Grasshopper Soup: Law respects narrow idea of religion | SierraSun.com

Grasshopper Soup: Law respects narrow idea of religion

Bob Sweigert
Special to the Sun

TAHOE/TRUCKEE and#8212; The federal government of the United States is trampling on the First Amendment. The trust Americans have placed in their government for more than hundred years to preserve and protect religious freedom has been betrayed.

On February 10th, the Obama administration made final the August 2011 rule of what religious employers must cover in their employee insurance packages and#8220;without change.and#8221; The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, and any other office or branch of the federal government responsible for the rule that virtually all private health care plans must cover sterilization, abortifacients and contraception, must be held accountable for undermining the right of religious institutions to their own moral and ethical conscience, standards, autonomy and self-determination.

The so-called exemption to this mandate for and#8220;religious employers,and#8221; including Catholic hospitals, universities and charities, and promises by the federal government of future and#8220;accommodationsand#8221; to religious groups and individuals, will most likely exclude religious groups that employ and serve people of all faiths. That means the most generous and inclusive religious institutions will not qualify for special consideration by HHS.

It also means that, if your religion discriminates against people of other faiths, and non-believers, and denies them employment and health services, then the federal government respects your religion. If your religion doesnand#8217;t discriminate against people of other faiths, hires them and helps everyone in need, like teen mothers, recovering drug addicts, the homeless, and the hungry, then the federal government does not respect your religion.

In effect, HHS, and associated federal offices, is in the business of defining religion, and its practice, for the entire nation. That is a clear violation of the First Amendment.

This is the crux of the issue, not womenand#8217;s rights or health care coverage.

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A church must give up its religious freedom to qualify for a religious employer exemption because the federal definition of what constitutes a religion, apparently, does not include the religious belief that no one should be discriminated against for their religion, or lack thereof, especially when it comes to employment. Ironically, that is inconsistent with other federal employment policies, not to mention common sense.

Religious liberty is not just for religious institutions anyway. Individuals, including private insurers, also have the right to act according to their own religious conscience. What good is religious freedom if it only applies to certain churches, and not individuals?

This entire fiasco perverts the whole idea of religious freedom. Not even Jesus and his disciples would have qualified for the exemption, because they included everyone!

As of now, if the current federal policy stands, there will never be an exemption to the HHS mandate for objecting insurers, secular employers, for-profit religious employers or individuals who object because of their religious beliefs. All insurers, including the self-insured, must provide HHS mandated coverage to any employee who wants it. Individuals who offer, or pay for, insurance premiums, regardless of their religious beliefs, will be forced to subsidize what they object to based on those beliefs.

Accommodations to religious groups have been put off for a year, after the election.

The Respect for Rights of Conscience Act has been introduced in Congress (H.R. 1179, S. 1467) to ensure that groups and individuals involved in the health care and health insurance industry and#8220;retain the right to provide, purchase, or enroll in health coverage that is consistent with their religious beliefs and moral convictions.and#8221;

If you value liberty and justice for all, and the First Amendment, support the Conscience Act, and petition your representatives to do the same.

Bob Sweigert is a Sierra Sun columnist, published poet, former college instructor and ski instructor. He has a B.A. and an M.A.T. from Gonzaga University. He has lived at Lake Tahoe for 30 years.