A few days after print publication, Knight's syndicated newspaper column, which moves twice a week, will be posted. The most recent will appear at the top.

Sunday, March 9, 2014

Will business require religious conformity despite some differing with clergy?

Bill Knight column for Thurs., Fri., or Sat., March 6, 7 or 8

As Christianity’s season of Lent started this week, it seems that the U.S. Supreme Court could get heavy-handed in imposing certain religious behavior even as the greater Church shows differences.

The high court could essentially establish a state religion, based on the question. “Shouldn’t the First Amendment – whose free-speech protection was extended to corporations in the court’s 2010 ‘Citizens United’ ruling – be extended to corporations on the basis of religion, too?”

That was basically asked by advocates of a “religious freedom” campaign based on a few CEOs and clergy’s narrow beliefs that much of today’s Church no longer feels, according to an increasing number of Catholic bishops announcing results from a Vatican questionnaire.

In “Sebelius v. Hobby Lobby Stores Inc.,” Hobby Lobby owner David Green asked the Supreme Court to grant his secular for-profit corporation the right to assert his personal religious preferences – which would extend to his employees, especially concerning health insurance. With Christian bookstore Mardel, Green refuses to follow the Affordable Care Act’s mandate that employers provide insurance for contraception.

The question for the rest of America, of course is, “Will a business-cozy Supreme Court let corporations require certain behaviors by their workers (who may be terrific employees, U.S. citizens and all-around great people, but follow other faiths or have different principles)?

It sure seems as if corporations owned by people with ardent beliefs are trying to force employees to follow their creed.

If the Supreme Court bestows the freedom to somehow have faith convictions on non-human corporations concerning birth control, one has to ask: What next? Vaccinations? Blood transfusions? Transplants? Medical treatment at all? (After all, some religions, from Christian Science to Jehovah’s Witnesses, object to some procedures.)

Meanwhile, the actual Christian Church – people in pews as well as clergy – responded to Pope Francis’ recent questions about family matters with unsurprising frankness.

“On the matter of artificial contraception, the responses might be characterized by saying, ‘That train left the station long ago,” wrote St. Petersburg Bishop Robert Lynch, one of the few American bishops who permitted his diocese to directly offer feedback. “Catholics have made up their minds and the [sense of the faithful] suggests the rejection of church teaching on this subject.”

(Regarding cohabitation, Father Lynch added, “The respondents strongly said that the Church needs ‘to wake up and smell the coffee’.”)

Other areas in the United States and overseas similarly responded. Japan’s bishops together issued a blunt statement that said, “The Church in Japan is not obsessed with sexual matters.”

Concerning how Catholics accept the hierarchy’s prohibition on contraception, Japan’s bishops said, “Contemporary Catholics do not make it an important part of their lives.” (Regarding divorce, they added, “a realistic response to the situation people actually face is essential.”)

Survey results were similar in Switzerland and Germany – where bishops also sought local responses, as the Vatican had actually requested.

Although Hobby Lobby, Mardel and a few bishops continue to focus on contraception (where were they when prominent religious leaders objected to the United States’ pre-emptive invasion and occupation of Iraq?), the larger question of endorsing some beliefs establishing a religion may find unexpected opposition.

The Supreme Court previously found that religious beliefs don’t necessarily create absolute exemptions from laws, whether Amish businesses paying taxes or Quakers serving in the military. For instance, conservative Justice Antonin Scalia in a 1990 majority opinion wrote that Native Americans discharged from their jobs for smoking peyote as part of a religious ceremony had no right to reinstatement.

That “would be courting anarchy,” Scalia wrote in “Employment Division v. Smith.”

“An individual’s religious beliefs,” Scalia wrote then, cannot “excuse him from compliance with an otherwise valid law.”

[PICTURED: graphic from ACLU.]

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