Obamacare

Obamacare case: RNS reports both sides, though little on those in between

Obamacare case: RNS reports both sides, though little on those in between

Yaayyy! Someone remembered that there are two sides (at least) to a controversy!

And it's not Normal, Moderate Americans vs. Those Nuts on the Right!

The Religion News Service does the right thing in a newsfeature about "two 20-something Christians, both motivated by faith," who were found in counter-demonstrations outside the U.S. Supreme Court.

At issue is that long-smoldering battle over Obamacare: whether it can require religious groups to provide contraceptives that they believe will cause abortions and kill embryonic humans. The Little Sisters of the Poor, along with six other plaintiffs, have taken the feds to court over the matter. The Supreme Court is expected to rule by summer or earlier.

For such a story, many mainstream media would have tried a blend of what tmatt calls the Frame Game and the Two Armies approach. On the liberal side, they'd single out a young, stylish, articulate woman. Her conservative opposition would likely be a middle-aged, overweight male who used bad grammar.

Instead of such cheap devices, the RNS article chooses two young female college students -- both of them even named Katie -- each spelling out sincere beliefs. It shows respect for both, allowing us readers to make up our own minds.

Here is how we are introduced to Katie Stone and Katie Breslin:

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Who gets to define 'sin'? Press caught up in debate over a narrow freedom of 'worship'

Who gets to define 'sin'? Press caught up in debate over a narrow freedom of 'worship'

Long ago, the mid-1980s to be precise, I covered a Colorado dispute involving religious freedom. The spark that lit the fuse was a state tax official's decision to rule that the "worship" that took place inside church doors was "religious," and thus tax exempt, while what happened inside non-profit religious ministries (think day-care centers) was not truly "religious."

This claim produced a scream of legal rage from leaders in religious denominations and groups, both on the left and right. Everyone agreed that state officials had no right to get entangled (there is that word again) in determining what was "religious" and what was not (outside the usual limits of fraud, profit and clear threat to life and health). The state was not supposed to decide that "worship" was religious, while caring for children (and teaching them Bible lessons) was not.

Obviously, America has evolved since then, especially on issues linked to the doctrines of the Sexual Revolution. The latest round of Obamacare debates at the U.S. Supreme Court seemed to have focused on this question: Can churches and other houses of worship decide what is "sin" for members of their voluntary associations, while doctrinally defined ministries and schools cannot make this kind of ruling?

I would add to that last sentence: These religious ministries and schools cannot defend their own doctrines defining "sin," even for employees and/or students who have -- to join this religious association -- voluntarily signed covenants in which they promise to live by these doctrines (or at least not to publicly attack them). In other words, the state now gets to define what is "sin" for these employees/students, not the doctrinally defined ministries and schools they have voluntarily joined.

I cannot find a mainstream news report about this Obamacare debate that even mentions these doctrinal covenants, so it is safe to assume (a) that journalists do not know (or care) that they exist or (b) that the freedom to form voluntary associations no longer applies to religious groups, outside of actual houses of worship.

How do you read this passage from The New York Times, containing a key quote from Justice Anthony Kennedy?

On this point, at least, Justice Kennedy seemed to take the government’s side. “It’s going to be very difficult for this court to write an opinion which says that once you have a church organization” entitled to an exemption, “you have to treat a religious university the same.”

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Entangled in doctrine? Will journalists even mention a key fact in HHS mandate cases?

Entangled in doctrine? Will journalists even mention a key fact in HHS mandate cases?

Once again, it's time for a landmark event linked to America's ongoing conflicts between the First Amendment and the Sexual Revolution. In terms of journalism, the key question is whether elite news organizations will actually include in their coverage one of the key facts in these arguments.

So now we await the coverage of today's U.S. Supreme Court discussions related to seven cases in which religious schools and ministries have opposed Obamacare. These religious organizations claim the government is forcing them to cooperate in efforts to undercut doctrines that help define their organizations and their work.

As you read the coverage, look for this fact: Will the stories mention whether or not these organizations ask employees and students to sign doctrinal, lifestyle covenants in order to join these voluntary associations? In a previous post on this issue I noted that, when viewed from the perspective of these religious groups (and their viewpoint is a crucial element in this debate), the question can be stated like this:

... 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?

A crucial church-state term here is "entanglement."

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Check this out: New York Times aces tough story mixing faith, health, money and politics

Check this out: New York Times aces tough story mixing faith, health, money and politics

Every now and then, I hit a story in a major mainstream news-media source that focuses on a topic that I happen to know something about through first-hand experience.

How often does this happen to you and, well, how do you feel when you are reading these reports?

I hear from people all the time who say that, every time they read stories that hit close to home, they lose some of their faith in the press. Let me say that this has rarely been my experience. Then again, I spend most of my time on the other side of the notepad.

However, there was a New York Times piece that ran the other day that covered a trend that has directly impacted many friends of mine in the past year or so -- rising healthcare costs. My own family got caught up in this trend during the first few months after we moved back to East Tennessee.

The key: Many people who work for themselves or who are employed by small schools, churches or non-profit ministries find it almost impossible to afford traditional healthcare insurance. Many have, in recent months, faced cost jumps of somewhere between $500 to $1,000 a month. Panic can set in.

Thus, many are joining religious healthcare coops that -- legally -- are allowed to take the place of traditional insurance. This is not a new trend (see the older CNN piece at the top of this post). However, the number of people choosing this option is headed up, up, up.

That brings us to the Times piece that ran with this headline: "Christians Flock to Groups That Help Members Pay Medical Bills."

The bottom line: This piece is shockingly snark-free.

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Washington Post ignores a crucial fact, as HHS mandate cases head to high court

Washington Post ignores a crucial fact, as HHS mandate cases head to high court

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.

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New York Times (reluctantly) admits that 'some' courts are backing HHS mandate

New York Times (reluctantly) admits that 'some' courts are backing HHS mandate

As you GetReligionistas have repeatedly stressed in recent years, the battles over the Health and Human Services contraceptives mandate is not a simple story involving two levels of conflict, with churches and religious groups being granted an clear exemption and for-profit corporations over on the losing side of the religious-liberty equation.

As this battle has continued in the courts, things have only grown more complex -- both for the Obama White House and the journalists who cover it.

For starters, there was that whole Hobby Lobby ruling and the fine-tuning in the regulations that has taken place since then. Meanwhile, the really interesting legal wars have focused on doctrinally-defined schools, ministries and parachurch groups that are caught in the middle. This is where things get really complicated and, frankly, many journalists do not seem to understand what all of the fuss is about.

In news reports, journalists continue to describe a wave of court victories for the White House -- while having to admit that there are religious groups who don't see things that way. A new story in The New York Times offers a classic example of this struggle to frame the debate:

WASHINGTON -- Four federal appeals courts have upheld efforts by the Obama administration to guarantee access to free birth control for women, suggesting that the government may have found a way to circumvent religious organizations that refuse to provide coverage for some or all forms of contraception.
While pleased with the rulings, administration officials are not celebrating.

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Seattle Times scores a winner in piece on Christian health-share ministries

Seattle Times scores a winner in piece on Christian health-share ministries

There aren’t many religion writers in the Pacific Northwest these days and that's a shame.

For example, The Seattle Times apparently hasn’t had one since Janet Tu left the beat several years ago. If something breaks like last year’s ouster of Mark Driscoll -- then-pastor of Mars Hill, Seattle’s largest church at the time -- the newsroom has to pull reporters from other beats to cover it.

So it was a surprise to see this story leading their web site Sunday on Medi-Share and two other Christian “health-sharing ministries” that act quasi-health insurers for lots of Washington state residents.

When Melissa Mira suffered sudden heart failure at the end of her second pregnancy last year, she worried first about her health and her baby -- then about the more than $200,000 in medical bills that began rolling in.
“Your world is just crashing down around you and you wonder: ‘How is this going to be covered?’ ” recalled Mira, 30, who spent more than a month away from her Tacoma home, hospitalized at the University of Washington Medical Center.
For Mira and her family, the answer came not through traditional health insurance, but through faith that fellow Christians would step forward to pay the bills.
The Miras -- including daughter Jael, 4, and baby Sienna Rain, now a healthy 9-month-old -- are among the growing numbers of people looking to “health care-sharing ministries” across the U.S. At last count, there were more than 10,000 members in Washington state and nearly 400,000 nationwide, individuals and families whose medical costs are taken care of entirely through the organized goodwill -- and monthly payments or “shares” -- of like-minded religious followers.

The writer is the newspaper’s health reporter and the tone is informative and respectful. It’s kind of sad when it’s unusual to find a piece in the secular media about religious practices that have no snark attached.

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'Special pleaders,' church-state issues and the new Republican shape of the U.S. Congress

'Special pleaders,' church-state issues and the new Republican shape of the U.S. Congress

Good stories lurk in ideology-driven magazines and web sites on the religion beat, perhaps more so than with other fields.

For example, there’s often useful fare blended with the partisanship of Church & State, monthly house organ of Americans United for Separation of Church and State. This lobby and litigator closely monitors those it assails as “far-right religious conservatives,” provides some useful information and is always happy to brief reporters on its side of an issue.

Consider, for example, the cover story in Church & State’s current issue, “New Congress, New Challenges,” by assistant communications director Simon Brown. Republicans rode to victory on “fundamentalist support,” he says, so “2015 could be a cataclysmic year for church-state separation.” 

Stripped of the tendentious rhetoric and alarmism, Brown assembles some good tips.  As he observes, during the next two years the Republican-run Congress may revive hot-button religion bills that previously died in committee or passed  the G.O.P House but not the Democratic Senate. They would:

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Pro-abortion bias in news story on Catholic universities? Well, duh

Pro-abortion bias in news story on Catholic universities? Well, duh

"Biased much?" asked a reader who passed along a link to a San Francisco Chronicle story on two Catholic universities limiting employees' abortion coverage.

You mean the fact that the news report is slanted — from the very top — toward the abortion-rights point of view and leans heavily in that side's favor in the amount of ink given to direct quotes?

OK, maybe you have a point, dear reader.

Pro-abortion bias seeping into mainstream media reports is not exactly breaking news, of course. But the Chronicle makes a noble effort at perfecting the craft.

The lede sets the stage:

California has some of the nation's strongest protections for abortion rights. But the recent decisions by two Catholic universities, Santa Clara and Loyola Marymount, to eliminate most abortion insurance coverage for their employees were cleared in advance by state agencies.
Now Gov. Jerry Brown's administration is taking another look.
The state Department of Managed Health Care is conducting "an in-depth analysis of the issues surrounding coverage for abortion services under California law," said Marta Green, the department's chief deputy director.
What the department is reconsidering, as first reported by California Lawyer magazine, is whether the universities are violating a 1975 state law that requires managed health plans to cover all "medically necessary" procedures.

 

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