The assault on religion

is the subject of my Trade Tripper column in this Friday-Saturday issue of BusinessWorld:

The past few months have seen US President Barack Obama’s administration make repeated attempts to undermine religious rights. Even if taken from the narrow perspective of a politically beleaguered figure trying to shore up support from his core constituency, nevertheless, the same still manages to draw parallels with the Aquino administration’s obsessive insistence in pushing for the RH Bill. Ultimately, both would lead to the conclusion that the measures pushed by both governments on their respective countries have implications far beyond the ostensible objectives publicly declared of them.

Last January, the US Supreme Court dealt a significant blow to President Obama’s determined assault on religious rights. In Hosanna-Tabor Church v. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, an employment termination case involving a woman fired for violating religious doctrine by resorting to court litigation rather than resolve her claims through church processes, the US Supreme Court declared that churches enjoy exemption from "employment discrimination laws" and that churches are entitled to hire and fire free from government interference.

The most recent from the Obama administration has to do with the so-called HHS contraceptive mandate, which requires employers to provide health insurance for their employees. Unfortunately, the mandate includes treatment such as abortions, sterilization, abortifacients, and contraceptives. All of which, clearly, go against Catholic beliefs for being immoral and against natural law.

After encountering huge public outcry against the mandate, as well as a lawsuit filed by the Eternal Word Television Network (EWTN) at the US District Court in Birmingham, Alabama petitioning to declare the federal rule unconstitutional [for full disclosure, I am legal counsel for the EWTN Foundation here in the Philippines], President Obama blinked. Or buckled under. Proposing an "accommodation" (which in actuality is really a compromise or at least President Obama’s attempt at one), the new plan supposedly relieves employers, due to religious convictions, of providing insurance coverage for abortions, sterilization, abortifacients, and contraceptives. Instead, it’s the insurance companies that will shoulder responsibility for such "treatments" and all the employer has to do is provide general insurance coverage.

Now, I bet (particularly if you’re Pro-Life or one who wants to uphold the rule of law in relation to the impeachment proceedings, and thus quicker on the uptake) it didn’t even take you readers more than a few seconds to realize what’s wrong with Obama’s "accommodation." As renowned apologetic Jimmy Akin wrote: "The idea that it will be insurance companies that pay for such services is just a shell game. Where are insurance companies going to get the money to pay for these services? They aren’t the Federal Reserve. They aren’t empowered to create money out of nothing the way the Federal Reserve is. If they’re going to pay doctors, nurses, and pharmacists to provide these things then they are going to pay for them with money they got from someone else. Who else? Why! The very same churches, church-related organizations, and individuals who are otherwise paying."

That is why the position of the US Bishops in reaction to this (quite correctly) was to reject it outright. For the US Bishops, the "only complete solution" to this issue is a rescission of the mandate. Again the US Bishops are absolutely right. A public statement signed by almost a hundred academics and intellectuals, including Robert George of Princeton, said that: "The simple fact is that the Obama administration is compelling religious people and institutions who are employers to purchase a health insurance contract that provides abortion-inducing drugs, contraception, and sterilization. This is a grave violation of religious freedom and cannot stand."

The parallelisms of the religious struggles against contraception here and abroad are clear. There is nothing in our Constitution that says citizens (including government officials) shouldn’t be guided by the tenets of their faith. The Constitution, rather than discouraging religions, actually supports religions by mandating tolerance for all religions. Hence the prohibition on discriminatory treatment against or preference for any single religion. One reason why the RH Bill is offensive is because it forces Catholics to support (through the duty to pay taxes) something they believe is immoral. Note that there is no law banning the private use of contraceptives.

The foregoing also confirm that to mount civil disobedience in this country against a (presumed) RH Law is reasonably justified under our Constitution. Not to mention our history. The Supreme Court ruling validating the Cory Aquino government in Lawyers League vs. Aquino is one good example, as well as Estrada vs. Escritor where it was declared that: "Man stands accountable to an authority higher than the State." Considering the highly dubious necessity of an RH Law, the latter ruling arguably provides the basis for refusing to pay taxes due to religious conviction. After all, if civil disobedience calling for a change in government (as Cory Aquino did in 1986) is legally acceptable, then all the more should civil disobedience in the mere form of non-payment of taxes against an RH Law.