On Feb. 17th, an opinion piece was run in the paper written by Congressman Dan Benishek. I keep coming back to this piece, and every time that I do, I'm more disturbed. With each additional reading of the piece, it becomes more and more apparent that Congressman Benishek has never actually read the Constitution.
Congressman Benishek insists that by requiring all employers to cover the same healthcare options (specifically contraception), that the PPACA violates the First Amendment. He's wrong. Let's take a look at the actual text of the amendment:
"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."
I want to focus on everything before the first semicolon as the freedoms of speech, the press, peaceable assembly, and petitioning the government aren't in question here. Now the original text of the Constitution carries no emphasis. We have no way of determining which word is stressed in the reading. With that being said, every possible way to emphasize the statement will boil down to a few very basic points.
First, the government is prohibited from passing any law which establishes an official state religion. Second, the government is prohibited from passing any law which gives preference to one religion over another. Third, the government is prohibited from passing any law which gives preference to religious organizations over other organizations. Fourth (and lastly), the government is prohibited from passing any law which prohibits individuals from practicing their religion as they see fit. There's obviously an exception to that last one where if your religion requires you to (for example) kill somebody, you can't do that, but that's not the point here.
Like Congressman Benishek states, religious liberty is one of the cornerstones of our country. It's one of the major reasons why Europeans came to this land in the first place. But I don't think that Congressman Benishek actually understands what religious liberty is. Religious liberty is the ability for individuals to believe (or not) what they like and practice (or not) how they like without the interference of the state. It does not mean that organizations get to force their beliefs upon others who may or may not believe what they do. In fact, allowing a religious organization to not provide contraceptive coverage to an employee because the organization is morally opposed to it would be a violation of the First Amendment as it would give special treatment to religious organizations which is expressly forbidden.
Whether or not an individual chooses to use contraceptive coverage is their individual decision to make. It is not the responsibility (or right) of an employer to make that decision for them by refusing to provide coverage. The fact that Congressman Benishek doesn't understand this basic right is, quite frankly, terrifying.
Bryan J. Sebeck