Separating church and state

Separating church and state

The Vindicator reported on March 30 that Mike DeWine, Ohio’s attorney general and chief law enforcement officer, is using the influence of his office and the resources of our state to join in a federal battle over religious issues. Talk about entanglement over issues involving church and state. He should know better.

The U.S Supreme Court, as recently as January 2012, reaffirmed in the Hosanna-Tabor Church decision that the First Amendment prohibits “theological entanglement” between church and state. That includes the case where, like here, the government tries to intervene on one side or the other in a religious dispute.

The issue in question involves the requirement under the new federal health care law that employer-sponsored health care plans shall provide access to contraceptives and birth control information, something which is almost universally used and has been constitutionally guaranteed in this country for nearly 50 years. However, because some religions oppose contraception, as a matter of their belief and teaching, the law granted exemptions to churches and religiously affiliated organizations.

In spite of that exemption, some churches are not satisfied. Now they want to expand that exemption to also exempt private, secular for-profit, non-religious organizations whose owners claim they are personally opposed to contraception. Some of these companies have hundreds of stores across the country and employ thousands of employees. They want to deprive their employees of federally required benefits because they — the owners — claim they are religiously opposed to contraception. Those employers want to impose their own personal religious views on others, who may or may not agree, on the grounds of conscience or “religious freedom.” DeWine is joining the fight.

However, religious freedom is a defense to government action, and is not an offensive tool to enforce ideas upon another. As one federal court recently noted: “religious liberty is a shield, not a sword; it is not to be used to impose one’s religious beliefs on others.” Yet that is what these churches, corporations and DeWine are trying to do.

Mr. DeWine should focus himself and the efforts of his office on state civil matters that do not entangle the state with religious disputes.

Richard P. McLaughlin, Youngstown