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First Amendment freedoms don’t place churches above the law

Published: Sun, February 19, 2012 @ 12:00 a.m.

When the contraception issue first made headlines a week or two ago, the American Catholic Bishops went over the top to vigorously complain about their loss of religious freedom and liberty, and that the administration had “cast aside the First Amendment to the Constitution.” The rule they were complaining about required all employers to provide various forms of preventive health care, such as vaccinations for children, wellness exams for seniors, and contraception for women of child-bearing age. Statistics show that insurance companies save money when they provide these preventive services.

While religious orders and churches were specifically made exempt from the contraception rule, independent church-related entities, such as universities and health care institutions, were not exempt. Those entities employ people of all religions or no religion and serve the general public without regard to religious affiliation, thus taking them outside of the exemption for purely religious organizations.

Because of these concerns, the rule was relaxed by the administration to expand the church exemption to religiously affiliated institutions. The employees will get contraception services without charge directly from health insurance companies. Thus, Catholic and Catholic-related institutions will not be required to pay for contraceptive services.

In continuing their complaints about religious freedom and the First Amendment, the bishops are not on firm ground. Their First Amendment rights are not absolute. The freedom of religion is subject to a balancing test among competing interests in any particular situation. A person or a church may have the right to preach about their doctrine that contraception is immoral, but they don’t have the same right to enforce that doctrine on unwilling individuals or non-believers. That is civil law, and the church should keep out of civil law. That’s called separation of church and state.

The president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic bishops recently stated that the “nationwide mandate of insurance coverage ... is both unsupported in the law and remains a grave moral concern.” Since 1968, Catholic theologians from around the world have questioned the status of the church teaching on contraception. The threat here is not to the religious freedom of the church, but to the personal freedom and conscience of women who are entitled by law to have access to these benefits and the right to receive the highest quality of health care, including contraception, no matter who they work for. It is hoped the final details of this controversy can be resolved on that basis – women’s’ health.

Richard P. McLaughlin, Youngstown


1newsmaker1(127 comments)posted 2 years, 7 months ago

IF we're REALLY concerned with Womens Health and Safety, then overide the 1st Amendment, mandating all women must buy a gun and be trained on how the shoot and protect themselves at all times.

Seriously, Notre Dame University can not be forced by LAW to provide any means that act to dismiss Moral Law or Conscience..

Obama's accomodation is another ruse to confuse.

This so-called accomodation changes nothing of Moral Substance and fails to remove the assault on Religious Liberty and the rights of Conscience which gave rise to the controversy.

Always remember : A dictator and U. S. Constitution are enemies. All of us, can only thank our Founders,

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2Photoman(1004 comments)posted 2 years, 7 months ago

That buzzing sound you hear is created by our Founders spinning in their graves as the U.S. Constitution is being dismantled or, at best, ignored, by our governmental agencies and the White House itself.

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3JMHO(146 comments)posted 2 years, 7 months ago

Once again, the point here is being missed. Democrats have purposefully evolved this issue into "Republicans are against contraception". The REAL issue is government imposing mandates on a certain religion.....a CLEAR violation of the constitution. Maybe CBS/NYT should phrase the question "Does the Federal Gov't have the right to impose mandates that are contrary to their teachings on certain religions"? Although looking at who is conducting that poll, wounldn't surprise me if they still agree.

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4newsmaker1(127 comments)posted 2 years, 7 months ago

Peacelover: Obama is a sh it stirrer and this false issue of Contraceptive is a perferct example of how he operates, He divides by design: Peacelover. Obama wants to make to someohow make the issue -a health issue using Contraception.
Let me tell you what's going on.

The Press first started on Romney about his views on Contraception, He didn't take the bait, claiming the election is not about contraceptives, This was before Obama then broke the news that he was bigger than the constitution with this unbelieveable mandate.

Peacelover, Everybody is for Womens Health but if your talking about Killing Babies, Well, Planned Parenthood brags that they kill 300.000 little babies every year,but killing babies is not a good subject.

You can see yourself, if we had a Single Payer plan, the power it would put in the hands of One Man. Controlling all health dollars--is a receipe for American disaster. We shouldn't even be having this conversation pitting Americans against each other over a fraudulent issue. May God, Bless you

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5Woody(451 comments)posted 2 years, 7 months ago

Healthcare is not a RIGHT. Because in order to have that right you must force someone to do something they might not want to, a doctor providing the service, thus infringing on their rights.

When I practice my freedom of speech and my freedom to worship, I am not forcing another person to something they might not want to do.

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6GnomeMad(22 comments)posted 2 years, 7 months ago

What about women who are prescribed "the pill" for medical reasons aside from preventing pregnancy, such as regulating menstrual cycles or treating hormonal imbalances? Are they to be denied prescribed medication because that medication also happens to prevent pregnancy?

I just love it how a bunch of supposedly celibate old men in the Vatican can use a questionable interpretation of Bible verse to tell that they're not permitted to practice contraception. Most Christian denominations have no such "laws" regarding contraception. A recent poll showed 99% of women in general and 98% of Catholic women have no problem with the pill or with contraception in general. The poll is not implying that 99% or 98% of women actually *take* the pill -- just that they believe women should have access to it.

As for the men who are against the pill on religious grounds, you're going to have to stop playing with your privates because "spilling your seed" is specifically mentioned as a no-no according to the Bible. And here's another church law to consider: according to Catholic doctrine, sexual intercourse is ONLY to be engaged in by married couples for the express purpose of procreation. I find it very hard to believe there are many people who have lived up to that requirement. Spouses engaging in sex just for fun? Those old farts in Rome say you better stop it and get your butt to confession or you'll be in for a *very* hot time when kick the bucket.

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7CommonSenseGuy(37 comments)posted 2 years, 7 months ago

Seperation of Church and State gives the Church freedom to practice its beliefs even if the government disagrees with those beliefs.

I personally see nothing wrong with blood transfusions. Blood transfusions save countless lives every year. I personally think it is a ridiculous belief that the Jehova's Witness will not permit blood transfusions. But, I respect their freedom of religion to believe what they want to believe. I do not think that the government should force them to violate their beliefs and get and pay for blood transfusions.

You may not agree with the Catholic Church teaching on the immorality of birth control, many forms of which actually cause abortion, but it is not right for Obama to force his agenda down the Church's throat. As Bishop Zubik of Pittsburgh stated, Obama basically said "To Hell With You" to the Catholic Church!

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8GnomeMad(22 comments)posted 2 years, 7 months ago

"Seperation of Church and State gives the Church freedom to practice its beliefs even if the government disagrees with those beliefs."

On this point, I agree totally, but I'd add that it also gives individuals the right and freedom to *not* practice those beliefs. I can see where a church has the right to dictate certain things to *direct* employees as a condition of employment (i.e. church secretary, choir director, church daycare employment) because those employees most likely are there because they share the beliefs and mission the church stands for and play an active part in sharing those beliefs. But in a church-owned quasi-business that employs people of various faiths (or no faith) to perform essentially secular tasks -- an accountant, a doctor, a nurse -- and serves a public made up of various faiths, a public whose tax money makes up a significant portion of that hospital or university (or whatever's) revenues through Medicare/Medicaid, property tax abatements, and so forth -- then I believe the church has to play by the same rules as strictly secular businesses. Otherwise, all you have to do is slap a religious symbol on the front door of your business, then declare your business is church-affiliated and therefore exempt from whatever government mandated rules and guidelines you disagree with.

If churches are going to conduct business in the secular world -- and compete with secular businesses -- they need to follow the same rules. They can preach all they want, but they should have to offer the same benefits and rules secular firms are required to comply with.

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9Woody(451 comments)posted 2 years, 7 months ago


You may get your wish. This could cause the Catholic institutions, churches, charities, and hospital, etc. to shut their doors or not have any employees or provide any care. Then the secular world can deal with it all.

Or the Catholic Church can say they will stay open and carry on with business as usual and not provide the mandated coverage. Then the government will send the men with guns to shut them down. And even though I am not Catholic, I will stand at the gates to prevent the g-men from shutting them down. I bet there will be a few more like me. We will hold our own occupy.

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10GnomeMad(22 comments)posted 2 years, 7 months ago

If they did shut their doors over something that's already been in place in several states without all this hoo-hah (it's just now being taken nationwide) that would show that they're commitment to those they serve isn't as great as a silly and outdated practice that many of their faithful ignore.

I highly doubt they'd close up their hospitals -- they're too big of a cash cow for them. Look around and you won't see many new Catholic churches being built -- if anything, they're closing and consolidating them -- but they sure do spend a lot of dough on new hospital wings (and new hospitals... St. E's in Boardman, for example). They wouldn't be doing that unless they were making some good money from them.

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11Education_Voter(858 comments)posted 2 years, 7 months ago

Great letter Mr. McLaughlin.

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12lib(12 comments)posted 2 years, 7 months ago

Mr. Laughlin needs to run for office. He is not only a person who thinks but writes well and understands the Constitution. How can we have someone like Santorum running for office when there are brilliant people like Mr. Laughlin? Bravo, Mr. Laughlin.

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