Thursday, January 9, 2014

now that's what I'm talking about

The Neo-Neocon tackles Obamacare's redefinition of "religious freedom" and finds it wanting.  The problems start with cases like the Little Sisters of the Poor.

Groups such as the nuns of the Little Sisters of the Poor—who are “affiliated with religious organizations but not owned or controlled by them”—fall into an in-between gray area. 

Neo-Neocon then notes that individual persons (not corporations) aren't exempt from the contraception mandate;  they don't have to purchase it themselves but they must comply with the provision.  Except, Neo-neocon notes, the case of certain individuals.  Quoting the IRS:

There is a category of individuals (actual persons, that is, not corporations that some courts might consider to be “persons” under the law) that is exempted for religious reasons from Obamacare and its penalties, according to the IRS. Those persons are members of certain religious groups:
6. What are the statutory exemptions from the requirement to obtain minimum essential coverage?
Religious conscience. You are a member of a religious sect that is recognized as conscientiously opposed to accepting any insurance benefits. The Social Security Administration administers the process for recognizing these sects according to the criteria in the law.
 Well, she asks, "what's a sect?"  (a common undergraduate religious studies question, btw)  Here's where it gets interesting and, in light of yesterday's post, politically binding.

Which religious “sects” would qualify? They would seem to be the Anabaptists: Mennonites, Hutterites and the Amish. Members of those groups are already exempted from the Social Security and Medicare systems, and for them the same exemption would be true of Obamacare on the grounds that the health insurance system as whole is against their religion. 

Neo-Neocon brings up a very important point:  individual Catholics will almost certainly be required to comply with the HHS mandate, but not 'sectarian' groups like the Anabaptist traditions.  As an aside, this shouldn't surprise anybody who's cruised through a semester or two of rudimentary church history.  The Anabaptists--by their very name alone--indicate a counter-cultural stance. Emerging in the 'fog of reform' amid the late fifteenth and throughout the sixteenth centuries, Anabaptists, with rare exceptions,  eschewed violence and all 'cultural' connections to Christian faith.  No oaths of allegiance, infant baptism, or contact with those outside the voluntarily-joined community.  It was and remains a necessarily narrow path within the Christian tradition.  No doubt, great witness and inspiration have come from the Anabaptists, but a honest assessment--or at least an honest Catholic one--must admit that the restrictiveness is also its flaw.  The Roman and Orthodox (and to a lesser extent the Anglican) tradition have monastic communities for those who desiring a radical lifestyle commitment to the Gospel.  The rest of us--likewise committed to the Gospel--make our ways in the world. Ah, but what about the Little Sisters of the Poor?  You got it--they're the Roman Catholic Church's version--actually one version among many--of 'sectarian' commitment.'   

What does this have to do with Obamacare?  Well, more than you might first think.  First, Neo-Neocon raises a very important question:
 But why couldn’t the same thing be argued of individual Mennonites about the insurance system as a whole? Why should these individuals not have to buy health insurance coverage like the rest of us, whether they use it or not or object to it or not, or at the very least to pay the tax/penalty if they don’t buy it? 

Right.  Why do some receive exemptions and not others?  After all, the White House's lawyers have argued yet again that Catholics face no 'substantial burden' with the current Obamacare requirements. And the Anabaptists?   "Well, they're sectarian..." doesn't quite pan out as desired.  As noted above, the White House has bestowed upon itself the determining power of who and what are sects and who and what are not.  This is a violation of religious freedom.  If a group wants to set itself up as counter-cultural, then so be it.  When the group grows so large that small groups within decide to rededicate themselves to the original smaller vision, then they--under the aegis of the broader group's religious freedom, have the right to do so. All sorts of problems can emerge with that transition, but an avoidable one might be allowing or encouraging the federal government to step in as the arbiter of sectarianism.  Is this really a fight the Obama administration wants to ignite?  According to Neo-Neocon, and I think she's right here, the legal conundrums should become all apparent to all, not just those committed to opposing the HHS mandate.

But even for those who accept the government’s argument that the mandate is both constitutional, and that there is a shared responsibility to provide health insurance for all, it seems to me that there’s an argument to be made that there is no reason to exempt individual members of anti-insurance religions such as the Anabaptists from paying the penalty/tax for opting out of Obamacare coverage, if Catholics and others are not afforded the same privilege. Anabaptists are in more or less the same position as individual anti-birth-control Catholics who are forced to buy coverage or pay the penalty, are they not? In other words, why are the religious beliefs of those who are against insurance as a whole protected, and the beliefs of those who are against segments of Obamacare not protected? At the very least, why shouldn’t the latter be exempted from paying for the birth control portion of their policies?

Right.  Once you allow exemptions, how do you justify not granting them? Neocon started with the recognition of the Little Sisters' "in-between" status.  We shouldn't misconstrue that space as narrow.  What about the Catholic Workers?  Arguably, they might be a better analogy to the Anabaptist tradition (for all sorts of reasons). Or what about politically and socially liberal Protestants who, inspired by the witness of 'sectarian' groups like the Anabaptists and the Catholic Workers, decide to live in small mutually-supportive communities independent from the surrounding population?  Hey, it's happened before.  Oh, but those groups--since their denominations largely supported the Obama administration--are "good sectarians."  I keep forgetting;  it's those "bad sectarians" causing all the trouble.  Thus "good for me, but not for thee," apparently.

1 comment:

  1. The Amish are not exempt from paying Social Security taxes. Please look up United States v Lee (1982)