Monday, March 12, 2012

First Amendment Follies

It seems like this latest controversy just will not die. I mean the birth-control-mandate-Limbaugh-Fluke controversy. I had planned not to comment on this story. But since just about everybody else has done so, I might as well throw in my two cents.

It all started on January 31, 2012 when the Department of Health and Human Services issued a final rule under Obamacare requiring non-profit organizations' health insurance plans to cover contraceptive services free of charge to the patient. This rule did not apply to churches but it did apply to religiously affiliated institutions such as hospitals and universities.

The Catholic Church was quick to charge that the mandate amounted to a violation of its religious freedom protected by the First Amendment.  “In effect, the president is saying we have a year to figure out how to violate our consciences,” said Cardinal-designate Timothy M. Dolan, archbishop of New York and president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.

Interestingly, Catholic Bishops were among the biggest cheerleaders of Obamacare. Equally interesting is watching Catholic Bishops - who routinely call for Catholic elected officials to codify into U.S. law Catholic doctrine when it comes to abortion and same sex marriage - now standing up for separation of church and state. But the Catholic Church has never been short on hypocrisy or double standards. That's why popes and Catholic clergymen were placed in hell by Dante in his "Divine Comedy".

Back to the First Amendment. I am no constitutional scholar but I do not see where the Catholic Church has a first amendment right to run universities, hospitals and collect taxpayers' money doing so. I am also not aware that running hospitals, universities while collecting government money is central to the practice of the Catholic faith. So how exactly is the mandate preventing their free exercise of religion?

If the Catholic Church does not want to provide medical services or coverage of medical services they find morally objectionable, then they should set up privately funded universities and hospitals. The moment they receive a check from the government, they become mere mortals like the rest of us. They must abide by every government mandate just like every other employer.

And Rush Limbaugh... he really stepped into this story. As usual he decided to draw attention to himself by referring to Georgetown Law student Sandra Fluke as a "slut" and a "prostitute" for supporting the mandate. Progressive celebrity lawyer Gloria Allred has announced that she is looking to prosecute Rush. Democrat politicians called for the Limbaugh Show to be dropped from the Armed Forces Network. Boycotts were organized and sponsors pulled their advertisements.

Ironically, Rush Limbaugh's inflammatory words are protected by the First Amendment. Yet he seems to be the only one paying the price.