The Obama Contraceptive Rule Does Not Violate Religious Freedom, According to the Society

Weekly Debates

The Society convened on March 1 for the eighth debate of the semester to examine the question Resolved: The Obama contraceptive rule violates religious liberty.

Ms. Colleen Wood and Mr. Christopher DiMisa, making his induction, spoke on the affirmation.  Ms. Jordan Daniels and Mr. Luke Young, making his induction, spoke on the negation.

Mr. DiMisa began by defining that the contraceptive rule was the original, not the compromise, and that this stated that religious and secular institutions, except for those that were directly linked to religion such as churches, would be required to pay for contraceptives. This meant that Catholic colleges and hospitals would still have to cover these. He began by arguing that the First Amendment’s Free Exercise Clause demands religious freedom, then explained the history of the Sherbert Test and the Religious Freedom Restoration Act. He then went through, evaluating the issue on the criteria provided by the Sherbert Test, arguing that since the Church’s contraceptive teaching is sincere and the rule presents an undue burden while not meeting a compelling government interest and failing the least restrictive means test, the rule does not pass and violates the Free Exercise Clause. Mr. Young then presented both the First and Fourteenth Amendments as those pertaining to religious freedom, reminding the Society that religious freedom is not the freedom to abstain from what you believe to be murder. He argued that the HHS Mandate does not establish a religion nor does it discriminate on faith. He pointed out that government may interfere with religious practices because otherwise every citizen would become law unto himself. He then presented the Lemon Test, which he argued is the more current test. Ultimately, he concluded that the Church cannot violate laws simply because it is the Church. Ms. Wood then urged the Society to turn away from the legal details and tests lest this debate turn into two opposing equations with no real discussion. She argued that this should be a debate about values; the question is what does our society value and how do we rank these values. She pointed out that just because a law says everyone must follow it, it doesn’t mean that it won’t affect one group more than others. For instance the Catholic Church is one of very few groups that has a strong aversion to providing contraceptives and this mandate is forcing religious organizations where people live out their religious beliefs to go against their morals. Ultimately, just because something fits with laws does not mean that someone’s beliefs are not being infringed upon. Finally Ms. Daniels pointed out that many have tried to sideline the discussion about contraceptives and argued that this is a debate between religious freedom and common interest. She stressed the importances of contraceptives in society, noting that they have given women power in being able to plan pregnancies and pointing out that the majority of theologians and bishops found that the Church should reverse its teachings on contraceptives. Ultimately, the majority of people receive their health care through their workplaces and this health coverage needs to be fair between the sexes. If men can receive Viagra but women cannot receive birth control, there’s a problem.

Katie Bolas (COL ’15) began the floor speeches on the affirmation arguing that we aren’t  outlawing contraceptives and the Obama rule has important points, but there are better ways to go about doing this. Vice President Prindiville added that the focus of this debate should be on religious liberty and there seem to be two competing moral systems: one more traditional view (of the Catholic Church, amongst others) and the other moral system coming from the government. The question is if the government has the right to implant its moral system on those with competing views and from that it seems clear that the Obama contraceptive rule is a violation of religious liberty. On the negation Mr. Donovan then argued that a religious institution being forced to pay for something it does not believe in does not violate religious liberty because there are many instances where taxes from the religious go to causes they do not believe in, such as the Quakers who indirectly pay for war. On the affirmation, Mr. Medina argued that mandating the availability of contraceptives will ensure that all births are the product of love. Furthermore, religious institutions are corporations, not people, and rejecting this rule will favor corporations in a country which is supposed to have a government “for the people, by the people.” Mr. Dulik added that there is a difference between impact and infringement on the ability to exercise religion and a rule requiring a Catholic institution to provide access does not infringe upon other Catholic employees to practice their faith. He also argued that we’re not talking about churches; we’re talking about tangential institutions and setting them up as edifices of the Church which is a dangerous road. Chancellor Iacono countered that the rule is forcing the Church’s institutions to contract with insurance companies, which is a conflict of religious beliefs and this action is “extending the giant regulatory arm of government.” Ms. Green refuted this, stating that this is not about government overreach; it is about the exercise of liberty, particularly in the case of religion. The issue is a question of the rule of law in a pluralistic society and if institutions that are not the Church must follow the law. Mr. Biesiada asserted that the government has overstepped its bounds in forcing institutions to violate the principles upon which they were founded. On the negation, Mr. Henderson asked, “What is the nature of liberty?” He answered that liberty is a unity; it is not divided into branches. The question is whether we should leave it to individual morality or the common good and in the context of the community of values, we do not believe that the objections of the Catholic Church are valid enough to change this rule.

Ms. Daniels quoted US v. Lee, “Not all burdens on religion are unconstitutional.” The religious employers must accept limitations on their own faith if it comes into contradiction with the general rule of law. Responding to floor speeches, she reminded that just because there have been exceptions in the past it does not mean that religious institutions are entitled to them, especially because the government has only made exceptions for individuals to avoid the “multiplying effect.” She also refuted the “myth of choice,” about women choosing where they worked. She argued that this choice is a leveling of the playing field, giving women the ability to decide when to have a family. She concluded, “Don’t give the Church a pass; this is too important.” Ms. Wood then argued that just because someone believes women should have these rights does not mean that the affirmation is wrong. She asserted that tangential institutions are core to the Catholic Church and this mandate is asking the religious heads of these institutions to go against the religious beliefs upon which they lead their lives. Mr. Young then argued that the Catholic Church is imposing its beliefs and that the law comes first. We cannot simply not do something because we don’t believe in it because the government protects beliefs, not practices. Finally Mr. DiMisa responded to Mr. Donovan’s examples stating that there is a difference between tax money going towards something and the direct act of signing a document. Ultimately this is a religious freedom violation because there are much better plans and so this plan fails the Least Restrictive Means test. Ultimately liberty is not divided, but this plan forces us to do so by separating the liberty of individuals and of institutions. We can have a win-win situation, but this is not it because it clearly violates religious freedoms.

The Society voted 19-9-20 to negate the resolution.

The following outstanding speakers were awarded Merrick points:

  • Mr. Henderson – 5
  • Ms. Green – 4
  • Mr. Medina – 3
  • Ms. Daniels – 2
  • Chancellor Iacono – 1

This brings the Merrick totals to:

  • Ms. Green – 20
  • Mr. Henderson – 20
  • Chancellor Iacono – 17
  • Mr. Medina – 15
  • Mr. Manchester – 11
  • Mr. Dulik – 5
  • Mr. Petallides – 3
  • Ms. Daniels – 2
  • Mr. Askonas – 2
  • Mr. Taft – 1
The Society inducted Mr. DiMisa and Mr. Young.  Huzzah!


Emily R. Coccia

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