Frank Bernheisel: The View From Here
Frank Bernheisel
Frank Bernheisel
Posted 07.05.14
Just Outside Washington


Conscience, Choices, and the US Constitution

The First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution on religion states: "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof."

Thomas Jefferson elaborated: "I contemplate with sovereign reverence that act of the whole American people which declared that their legislature should 'make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof,' thus building a wall of separation between Church & State."

The Supreme Court in Burwell v. Hobby Lobby Stores, Inc. threw out a lot of smoke.

It elaborated on its opinion that corporations are persons so that now corporations have religious beliefs. Worse than that, corporations have religious rights. Also, that the religious beliefs and rights of corporations take precedence over the rights of employees.

So, the Court seems to miss that the employees who disagree with Hobby Lobby are being denied equal protection under the law. Pun intended.

Then there is the Religious Liberty smoke screen.

The Affordable Care Act (ACA) says that employers -- read corporations, must provide health insurance that covers FDA-approved birth control. Hobby Lobby claimed and the Court agreed that this violated their religious liberty.

How does that work? The ACA does not say corporations or their owners must use birth control in violation of their religious beliefs. In the world as it is, all religious people face choices every day, which could violate their religion's teachings.

Most religions have prohibitions against blaspheming -- many people swear and hear other swear; pork is served in restaurants that serve Jews and Muslims -- they choose; some outlaw gay sex, etc. The availability of these choices may offend sensibilities but in no way impede religious freedom -- all are free to choose to follow their conscience.

The Hobby Lobby decision was bad enough and the Court said that it was a narrow decision. It lied.

The Supreme Court recently ruled that Wheaton College doesn't have to abide by the ACA contraceptive coverage requirement provided the school, which "serves Jesus Christ and advances His Kingdom," tells the federal government that it has a religious objection to providing birth control to its employees and students.

Of the six jurists who decided the Wheaton College ruling all were male and five were Catholic.

The five justices that decided the Hobby Lobby case were all Catholic and male. In this case it's not just that five Catholic justices ruled that the government has to defer to the employers' religious objections. The reasoning of the Court causes concern.

Justice Alito's majority opinion relies on the Catholic teaching about "complicity" to explain the supposed burden on religious freedom. He repeats the Catholic Church's position that the ACA contraceptive mandate violates the moral obligations of a Catholic to do anything that would "facilitate" the provision of contraception to any individual (and that includes non-Catholics).

So it seems that the five Catholic justices voted in accordance with the teaching of their religion. This raises some questions.

  • If they had voted otherwise; would it have been a sin?
  • Is this acceptable in a country that claims "freedom and justice for all?"
  • Can a "good" Catholic be an impartial judge?
  • Can a citizen with deeply held religious beliefs -- Muslim, Hindu, Mormon, or Christian -- be a good citizen?
  • How does one resolve the conflict between secular law and religious belief?