The other day, I wrote a post that ran under this long and, I admit, rather scary headline: "Wait! Did The New York Times just argue that voluntary religious associations are dangerous?"
The piece was part of a Times series called "Beware the Fine Print." As I stressed in my post, the reporting in this feature raised interesting, valid questions about "Christian arbitration" clauses in legal contracts, especially those linked to businesses -- as opposed to doctrinally defined schools, ministries and other faith-based nonprofits.
However, several of the case studies in this story suggested that its thesis was that it's dangerous, period, when religious groups create doctrinal covenants that define the boundaries of their voluntary associations.
This is, of course, a First Amendment issue that looms over one of last week's biggest stories, which is the latest challenge to the Affordable Care Act (also known, among its critics, as Obamacare) that is headed to the U.S. Supreme Court.
The key question: Can religiously affiliated schools, hospitals, charities and other nonprofit ministries be forced by the government into cooperating with acts that violate the doctrines that define their work and the traditions of their faith communities? Should the government actively back the efforts of employees (and other members of these voluntary associations, such as students) to break the contracts and doctrinal covenants that they chose to sign? Again, do Christian colleges have to cooperate in helping their own students and employees violate the covenants that they signed in order to join these faith-based communities? Do the Little Sisters of the Poor need to help their own employees violate the teachings of the Catholic Church?
Flip things around: Try to imagine the government forcing an Episcopal seminary to fund, oh, reparative therapy sessions for a gay student or employee who wanted to modify his sexual behaviors? Why force the seminary to violate its own doctrines?
This leads me to an interesting chunk or two of a Washington Post report about the Health & Human Services mandate cases that will soon be debated at the high court.
Here's the problem. The story never mentions the fact that many of these institutions require employees (and students) to sign doctrinal and/or lifestyle covenants affirming -- or at the very least, promising not to publicly oppose -- the faith traditions on which their work is based.