Senator Scott Brown (R - MA) recently sent an email to constituents who are signed up for his announcements stating why he was in favor of a conscience exemption for health insurance provided by religious organizations to the organizations' employees. He said it is a matter of personal freedom to follow a person's faith.
While I highly respect Senator Brown's respect of individual freedom of religion, he does not seem to fully grasp either the health care law or the true scope of freedom of religion.
While our Founding Fathers did establish individual freedom to practice a religion of choice, they did not establish that religion was inherently part of the public sphere. Neither did they establish any form of Christianity as an official state religion. While generations of Christian Americans have made Christianity a background default for American social life since colonial times, it is not and has never been the only religion practiced in these United States. Nor is it supposed to be a litmus test for new and existing laws.
Contrary to Senator Brown's assertions, the health care plan signed into law by President Obama is not one-size-fits-all. It does not provide a single health insurance provider across the entire nation with a single set of inviolable rules. It does require that health insurance companies offer plans that meet certain minimum standards, and that businesses offering health care to their employees need to meet those minimums. This is similar to establishing codes for minimum safety of buildings, food, vehicles and medicine, always done with the hope that higher safety will be embraced. Quality healthcare is similarly highly regulated, to meet minimum standards which can be improved upon.
When our federal government spends money, it routinely puts conditions on how that money is spent. Look at all of the restrictions put on the poorest among us who receive aid from the government: they have some money that can only be spent on food, more money that can only be spent on fuel, money that can only be spent on housing and so on. While the Republican-led government in 2003 may have been more lax about hundreds of billions spent in the cause of war than they were about thousands spent by a poor person in any town or city in America in the cause of liberty from want, they did maintain some minimal oversight in Iraq in at least some cases.
As a number of the religious organizations that Senator Brown seeks to protect receive large sums of federal money, the federal government has the right to dictate terms regarding how that money is spent. If the organizations do not like the terms, they have the right to refuse the money. Nobody is forcing them to take the money and then change how they practice their religion.
The physical and mental health of women is more important to the public sphere, as it is part of the right to a healthy life, with liberty from pain and suffering, and the pursuit of happiness, than the right of a private organization to refuse to render services that have already been paid for. The right of an organization receiving federal dollars to discriminate against women without limit, by permission of the government, is tantamount to government discrimination against women.
Our federal government is not supposed to discriminate against a class of people. When it has, it has enabled the worst passions of many weak souls at the expense of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness for all. Not only is this anathema to the health of women, it is anathema to the health of our republic. I highly urge Senator Brown to reconsider his allegiance to a religious institution whose mandates on birth control are not followed by 98% of its own members. It should instead be to the women of Massachusetts, many of whom voted for him to represent their interests.
Religious liberty is not just the freedom to practice one's faith. It is also the freedom to not be subjected to another's faith. The Constitution does not mention God even once. It does not mention Christianity even once. It mentions freedom many times. Senator Brown would do well to remember that.