Religious Liberty, Conscience Exemptions for Everything

With the Obama administration’s recent rules requiring organizations owned by religious groups to provide contraceptive coverage as part of their employees’ health insurance, conservative groups and the Roman Catholic Church have gotten all their panties in a bunch, which is particularly interesting since most of them are men.  I like the take on religious exemptions for everything by Jonathan Zasloff and conscience clauses by Mark Kleiman in the reality-based community blogs.   The most obvious religious exemptions would be for Quakers, Mennonites, and other pacifist religious groups, to have to pay for anything related to war.  The more interesting suggestion was by Mr. Zasloff:

Why not include immigration law in the picture?

“You shall love the stranger, for you were a stranger in the land of Egypt.”  This is not an isolated Biblical line: it is repeated no less than 36 times (really) in the Bible.  So synagogues, churches, and mosques (musn’t forget mosques) should just make it clear that they should not have to obey immigration law: they will hire or provide services to anyone and everyone regardless of immigration status.  Any attempts by any law enforcement agency to prosecute them or in any way harass or deport immigrants who are part of their religious communities violates their freedom of conscience to include them (not to mention their rights to freely associate).

I think that both of these authors are offering these suggestions more as tongue-in-cheek parodies than as serious policy considerations.  This is not to denigrate in any way the importance or depths of the religious beliefs of any of these groups, including the anti-contraceptive crowd.  I believe that what is being legitimately mocked is an immature insistence that religious liberty, at least for their own particular group, requires absolute unchecked freedom.  This is a fiction in the real world.  The legitimate questions asked by these bloggers have taken us just far enough down the road of logic to see the absurd conclusions that must be drawn if such logic is taken to its nth degree.

As with all freedoms, religious freedoms must be balanced with other freedoms.  This will never make everybody completely happy, and fortunately, will not make anybody all-powerful, with infinite, absolute, unchecked freedom.  That sounds like the kind of freedom reserved for God anyways, and you’d think that religious folks could respect that, even insist upon it.

I have commented elsewhere on this issue, particularly in the context of the current birth control insurance mandate debate (see Birth Control as a Human Right – Toledo Protest).

I think this issue to be resolved in the real world, religious groups, claiming a particular bastion of truth, need to vote with the existential force of their lives, to make these beliefs real in the world, not just words, particularly words to control other people.  In the 1980s and 90s the Roman Catholic Church provided strong leadership in the sanctuary movement which protected persons who are in this country of illegal status due to economic or political violence.  The Roman Catholic Church took real risks and paid a price for incarnating their beliefs.  Pacifist religious groups have refused to go to war and pay war taxes for generations.  As a religious pacifist myself, I was convicted by the United States of America for refusing to register for the military draft, and I was incarcerated for a few months.  I think I made my point.

The state cannot be trusted to strike a balance between religious liberty and other liberties.  This is precisely why religious groups need to be about the difficult and real work of living out their beliefs in such a way that their importance is manifest to the rest of the world.  Since the US made a federal case of it, my resistance of draft registration, I learned that according to the US Supreme Court, that the US has the absolute power to conscript anybody for any reason, and there is no constitutional right, religious or otherwise, to refuse military conscription.  The US government could conscript your grandmother if they wanted to.  The specific language cited in my case, which was used to reject a claim of religious liberty, was that conscientious objection was by “legislative grace” alone.  I for one, do not by the grace of Congress go.

The bottom line:  if we are going to live by God’s grace, we will need to fight for our liberties and rights, and real grace is not cheap, it has a cost; if it didn’t, it wouldn’t be worth much now would it?

 

“PUNS NOT GUNS” Manifesto by Top Pun

“PUNS NOT GUNS” Manifesto

“Some claim that puns are the lowest form of comedy. Dan, rather, says, “Guns are the lowest form of community.” Choose your weepin’! I prefer to hit ’em in the groan. Though puns and untrained minds can produce a “Not see,” puns and arms go hand in hand when used as a righting instrument. Mixing puns with peacework puts you in the dis’armament business; and though rhyme doesn’t pay, the prophets are good. With puns, and sharing a little peace of mine, we can realize that one side fits all. In truth, it’s guns that have too “meanings” for the price of won. Sometimes it takes everything we’ve got to see the blight (as they say, “sinner takes all”). While some may feel it’s an impossible play on wars (a mortality play for sure), all it takes is a sick sense (no relation to paranormal parents). Let’s have some serious fun (a free for all). Justice is no yoke. Think good that the pun is mightier than the sword!”

I wrote this manifesto early on in my career as Top Pun.  I have been a terrible punster as long as I can remember, and I have been interested in a wide range of social justice issues since I was a young adult.  I remember that my parents, recognizing my propensity towards puns, gave me a dictionary of puns as a present one year for my birthday.  In this pun dictionary, it was stated that there are an infinite number of puns.  At first, and actually for a very long time, I thought that this could not be possible.  Now, after cementing my vocation as the best punster for peace in the English-speaking world, I have little difficulty recognizing that there aren’t infinite number of puns.  I am a little surprised that this “Puns Not Guns” manifesto has held up so well for me over the years. I think that maybe I’m onto something with this punning thing.

As you can tell from the manifesto, much of my early inspiration comes from involvement in the peace movement.  Nonviolence seems to be the thread that ties together all of the many issues that I’m interested in.  Of course, perhaps conveniently, I define nonviolence very broadly (that’s non-broadly if you’re a woman).  Actually, while my first foray into nonviolence was in the late 70s when my mom took me to a peace conference at our church, Central United Methodist Church in Detroit.  This is the most salient event that I can identify as far as my consciousness raising around peace issues.  Back to the whole issue of nonviolence, I defined world hunger and extreme poverty as violence.  World hunger has continued to be the defining issue for me in relation to the world.  The interface between great affluence and extreme poverty has always challenged and perplexed me.  It is very difficult for me to reconcile these cruel and destructive differences in a world with so much.  The fact that such issues are deep and central to me really comes as no surprise.  In fact, I was literally born into it.  I was born in Haiti while my parents were serving as medical missionaries with the Mennonite Central Committee.  My father was a physician at the time, and my mother was a nurse at the time.  Mennonites have a tradition of encouraging their young folks after high school or college to perform some service to others.  Also, while I have been a lifelong United Methodist, I come from a very long line of Mennonites.  This Mennonite influence has been very strong, with predictable outcomes, in the sense, that peace and justice and simple living are powerful themes in my life.  Little did I realize early in my life that I was a good candidate for being a hippie.  My parents never really spoke that much about their experiences in Haiti, and when they did speak of their experiences in Haiti, they spoke rather nonchalantly.  Perhaps paradoxically, this more casual exceptions of what is hardly typical service, instilled in me that such commitment and service should be normal; and for me it was normal.

View Top Pun’s PUNS DESIGNS