voluntary associations

Religion ghosts in anti-vax wars: Why do some believers say this is a religious liberty fight?

Religion ghosts in anti-vax wars: Why do some believers say this is a religious liberty fight?

From the start, there have been religion-news hooks in the news coverage of the movement claiming that vaccines against some childhood diseases — measles and others — do more harm than good.

For starters, large communities of Orthodox Jews live in New York City, which all but guarantees coverage by newsrooms that help define what news matters and what news does not. In this case, I think that we are dealing with an important subject — one that editors should assign to teams that include religion-beat professionals.

Here at GetReligion, I have received emails from readers that, in so many words, say: This is what happens when religious traditionalists start shouting “religious liberty” and saying that God wants them to do something crazy.

Let me state right up front: There are church-state implications in some of these cases, with the state claiming the right to force parents to take actions that violate their religious convictions. Then again, people who follow debates about religious liberty know that clashes linked to health, prayer, healing and parental rights are tragically common. Click here to see some GetReligion posts about coverage of cases in which actions based on religious beliefs have been labeled a “clear threat to life and health.”

So let’s go back to the measles wars. Many of the mainstream news reports on this topic have covered many of the science and public health arguments. What’s missing, however, is (a) material about why some religious people believe what they believe and (b) whether decades of U.S. Supreme Court rulings apply to these cases.

Consider, for example, the long, detailed Washington Post story that just ran with this headline: “Meet the New York couple donating millions to the anti-vax movement.” Here’s the overture:

A wealthy Manhattan couple has emerged as significant financiers of the anti-vaccine movement, contributing more than $3 million in recent years to groups that stoke fears about immunizations online and at live events — including two forums this year at the epicenter of measles outbreaks in New York’s ultra-Orthodox Jewish community.

Hedge fund manager and philanthropist Bernard Selz and his wife, Lisa, have long donated to organizations focused on the arts, culture, education and the environment. But seven years ago, their private foundation embraced a very different cause: groups that question the safety and effectiveness of vaccines.

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This just in: Not all Christians agree on marriage and sex! This schism even affects their schools!

This just in: Not all Christians agree on marriage and sex! This schism even affects their schools!

How did I miss this story?

Apparently, there is some kind of move afoot in elite media to push for the establishment of the Episcopal Church, or perhaps the United Church of Christ, as the state-mandated religion in the United States. Have you heard about this?

That’s one way to read the remarkable media response to Second Lady Karen Pence’s decision to return to the teaching at an ordinary evangelical Protestant school that attempts to defend ordinary conservative or traditional Christian doctrine on sexuality. (Yes, I am writing about this issue again.)

Why bring up Episcopalians? Well, Episcopal schools are allowed to have lifestyle and doctrinal covenants that defend their church’s evolving pronouncements blending liberal Christian faith with the editorial pages of The New York Times. Private schools — on left and right — get to define the boundaries of their voluntary associations.

These institutions can even insist that teachers, staff, parents and students affirm, or at least not publicly oppose, the doctrines that are the cornerstone of work in these schools. Try to imagine an Episcopal school that hired teachers who openly opposed the church’s teachings affirming same-sex marriage, the ordination of LGBTQ ministers, etc.

Now, after looking in that First Amendment mirror, read the top of the Times report on Pence’s heretical attempt to freely exercise her evangelical Protestant faith. The headline: “Karen Pence Is Teaching at Christian School That Bars L.G.B.T. Students and Teachers.

Actually, that isn’t accurate. I have taught at Christian colleges in which I knew gay students who affirmed 2,000 years of Christian moral theology or were willing to be celibate for four years. These doctrinal codes almost always focus on sexual conduct and/or public opposition to traditional doctrines. But back to the Gray Lady’s apologetics:

Karen Pence, the second lady of the United States, returned to teaching art this week, accepting a part-time position at a private Christian school that does not allow gay students and requires employees to affirm that marriage should only be between a man and a woman.

You could also say that the school requires its employees not to publicly oppose the teachings on which the school is built. That’s a neutral, accurate wording that would work with liberal religious schools, as well as conservative ones. Just saying. Let’s move on.

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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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