Here is the First Amendment:
Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.
Note the section I have bolded: There are TWO clauses there — establishment, and free exercise.
Now, take a look at the section I have emphasized in this statement by conservative Catholic Andrew Napolitano:
“Most Catholic families do not follow the teachings on the church on contraceptives. It is their most unpopular and privately disregarded of the teachings in the modern era. However, what the government is doing [by mandating that Catholic hospitals, universities, and charities must include free contraception in health insurance coverage or lose federal funding] is utterly reprehensible from a constitutional perspective. It’s a core teaching of the church, whether it is accepted by the public or not. This is interfering with the free exercise of religion.”
Actually, it’s not. No one is forcing employees or patients or students or faculty or clients of Catholic hospitals, universities, or charities to use contraception or to have hysterectomies. But neither are Catholic hospitals, universities, or charities being allowed, by insisting on their “right” to purchase insurance coverage that does not cover reproductive health services like contraception and sterilization, to force everyone who works for them or uses their services to be bound by their personal religious beliefs. And to take taxpayer dollars to force their religious beliefs on others. And this is what these institutions are insisting on being allowed to do.
In other words, they are demanding that the federal government establish a preference for the specific religious doctrine of the Catholic Church or of particular religious denominations within the Christian religion, or of any religion. Something which the U.S. Constitution explicitly prohibits. “Religious liberty” for these people means liberty to freely exercise their religious beliefs — AND require everyone else to, in effect, exercise those religious beliefs as well. But the First Amendment’s language protects both the right of individuals to freely exercise their religious beliefs, and the right of individuals to be protected from government establishment of religious beliefs.
Marjorie Clifton, a “practicing Catholic … with a career in politics and women’s leadership” who has worked for change behind the scenes within the Catholic Church, has the single best analysis of the Church’s position on this issue that I have seen. Here is a snip:
Recently, the Catholic leadership came out in opposition to the mandate in our new healthcare law that all health insurance providers offer coverage for prescribed birth control, even for employees in some Catholic Institutions. But, let’s be clear about what the real issue is here. It is not about government controls, and it is not about infringement of our religious beliefs. It is about a church that has lost touch with reality. The leadership of the Catholic Church either is ignoring or is unaware of the disconnect between Catholic teaching and Catholic reality.