Tuesday, March 02, 2004

Pope hands out condoms! 

Well, not exactly. However, a Catholic church has been ordered to hand out contraception at one of its charities. Granted this is California, however, I think it bodes ill for the current culture war being waged. Essentially this ruling comes out of state law that all employers must provide health insurance and drug coverage. Part of that insurance includes contraceptive insurance. Catholics wanted to be considered a religious employer -- go figure -- and thus exempt.

But the Supreme Court ruled that the charity is not a religious employer because it offers such secular services as counseling, low-income housing and immigration services to people of all faiths, without directly preaching Catholic values. In fact, Justice Kathryn Werdegar wrote that a "significant majority" of the people served by the charity are not Catholic. The court also noted that the charity employs workers of differing religions.

And this can only get uglier because Catholics are worried that they could be forced to pay for employee abortions. There are a few concerns here. First is the dissenting opinion and the language used: Brown wrote that the Legislature's definition of a "religious employer" is too limiting if it excludes faith-based nonprofit groups like Catholic Charities.

This is a concern because of the "faith based programs" exemption. I never liked the idea of faith based programs. Let me revise that. I thought it sounded great, then thought about it and found it troubling. You see the more state regulations and rules directly apply to religious organizations, the more the state could hinder or infringe upon them. Yes, this is about insurance and a separate law, but the idea that the state will give religious organizations money and not expect certain "values" or "ideals" to be upheld is silly.

I think one of the worst thing the clergy, all clergy, did was start to get paid a salary. Suddenly they had to worry about what they told their congregations and how they told them -- they are, after all, who pays their salaries. Many clergy seem to be afraid to say what needs to be said or take strong stands on issues, especially when those might be unpopular -- the war for example. Many churches came out against the invasion (except for the evangelical, but they have been trying to get missions in the middle east forever) but they did not organize at the local level any demonstrative difference from the "pro-war" crowd. It was very disheartening.

Ultimately with more state funds going to religious organizations there will come a time in the future where those organizations will rely heavily on those funds and that will be to their doom. A state finds itself in this position all the time -- if you don't raise your drinking age, we'll cut off highway funding. Now what pastor is going to want to make a choice between a local program that helps say the homeless or battered women, and just going along with the state's "request", rule, or regulation? What reverend is going to be able to tell his congregation, especially in urban, high-need areas, that they will be stopping the food pantry because they don't want to pass out condoms? Once the religious organization takes money from the state, they are beholden to the state.

This happened in San Francisco, not the most conservative city in the union, but it does give conservatives a "heads up" on what to expect. And as the dissenting opinion spells out, if you're a legislator, you better specifically allow faith based exemptions from state laws. Now this is the kicker, because then all the worries people had against the faith based programs in the first place become Freddy's fingernails overnight. What do ya' mean the fundamentalists don't have to abide by "X" law or "X" amendment?

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