Rutherford Lawson's Blog

Common Sense with a Liberal Twist

Rutherford Lawson

Rutherford Lawson
Naperville, Illinois, USA
June 15
Rutherford Lawson is a political and social commentary blogger based in IL. He also hosts a radio show on BlogTalkRadio.


Rutherford Lawson's Links
FEBRUARY 6, 2012 6:18PM

More Thoughts on the Wall of Separation

Rate: 0 Flag

In my previous post I shared my thoughts on the recent Supreme Court decision that allows church affiliated organizations (specifically schools) to defy the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) so long as the person being discriminated against is a “minister” of the church. The premise is that our government cannot dictate how churches choose their leaders. It breaches the wall of separation between church and state. I won’t  repeat my objection here but suffice it to say the Supreme Court chose a very poor case to make their point.

The nation is now debating another religious brouhaha prompted by the department of Health and Human Services (HHS). Recently HHS ruled that any employer who provides health insurance to their employees must cover contraception, sterilization procedures and the “morning after” pill. This includes Catholic affiliated hospitals which, based on Catholic dogma, oppose contraception. The Catholic church is crying foul and claiming that HHS is breaching the wall of separation by inhibiting “the free practice” of their religion. It should be noted that the HHS ruling does not affect churches per se. A church and a church affiliated institution are two different things.

Unlike some of my smug conservative readers I don’t know with 100% certainty what was on the minds of the Founding Fathers when the establishment clause of the First Amendment was written. To my mind the clause protects religious groups from persecution by the government as well as favoritism or advantage from the government. Now we need to define terms. What is a religious group? A religious group is a group of (mostly) like-minded individuals who share a common spiritual concept of our origins, our destiny and the proper way to conduct ourselves in the here and now. A religious group is not a group of secular teachers. It is not a group of doctors. It is not a group of scientists. It is not a group engaged in commerce.

In my previous post I wrote about a religious group (the Lutherans) who poked their nose into the teaching of secular subjects but then wanted to maintain enough of a shred of religiosity to be protected by the First Amendment. Similarly, Catholic affiliated hospitals dip their toe into the purely secular sphere of providing health care and employing people (doctors, nurses, orderlies, cafeteria staff, etc.) of various faiths but want to claim just enough religiosity to deny insurance coverage for contraception from their employees. If every other non-religious-affiliated business with a moral objection to contraception must provide insurance coverage for it, why should the Catholic church be any different?

There is a dilemma here. Part of most religious faiths is to care for others. Those faiths with the funds to do so can set up health care facilities and hire professionals to provide care in those facilities.  Surely this is a good thing. This is something we want to encourage. The dilemma arises when the dogma of the faith flies in the face of common sense medical practice. Most Catholics practice birth control. The official position of the Church is so out of touch with reality that all but the most ardent of its followers find it laughable. The simple fact is if you want to practice medicine in the 21st century and you want to minimize the instances of abortion then birth control is the most sensible option. Catholic or not, if you are in the health care business and you decry the use of birth control, then you really shouldn’t be in the health care business in the first place.

I think the bigger question posed by both the SCOTUS case and the HHS ruling is when a religion crosses the line into secular society and provides secular services to a non-sectarian audience should those secular practices be protected by the establishment clause? In my opinion, they should not. The government will not tell you how to preach. The government will not tell you how to choose your ministers. But the government, in my opinion, can and should dictate whether your secular practices are consistent with American law and regulations.

While I think it would be a terrible loss if every Catholic affiliated hospital shut its doors, I also believe that the minute they choose to hire people of all faiths and serve people of all faiths they must abide by the employment practices of every other institution in this country. If that involves offering insurance coverage for contraception, so be it.


Image: Danilo Rizzuti / Political Blogger Alliance

Your tags:


Enter the amount, and click "Tip" to submit!
Recipient's email address:
Personal message (optional):

Your email address:


Type your comment below:

I have a request, which I hope you will honor. It is that you ponder for just a moment about a situation that once existed in America during the course of my lifetime and, possibly, during the course of yours.

There was a time when our national government had little to do with healthcare in America. Not only did it not regulate it to any great degree, but it also did not subsidize it to any great degree.

This changed drastically about the time I graduated high school in 1967. I was old enough, and experienced enough, to understand that people were not dying on the sidewalks for lack of health care.

I had grown up in a town that had a Catholic hospital (Saint Anthony’s), a Presbyterian hospital (Presbyterian), a Methodist hospital (Mercy), a Lutheran hospital (Saint Luke’s), and a Baptist hospital (Baptist Memorial). At one point during this time, I had a job driving a taxi; and I drove many poor people to these hospitals because they understood that would be well treated at these private, charitable, religiously connected institutions no matter what their ability to pay – all in the days before our national government was as involved in healthcare as it now is.

I grew up poor. Yet, our family doctor made house calls, no matter where we lived, if I, or one of my brothers or sisters, were seriously ill.

I attended college, graduated, served in our military, went back to another college, and made regular visits back to my hometown. I noticed that these charitable institutions were disappearing. Mercy hospital was abandoned, boarded shut, and fell into great disrepair. Both Saint Anthony’s and the Baptist Memorial hospitals were eventually absorbed into Kaiser Permanente. Neither Saint Luke’s nor Presbyterian hospitals exist in the form they once did, as private, religious, charitable institutions.

Our family doctor died. None of his successors ever made a house call to our home after I left in 1967.

I want you to imagine that time, Rutherford. In 1967, healthcare costs were 5.7% of our GDP. Today, they are over 18% of our GDP, despite a huge growth in the goods and services our nation now provides.

I want you to imagine that time, Rutherford. Then, I want you to ask yourself these questions:

•If our government were involved in healthcare today, to the same limited extent it was involved before Medicare and Medicaid, then would the policy difficulty you have outlined in your post be as problematic as it is today?

•Would healthcare costs be as high today as they are had our national government not involved itself in healthcare as it has?

My belief is that one can ask similar questions about education in this country since the formation of the Department of Education. Have primary and secondary education in this country improved since you and I were in school?

Think about these things, Rutherford. Don’t take the 10-foot view and discuss the trees while abandoning the 50,000-foot view and missing the forest.

One final thought.

My impression is that you might have a closer connection to healthcare in this country than most. In that case, you might have a position on this matter that you might be reluctant to abandon as a matter of self-interest.

That’s OK. I am not here to change your mind.

What I am here to do is to focus your attention on what may be a fact: The situation in your post might not exist if it weren’t for the existence of the close, pervasive, financial relationship of our national government with healthcare providers in our country.