Monthly Archives: August 2012

religious freedom and the job market…

I recently had a short exchange with a Facebook friend 0ver a Washington Post column — “HHS Mandate: An Attack On All People of Faith” — that she had shared on her page.

While I found my friend’s defense of the column troubling (and I’ll get to that in just a moment), the piece itself — authored by Rev. Dr. Matthew C. Harrison, of the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod, and Rev. Samuel Rodriguez, of theNational Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference — is rife with problems.

Take, for instance, their explanation of what conditions religious organizations must meet to be exempt from the contraception coverage mandate —

In order to pass the strict guidelines of the exemption, our services as religious institutions must be provided primarily to people of our faith, and we must primarily employ people of our faith to perform these services. Most religious organizations, including hospitals, social services organizations, publishing houses, schools and more, will fail to meet the required provisions and will thus be subject to this mandate.For the first time in our country’s history, we will have to impose religious tests on those we employ and those we help, in order to maintain our status as exempt religious employers.

It is interesting to me that Harrison and Rodriguez focus on just these two criteria for religious exemption, and that they do so in order to suggest that the criteria place an undue burden on the types of religious organizations they mention.  This is misleading.  According to the final rules,

…for purposes of this exemption, a religious employer is one that:  (1) Has the inculcation of religious values as its purpose; (2) primarily employs persons who share its religious tenets; (3) primarily serves persons who share its religious tenets; and (4) is a non-profit organization described in section 6033(a)(1) and section 6033 (a)(3)(A)(i) or (iii) of the [Internal Revenue] Code… [these sections refer] to churches, their integrated auxiliaries, and conventions or associations of churches, as well as to the exclusively religious activities of any religious order.

Taking a look at the four criteria as a whole, it becomes clear that any organization meeting the first and last are almost certainly going to meet the remaining two (the converse being true, as well).  In other words, the criteria seem to operate on the assumption — and a pretty solid one, I would argue — that a house of worship for a particular faith community is going to employ and primarily serve fellow members of that faith community.  Meeting the two criteria Harrison and Rodriguez cite would, then, be a natural consequence of meeting the two criteria they duly ignore.  Thus, their concern that they will have to execute a “religious test” is not only completely unfounded, but intellectually dishonest.

After attempting this argument, Harrison and Rodriguez then present the reader with the following awful prospect:

A multitude of religious organizations will be forced to carefully consider if they can in good conscience continue to provide services because they cannot and will not go against their fundamental convictions to provide service to all regardless of whether those served share their beliefs… Nursing homes, hospices, counseling and rehabilitation centers, after-school programs, food and shelter efforts for the poor, homes of refuge for victims of violence and abuse, hospitals, schools, thrift stores and more would no longer be able to contribute to our society. The care provided by these organizations, which are currently operating out of faith communities in every state, city and town, provides a vital web of life-sustaining support for people in need.

This, too, is grossly misleading, and in a far more insidious way.  They go to great length to portray religious institutions as having a terrible choice thrust upon them — do we continue in our noble mission to serve all who come to us, regardless of their faith; or do we restrict those whom we serve so that we may retain a religious exemption?  But this is a manufactured dilemma.  The Obama administration has made perfectly clear that even non-exempt religious organizations will not be subject to the contraception coverage mandate, and that, instead, the employees will be offered this coverage directly by the insurance issuer.

And yet, religious organizations (the Catholic Church, in particular) have rejected this compromise as being not good enough.  Perhaps it’s because Catholic hospitals and universities don’t even want the insurance issuer they contract with offering contraception coverage, even if said coverage is not provided by the specific plans they contribute to.  But surely this begs the question:  just how many degrees of separation are we supposed to establish before the Catholic Church is satisfied that its religious liberty is sufficiently unmolested?


Now, after reading this piece, I commented on my friend’s page:

[O]ne question I am still trying to wrap my head around is why it is more important that a Catholic employer be able to refuse coverage of a certain service than it is that a non-Catholic employee have access to that service. In other words, is it necessary, and just, that a non-Catholic seeking employment at a church-affiliated business would have to waive their equal protection under the law (in this case, access to health services) in order to be given a job?

She replied:

That person knows the beliefs of the Organization for which they are intending to work, if they don’t agree with those beliefs they have the freedom to seek employment elsewhere. These are not life or death issues. This is contraception, which is a moral choice, and, not that expensive if the cost has to be born on their own.

There are a couple of major problems with this argument, not least of which are the legal implications.  What my friend is essentially advocating is a de facto “non-[insert faith here]s need not apply” sign outside any religiously affiliated organization, which would be a blatant violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.  While religious liberty in hiring practices recently received a vigorous defense from the Supreme Court, the right of an organization to hire according to religion is still quite narrowly defined.

The most obvious qualification, of course, is that the nature of the organization’s work must be religious, not secular.  Granted, this is not always a cut-and-dried distinction to make, but I wholeheartedly disagree with those who would argue that Catholic hospitals and universities are engaging in primarily religious activities.  While I accept that, for instance, Catholic hospitals are founded in order to put into practice the teachings of Jesus Christ, it does not follow in any way that one must be an adherent to those teachings to be an effective employee in that hospital.  One need not feel motivated by the Sermon on the Mount in order to be a good and caring nurse.

Beyond the legal ramifications of the attitude expressed in my friend’s comment, there is the troubling fact that it is rooted in hypocrisy.  It says that, on the one hand, an individual who makes the choice to seek employment at a religiously-affiliated institution must submit to that institution’s creed (whether or not the creed is necessary to fulfilling the job) or else seek employment elsewhere; whereas, on the other hand, a religious institution that makes the choice to engage in the wider world of secular activities (all those services listed by Harrison and Rodriguez above, and more) should not have to submit to the rules and regulations governing those activities.

That is not an arrangement I accept.


Leave a comment

Filed under comments