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FEBRUARY 15, 2012 4:01PM

What Senator Brown Got Wrong

Rate: 11 Flag

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. 

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Excellent piece and I am posting to my fb.
Freedom of religion doesn't mean freedom for 200 or so old fellows to dictate to the rest of us. We didn't elect any of these bishops; they take their marching orders from that Hitler Youth fellow in the Vatican. As "Deep Throat" said in that movie "All The President's Men"---"Follow the Money". That's probably good advice for anyone about anything.
Let's not forget this 'freedom of conscience' seems to apply only to churches. If I am strongly against war, I still have to pay taxes of which 20% will fund wars and weapons.
Well put. A liberal society should make every reasonable accommodation for people to practice their religion free from the intrusive hand of government, which is why we have the First Amendment.

But the Church and their Republican allies are asking for more. They demand that the religious sensibility be given absolute priority over all other kinds of political and moral beliefs and interests, taking precedence even over the health of women. This is important, because despite the bishops offensive quip that "pregnancy is not a disease" and so contraception is not a preventative "medicine," the pill is used for more than just preventing conception but is also important in providing hormonal treatments on a whole range of women's health issues (such as cystic ovaries), as any doctor will tell you who didn't get their medical training at a theological seminary.

The position of the bishops and religious militants is that if a particular public policy action offends a group's or individual's religious convictions or moral scruples then the state is forbidden from taking that action as it relates to them. And given the interconnectedness of our society, this amounts to an absolute veto on the actions of the state by ecclesiastical authorities, which is what I suspect they intended from the start.

With the supremacy of religiously-based beliefs over all others it is not clear how this differs as a practical matter from theocracy.
Excellent post. And good for you for bringing the discrimination angle back into this discussion. After all, if was EEOC claims that prompted many states (over 20, I believe) to already offer birth control in their health plans.
Excellent Jacob, from an older guy who shares your birthday. Loved your final sentence particularly, "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. " Thank you.
Raymond & others:

Speaking of freedom, if I choose not to buy health insurance but the Government forces me to buy it, isn’t that a violation of my freedom? If I want to buy a health insurance policy that doesn’t cover contraception, wellness visits or fertility treatment (in Massachusetts all insurers are forced to buy this) shouldn’t I have that freedom? Obamacare is nothing more than a long list of rules, regulations, mandates and taxes. Rules, regulations, mandates and taxes depress freedom, not the other way around.
Why is contraception so important to be deductible free, when insulin (absolutely necessary for survival) and high blood pressure pills are not?
To everyone who has commented, thank you for reading.
Johnny Fever, the next post is for you.
Baltimore Aureole, government at various levels requires you to pay for things through taxes, things in some cases commercially available as well, even if you don't use the publicly-funded things. They are the price of society.
Perdidochas, you have a point. I think that insulin and pills to combat high blood pressure should also be co-pay free.
As I noted in a comment on another post, birth control is already widely available, often at very little cost. Larger pharmacies offer a number of medications for $4 per month, and Planned Parenthood can set someone up with birth control for $15 per month.

Many of the larger Catholic employers -- hospitals and universities for example -- have unionized employees. For those employees the health plan benefit will be negotiated by their unions. If birth control is not covered in a health plan, other services will be. This is because the employer contribution is typically a specific defined amount, and you have to look at the total benefit package. So for example, if a health plan doesn't cover birth control, perhaps the prescription drug copay will be $4 per month instead of $5 per month. Or the copay on lab services will be 15 percent instead of 20 percent. Or whatever. But with the Obama administration deciding what must be covered in health plans, who needs unions?

I find it interesting that out of all the many possible services, only birth control must be covered at zero copay. Blood pressure medications aren't. Beta blockers and calcium channel blockers aren't. Cholesterol medications aren't. Blood glucose medications aren't. Antibiotics aren't. The list of medications that don't have a zero copay goes on and on. Surely these are at least as important to women's health as birth control, but for some reason only birth control gets the zero copay.

What is that reason? The Obama administration wants to pander to their perceived base by meddling with employer-provided health insurance, mandating 100 percent coverage of a medication that is inexpensive, elective, and widely available. This is not about women's health vs. religious freedom. Amidst all the talk about freedom and the Founding Fathers and the Declaration of Independence, this is simply about pandering to women's groups.

I suppose these days many people in the country and certainly most Open Salon members don't see anything wrong with that. It appears to be legal, but these days most everything the government does appears to be legal. So if the Obama administration wants to pander to women's groups using employer health plans, that's fine. But can we please just call it what it is, and leave the Founding Fathers, the Constitution, and the Declaration of Independence out of it?
The turn to the obamacare discussion in the comments made me think of something: I've often compared it to car insurance. The state requires that all cars have a policy in place to be driven on the streets; this protects everyone, including the driver. Requiring everyone to buy health insurance should, in theory, keep costs down because fewer people will have bills left unpaid which raises the costs for everyone else. Johnny Fever mentioned wanting to buy a policy that didn't include services designed for women. The opposite is also true. My policies have always covered prostate exams, though I'm sure I'll never have one. The premiums are based upon the services you will use. You pay the same for a policy that covers birth control as I do for a policy that covers prostate exams. It all evens out in the end. The biggest beef I have is that CAM is still generally not covered. I would prefer an RX benefit for Goldenseal over a Z-Pak, but that probably won't happen.

Not everyone is required to have a car; therefore a requirement that all cars be covered by insurance is not a violation of my freedom. Unlike cars, Obamacare makes me have to buy insurance simply because I have a pulse. That’s not freedom, that’s the heavy hand of Government oppression.

I’m not sure what theory somehow makes the cost of healthcare come down if everyone suddenly has healthcare. Costs didn’t come down in Massachusetts nor did emergency room visits. But let’s think about that theory with a splash of common sense. If you can’t afford a car and one day somebody gives you a car for free, would you use it?

Finally, how can premiums be based on the services we use when everyone pays the same premium. In other words, the cost of insuring a fat person has to be more expensive than a physically fit person. Why should the physically fit subsidize the cost of fat people’s insurance?
The wisdom of mandating birth control coverage is to avoid a easily foreseen problem with religious organizations trying to prosecute religious laws on secular employees. I'm betting no religious organization would attempt to withhold antibiotics as a matter of "conscience."
The People--aka: the employees -- are not members of the flock when they accept a job at a Catholic hospital, which isn't a church anyway. There is no realistic Church religious freedom claim here, and no political manipulation applies that isn't the Majority speaking for themselves. The Constitution was only brought into the conversation by those claiming it protects their right to apply religious law on The People, an absurd claim. It's not up to The People to find BC on their own as a way of denying their rights and serving the specious claim of the rights of religions. It's their law, their market and their right to set the conditions, period.

Anyone thinking otherwise isn't at all familiar with the concept of the Est Clause and, unintentionally in some cases, would wind back the clock to a time when church and state were the same. So, in a supposed defense of the Constitution and "liberty," they would advocate for precisely the scenario that the philosophy of the Constitution and the Est Clause was designed to prevent.
Fish on Friday--gone
Mass in Latin--gone
Ban on Divorce--gone
Ban on Contraception-----???
But remember, the Pope is infallible because he says so.