08 February 2012

Birth and State

No religious group or denomination should ever be allowed veto power over the laws and regulations of the federal government of the United States nor of any state or municipality therein.  Yet this is exactly what the very vocal opponents of the Obama administration’s recent changes to regulations for employee health coverage propose.  They may as well propose changes to the composition of Congress restoring the First Estate. 

Of course, this would directly violate the First Amendment to the Constitution prohibition against the establishment of religion in the worst way possible, and the only way for such an action to stand would be to amend the Constitution yet again.  Such a change would never pass.  What the administration’s opponents in this matter are suggesting amounts to an attempt to do so through the backdoor.

I am writing, of course, about the administration’s change to the rules requiring employers’ health plans to cover birth control contraceptives.  To do so in no way forces Catholics who follow the superstitious medieval rules of the Church to make use of such an abomination in their eyes.  It merely puts religious facilities offering other than purely religious services on the same level as their more secular counterparts.  The Fourteenth Amendment calls that “equal protection under the law”; exempting Catholic employers from the new rules would deny that to those counterparts.

The proposition that the United States of America was founded as a Christian Nation is a lie, no matter how widespread and fervently believed.  The so-called Founding Fathers did not see themselves founding a vanguard of post-Reformation Protestant Christianity but a new kind of Republic based on the ideals of the Enlightenment. 

With a small minority in dissent, they made their new Nation thoroughly secular.  They saw the national capital not as a New Jerusalem but as a New Rome.  They chose an area with seven hills named Rome, Virginia, with a river named Tiber running through it in which to build the new city.  The Mall in Washington City mimicked the Roman Forum and the Capitol building included an “eternal flame” like the Temple of Vesta.  Congress’ inaugural session began on Christmas Day 1789, and the Post Office for decades delivered mail seven days a week, obviously including Sunday.

Article VI in the original Constitution specifically forbade any religious test for officials of the legislative, executive, and judicial branches at all levels of the country, federal, state, and local.  The First Amendment in the Bill of Rights added two years later provided that “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof”.  The Obama administration’s new rules do not violate the latter part of that clause in any way, but the propositions of their opponents transgress the primary part of the clause in both spirit and form.

Besides violating the above-mentioned prohibition, exempting the Catholic Church in this country from following in its secular institutions the same rules as everyone else is the equivalent of allowing  facilities of an Islamic denomination in this country with similar secular purposes such as a hospital to force women to wear the veil on the premises.  Or allowing the illegally polygynous Fundamentalist Latter Day Saints  to claim tax exemptions for all their multiple wives. I say that we should keep the First Estate where it is, separate and on the outside.

There is but one answer to this particular dilemma: Universal Healthcare.

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