Friday, May 25, 2012

I’ve held this in long enough

Is anyone else tired of hearing about the First Amendment?  Is anyone else tired of the way that it’s twisted to mean more than (it seems) was originally intended?  Here is the text of the First Amendment.  I have not edited it at all. 

Amendment 1

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.

Allow me to explain why this is bothering me so much.  All day on the news today there is talk of how leaders of the Catholic religion are suing the United States government because Obamacare (The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act) requires that employer provided healthcare plans include coverage for birth control, the morning-after pill and surgical sterilization.  Bishop Roger Morin of Biloxi, MS said, “Never before in the history of our country has the federal government attempted to force citizens to directly purchase what violates their consciences and their freely chosen tenets of faith”.  To Bishop Morin I say,…. “It’s about time”.

Here’s my point.  Once you decide to open a business, and hire other Americans to do your work, you are not in a position, Bishop, to control that other person.  An example is where a religious group opens a hospital or a school.  The Catholics, up to and including now, have offered their employees healthcare that does not include these services.  Now, the churches don’t require you to be of their religion to work in their hospital.  Yet they do require you to accept benefits that abide their tenets, even if they don’t coincide with your personal beliefs.  It would seem that the Catholics only believe in their freedom as a church and not their employees freedoms as Americans. 

I do not find this to be a violation of the churches First Amendment rights.  Forcing the business that is the Catholic Religion to extend benefits to their employees does not force them to abandon their religious beliefs.  It does however prevent them from imposing their set of values upon employees.  Seems to me as this is a major victory for the employees.  Yet over 43 different Catholic organizations are filing suit against the United States Government.  Making employers extend insurance coverage to their employees does not “prohibit the free exercise of Religion”, that is what the first amendment says.  It does not say that “Catholics can do whatever they want and anyone that works for them must live their life as a Catholic.”

Hopefully, this will be the beginning of the First Amendment being interpreted correctly.  The Bishop said “We cannot sit by in silence.  We must be clear that we cannot comply and will not comply.”  Ooooh, sounds like the beginnings of a movement.  Just make sure Bishop that if your followers should decide to take to the streets and demonstrate or use your other first amendment right, the right to free speech, make sure you stand where you are told you are allowed to stand.  Make sure you don’t annoy anyone.  Because, the right to free speech is not granted the same far flung liberties as your religious rights have been granted. 

While the First amendment grants both the right to free speech and assembly and the right to “free exercise of religion”, we’ve seen, at least from the right, that the rights of those that want to assemble and protest are circumstantial.  We’ve seen this year, the Occupiers are only allowed to assemble and speak where they are told they can and only for as long as the mayors and city councils deem is convenient. 

How can the rights granted in the first amendment be interpreted so differently?  Bill O’Reilly on Fox News seems to believe, whole heartedly, that the rights granted to the Catholic Church allow them to withhold elementary medical coverage from their employees.  Yet he is totally fine with the rights of other Americans to assemble and voice their grievances to be narrowly interpreted.  I’m not saying that I disagree with the argument that the occupier should be denied the opportunity to  set up tent cities in our nations parks indefinitely, what I am saying is that if you believe that the first amendment grants the church the right to deny it’s employees birth control then you must also believe that the first amendment grants our citizens the unbridled right to assemble wherever and for as long as they like. 

In the end, I don’t believe that the Catholics should be allowed to withhold birth control benefits from their employees simply because it goes against their religion.  I also believe that the occupiers should be able to assemble and protest.  Yet I don’t believe that our parks should be used as campgrounds.  Come to the city in the morning, protest from 9 to 5 while the bankers are in their office.  Leave and come back.  It would seem that the Catholics want to paint themselves as martyrs.  The Fox News, Ditto head republicans want to scream that this is a blatant infringement on their first amendment rights.  I say that you are free to exercise your religion in your home and at your church, don’t impose the tenets of your religion upon your employees.