Steve Chapman, a member of the Chicago Tribune’s editorial board wrote an interesting article on Rick Perry’s claim that President Barack Obama is waging a war on religion. Chapman says that Perry’s claim is inflammatory and overstated.
The reason for Chapman’s statement is because two of Perry’s reasons do not infringe on the rights of believers. One of the issues raised by Perry is Obama’s refusal to defend the Defense of Marriage Act (or DOMA). The other issue is Obama’s support of the repeal of the “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy and the effect it may have on military chaplains who are asked to perform same-sex marriages.
Another issue Perry has raised in his accusation of Obama is the prohibition of officially sponsored prayer in school. Chapman rightly points out that this is not Obama’s fault because it was a decision of the U.S. Supreme Court.
On the other hand, when it comes to Obama’s war on religion, Chapman says that Perry may have a point. Chapman offers two examples to prove his point. Chapman wrote:
But look far enough in this pile of chaff and you find some wheat. On two major issues cited by Perry, Obama has broken with precedent to curtail religious freedom in a way that should alarm staunch secularists (like myself) as well as the devout.
The first instance arose after passage of his health care overhaul, when the Department of Health and Human Services ordered that all insurance plans cover contraceptives and sterilization for women, with no copayment. The mandate means many Americans would have to be complicit in something their faith forbids.
As the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops pointed out, “Before the mandate, insurers were free to issue plans covering contraception and sterilization (or not); employers were free to sponsor, and usually subsidize, plans with this coverage (or not); and employees were free to choose this coverage and pay for it through their premiums (or not).” That is no longer true.
The administration provides an exemption for religious employers — while defining the term so tightly that religious hospitals, social service agencies and colleges wouldn’t qualify.
The president of the University of Notre Dame is a priest. But under Obamacare, he is obligated to furnish his employees and students with birth control options that are anathema to the Catholic Church — or else drop health insurance coverage altogether.
Even states that mandate contraceptive coverage usually allow companies to avoid it by self-insuring. They also grant broad exemptions to those with faith-based conflicts. The federal employee health insurance program permits carriers with religious scruples to offer policies without contraceptive coverage.
But so far, the administration is not nearly so reasonable (though it is considering limited changes). Under its policy, the free exercise of religion ends where health insurance coverage begins.
I agree with Chapman in his evaluation of the problems faced by religious institutions when it comes to the implementation of Obamacare. Some of the provisions of the health reform place undue burden on religious organizations. The result of these burdensome regulations the health care reform is imposing on religious organizations may force these organizations to drop health insurance coverage for their employees. The consequence of this policy may be the creation of a single payer universal health care system, which has been the desire of many people in government.
The second issue raised by Chapman is one which I have already mentioned in a previous post. Chapman wrote:
Even more extreme is its position on a dispute involving an Evangelical Lutheran church and school in Michigan. The school had dismissed a teacher who taught religious and nonreligious classes, and she went to court alleging illegal discrimination.
Federal courts have generally barred such lawsuits, leery of getting tangled up in church doctrine and discipline. But an appeals court ruled in favor of the teacher, and Obama’s Justice Department took her side.
Not only that, it said churches and their schools should be treated no differently from other employers. Taken to its logical conclusion, that would mean the Catholic Church could be forced to admit women to the priesthood.
When the case was argued before the Supreme Court, conservative Justice Antonin Scalia marveled at the administration’s claim: “There, black on white in the text of the Constitution, are special protections for religion. And you say it makes no difference?” Exclaimed liberal Justice Elena Kagan, whom Obama appointed, “I too find that amazing.”
In this case, as with the health care mandate, the president evidently thinks that when the imperatives of faith thwart his vision of social policy, faith will have to get out of the way.
Again, I agree with Chapman. The government has no business in deciding who is and who is not a minister in a church. Religious organizations must protect the rights of their employees, but a religious organization must be free from governmental interference when it comes to how it imposes discipline on people involved in ministry within the control of those institutions.
In the end, Chapman’s conclusion on Obama’s war on religion deserves to be noticed. Chapman wrote: “Is Obama the enemy of religion? Not quite. But when it comes to religious freedom, he’s not a reliable friend.”
Professor of Old Testament
Northern Baptist Seminary