If Obama is re-elected, your liberty is at risk. That’s the recurring electoral mantra of the right. He’s got plans both overt and covert to turn America into some kind of Marxist state where Washington will make all your decisions for you. And, as too often is the case come election time, the ass that brays the loudest and the longest on any issue ends up owning it. Vast swaths of this nation now take it as an article of faith that the O in Obama stands for oppression.
So let’s take a look at the facts. Or maybe first at some definitions.
Liberty is defined as “freedom from arbitrary or despotic government or control.” To clarify things further, arbitrary is defined as “based on random choice or personal whim, rather than any reason or system,” and despotic is defined as “the oppressive wielding of power.”
So what are the specific charges laid against the current administration? The current hubbub is the charge that Obama’s health care legislation would force some religious institutions (not the churches themselves, but other entities they run, like hospitals and schools) to provide birth control to their employees through their health plans – not pay for, mind, just provide. The US Conference of Bishops has their knickers in a knot because they say this makes them “collude” is something they consider sinful. Too bad their high and mighty morals didn’t keep more of their clerics from “colluding” with the children entrusted to their moral care.
What has the right done in response? For one thing, introduced legislation like the “Respect for Rights of Conscience Act” authored by Nebraska Republican Rep. Jeff Fortenberry and co-sponsored, to date, by more than half the House. States are getting into the act, too. North Dakota, for example, has the “Religious Liberty Restoration Amendment” on its upcoming ballot.
What would these laws do? Allow any employer to dictate the drugs or medical coverage provided under its health plans based on the employer’s personal religious beliefs. So what might various employers choose to exclude, given such an option?
Birth control is the obvious answer, but just the beginning. Testing and treatment of HIV is a likely target, given the antipathy of many religions to gays. Hell, testing and treatment of any STD, since good, pure Christians never wander from the marriage bed and so are not at risk (right, Newt?) Treatment for alcohol or drug addiction? Why should a godly employer underwrite your sins, heathen? How about prenatal services for single mothers – or any services for their bastard children? I mean the mothers weren’t supposed to be sleeping around anyway, and the sins of the father are visited upon the son, right? Some fundamentalist churches don’t believe in childhood inoculations – so when Junior comes down with the measles or polio and we end up with an outbreak of a serious disease we had pretty much eradicated because the infection doesn’t recognize religious boundaries, well we can all just pray for a cure.
Don’t forget, the employers would get to make these health care decisions based on their personal beliefs, not those of their employees. And it wouldn’t matter what kind of business they ran. Where the Obama rules would have only a very minor impact on religious organizations run by one church (the Catholic church is the only major religion in the US that bans birth control as an article of faith), the right’s proposed response would allow any employer anywhere to make random decisions based on personal beliefs (hey, remember that arbitrary word, the one that’s part of the definition of “liberty”? The one defined as “based on random choice or personal whim, rather than any reason or system”? ) And what do you want to bet that at least a few bosses would do a quick cost-benefit analysis on some health care coverage issues and suddenly find some offended religious principal that violates the tenants of their true faith – making money.
The big picture on this liberty question? On the one hand, we have a Democratic administration pushing one religion to make a ridiculously minor concession (especially when you consider that research shows that between 70 percent and 90 percent of Catholics use methods of birth control banned by their own church). On the other hand, we have a Republican party proposing that we allow any employer anywhere to impose its religious beliefs on its employees, at least so far as health coverage is concerned.
Republicans as the party of liberty? Liberty should be made of sterner stuff.