By Hank Zumach, September 2, 2012
Published in the La Crosse Tribune.
It is an unfortunate and disturbing fact of U.S. politics that misinformation, half truths, deception and even outright lies have become a routine tactic when trying to influence public policies.
However, what is even more disturbing is the recent use of this type of tactic by certain denominations and organizations in the religious community, often with the wholehearted complicity of some politicians who expect the religious groups’ support in return.
The leaders of these religious groups know this deception is taking place even though telling the truth is claimed to be one of their most basic doctrines.
Nearly everyone has repeatedly heard the false claim that the United States was formed as a “Christian Nation.” A few stories and partial facts have been used in an attempt to legitimize this claim. Quotes from some of the Founding Fathers may have been used.
So called “experts,” such as David Barton or Dinesh D’Souza, will be cited, even though they have been overwhelmingly discredited by legitimate scholars.
Unfortunately, very few people make the effort to seriously question the “Christian Nation” claim and so some of our political and religious leaders are leading their misinformed followers in a direction that was never intended by the writers of the Declaration of Independence or the Constitution of the United States of America.
The Constitution is a God-free text, making no reference to any divine authority but instead vesting power in “We the People.” The only reference to religion in the Constitution is a negative, a statement saying that there shall be no religious test for holding public office.
The First Amendment to the Constitution states in part: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.” As if that weren’t clear enough, less than a decade after the Constitution’s ratification the Senate unanimously approved the Treaty of Tripoli, which expressly stated that the young nation “was not in any sense founded upon the Christian religion.”
But now we have a number of religious denominations, most prominently the Catholic Church, making the claim that businesses that have any affiliation with a religion are exempt from government laws and regulations.
The claim is even made that an individual business owner should not have to comply with laws that apply to the business if the owner has some “moral” objection to the laws. These claims are based on the lie that religious freedom trumps all other considerations.
What the leaders of these religious groups have refused to answer are questions about how far religious freedom should go. They do not want to discuss the fact that nonprofit organizations that exist for the purpose of practicing their faith, in other words actual religions, are exempt from many government regulations.
Let me be very clear about this: I believe it is vital to our society that religious denominations must have full freedom to determine the wages and working conditions for those who are priests, ministers, rabbis, nuns, monks, etc. of the religion. However, if we are to have a democratic and open society it is even more important that our public facilities such as hospitals, retail outlets, manufacturing operations and all other forms of commerce must be subject to evenly applied rules that reflect our society’s values.
What is hardly mentioned by the media coverage of this is that the religious denominations are claiming that when they are operating as a business, the business is covered by the First Amendment’s language about religon.
The argument thus far has focused on the Catholic Church’s claim that healthcare businesses and medical facilities that are somehow affiliated with it should not have to provide certain medical benefits to its employees that might conflict with Catholic doctrine.
What they are actually advocating would result in some sort of theological anarchy, where any business could even create their own rules if the owner claims some “moral” reason. An Islamic affiliated business might require its female employees to wear burkas. A Christian Science affiliated business might refuse to pay for Medicare or job related medical treatments.
Some sects might claim the right to use child labor, refuse to hire minorities or females, pay minimum wages, comply with job safety standards or pollution controls.
Do we really want the court system deciding which religious doctrines and practices are valid, and therefore should have priority over society’s secular laws, and which do not?
The obvious, simple solution to this is that religious sects should stop operating businesses. Stated another way, if the leaders of a religion feel they can not comply with business regulations, it should not operate a business. This would not stop them from healing the sick, providing shelter for the homeless or giving aid to the poor.
As has always been true, they can do these things as acts of charity, a virtue claimed by all religions.