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."
Under the separation of church and state, the government is supposed to avoid taking sides -- to avoid becoming entangled -- in doctrinal disputes. The government is not supposed to use its clout to favor one side over the other and, thus, endorse a religious point of view in debates inside religious groups.
Thus, those crucial questions once again: Do the schools and ministries involved in today's Supreme Court debates ask people to sign doctrinal covenants in order to be part of these voluntary associations? If so, should the government use its power to help students and employees oppose the doctrines they vowed to defend when they signed these covenants?
Should the state become entangled in these doctrinal issues?
See if you can find even a hint of this issue in the following language from a current Washington Post report on this dispute:
The Obama administration says it has provided the organizations with an easy way out. ... Employers who object must make their religious objections clear by signing a form or sending a letter and let insurance companies and the government take over from there.
But the groups say that even that step would implicate them in sin and that they face ruinous fines if they refuse to comply. They want to be included under the same blanket exemption from providing the coverage that the government has extended to churches and other purely religious groups.
The court accepted seven cases from throughout the country, including one challenge involving the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Washington and another from an order called the Little Sisters of the Poor, which runs homes for the elderly.
The government's experts are well aware that these doctrinally defined ministries and schools are attempting to avoid endorsing -- with benefits to their own employees and students -- key elements of the Sexual Revolution. Keep reading:
U.S. Solicitor General Donald B. Verrilli Jr. told the court in the government’s brief that the organizations want more than to be left alone.
“They assert a right not only to be relieved of the obligation to provide contraceptive coverage themselves, but also to prevent the government from arranging for third parties to fill the resulting gap,” Verrilli wrote. “If accepted, that claim would deny tens of thousands of women the health coverage to which they are entitled under federal law, and subject them to the harms the law is designed to eliminate.”
Catholic organizations that brought the lawsuits say it is incorrect for the government to say the accommodation allows them to opt out of providing the coverage.
“Quite the opposite: the government is forcing petitioners to take actions that cause the objectionable coverage to be delivered to petitioners’ own employees and students by petitioners’ own insurance companies in connection with petitioners’ own health plans,” said the brief filed by Washington lawyer Noel J. Francisco.
Let's look at the question this way: Do these schools and ministries still have a right to form a voluntary association in which its members are asked to honor, or at the very least not to oppose, the doctrines of the faith as described in the covenants they elected to sign when joining the voluntary association as a student or as an employee? If not, when and how did they lose that right?
In other words, if women have a federal right to certain forms of health care, do these same women have a right to reject that coverage by choosing to join one of these voluntary associations?
Yes, some of these students and employees may wish to oppose these doctrines. But should the government intervene to help them in these doctrinal debates INSIDE a religious organization? Should the government entanglement go even further, asking these ministries and schools to cooperate in helping members of their own communities violate their doctrinal covenants?
That's the issue, when viewed from the other side. As always, I must state that journalists do not have to agree with the teachings of these faith-based institutions, but it is essential to understand them in order to produce accurate coverage. It's crucial that news coverage at least MENTION the First Amendment right these institutions are trying to defend.
Please hear me here: The crucial point here is a matter of journalism. Is the mainstream coverage actually letting readers know what these organizations are saying?
Let me end with another passage from my early post on some basic journalism issues in this matter:
Yes, there are faith-based schools that do not have these doctrinal covenants for employees and students, but I certainly would think that would weaken their case before the court if they refused to cooperate with the government's legally defined doctrines on marriage and sex. It would be TOTALLY appropriate, and relevant, for journalists to cite which ministries and schools have these doctrinal covenants and which ones do not.
But why ignore that many of these institutions do have these covenants and that women and men voluntarily sign them -- a combination of a legal contract and a personal vow -- in order to join these communities?
I mean, students do not HAVE to attend, say, East Texas Baptist University. Correct? They do so voluntarily. They could apply at a state school or a liberal Christian school that would not ask them to affirm traditional Christian doctrines on marriage and sex. They can make that choice. And does anyone HAVE to work for the Little Sisters of the Poor? Is it appropriate for the government to actively support an employee who is seeking to violate doctrines in a covenant he or she willingly signed? Wouldn't that be an entanglement of state power in church doctrine?
As you read the news coverage, look for references to doctrinal and lifestyle covenants that are voluntarily signed by students and employees. Did you find any? Do these ministries and colleges, as voluntary associations, actually have these covenants in place?
That's a central fact in the case. Why not mention it?