in favor of keeping religious freedom and acknowledges the fine line between church and state.
In 1993, the Religious Freedom Restoration Act was passed to draw the line which the government should not cross in order to keep religious freedom. The Act outlined two conditions that must be met for exceptions to keeping religious freedom. The first condition stated that “burden” on religious freedom must be necessary for the “furtherance of a compelling government interest.” I think all would agree that Obama’s birth control mandate meets this criterion. Secondly, it must be the least restrictive way to instate the interest. This is where I think the Obama administration can improve the mandate. As Representative Fortenberry proposed, the bill should allow for religious institutions and groups to opt out of covering contraceptives in order to keep free exercise of religion.
The debate on the issue of providing contraceptives will certainly carry on into the 2012 general election. No doubt it will be a pressing issue for both Barack Obama and whoever he faces from the Republican Party. President Obama needs to take the hint from the unanimous Supreme Court decision earlier this year in favor of religious freedom and from past precedent and adhere to the free exercise of religious freedom in his institution of this birth control mandate.
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