(Listen to Separation.)
I'm Stuart Zechman, and, as a movement liberal, I'm totally for religious liberty.
Yep, as a firm supporter of the Bill of Rights, I think that the first sentence of the First Amendment, which reads:
"Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion"represents an inherently American value: the government has no place whatsoever instituting anybody's church's dogma into public policy...anywhere.
The next beautiful sentence in the First Amendment, which reads:
"or prohibiting the free exercise thereof", means exactly that: the state can't tell you if, when or how to worship whom. That is entirely your business as an individual, not mine and not the government's.
What you believe in your heart of hearts depends solely on what your conscience dictates, and nobody else's. That's freedom. That's liberalism. That's America.
So then I read this latest statement from the White House on the implementation of their Rube Goldberg health care law, the "PPACA," and it says:
"Today, President Obama announced that his Administration will implement a policy that accommodates religious liberty while protecting the health of women."and I read that Nancy Keenan, head of NARAL, the Washington-based "National Abortion Rights Action League" put out the statement:
"the announcement makes it clear that President Obama is firmly committed to protecting women's health.", and I thought to myself "Great! That must mean that the PPACA will be amended to say that abortion is now covered by Medicaid, which is the health insurer used by about 49 million low-income Americans, amongst whom a disproportionate share are low-income women, since the PPACA provides the majority of its 'Universal Coverage' by expanding Medicaid, and that the state-based private insurance exchanges in which the law forces individuals to participate will now be regulated to mandate abortion coverage."
You know, what else could it mean?
Religious liberty, making no law that establishes anybody's religious doctrine as the basis for public policy, surely that's what he discussion is about, right?
I mean, it's not like the President and Nancy Keenan could possibly mean that religious liberty somehow involves the government writing laws and regulations on the basis of the theology of a particular church?
Even if that church is a huge, world-wide institution, it would be a violation of everybody else's religious liberty to enforce the laws with special exceptions for them. That's crazy.
It's funny, the little church that I attend, the Middle Church on Second Avenue in New York, where I live, well, those folks believe that Jesus wasn't only giving out bread to eat, they note that he was healing the sick, too. So why shouldn't the law follow that example? Why do some churches get to say what's in the health care laws and regulations, while other churches --like mine-- don't? Isn't that the whole point behind "no law respecting an establishment of religion"? Why does some people's religion seem to matter more to the government than mine...or yours?
It seems to me as if the term "religious liberty" is being turned on its head to mean that some people's church doctrines are to be respected to the point where the President gets up at a podium and says "the government will accommodate you immediately," and some people's aren't. And, not to paint with too broad of a brush here, but it always seems to be a certain kind of church that gets the special treatment, that gets special rights, usually the ones that are the political enemies of movement liberals like me in their spare time, or have a great deal of institutional power and wealth.
That's not accommodating religious liberty, that's accommodating something else.
Maybe we movement liberals ought to be a bit more clear about just how much we support the Bill of Rights, and real religious liberty in particular.
Maybe we ought to start demanding that our government be concerned about the health of everybody, even the women on Medicaid that Washington lobbyists like Nancy Keenan don't seem too concerned about, and start respecting the religious liberty of everybody, by not granting special favors in the law to the churches with the most money to pay for public relations campaigns in an election year.
Maybe, when we talk about "the free exercise" of our religious liberties, we ought to be asking "Whose? Yours? Or everybody's?" for a change we can all believe in.
I'm Stuart Zechman, and this has been the Z-Files.