Democrats took to the House floor last night to defend President Obama’s regulation requiring employers and insurers to provide a wide range of health care benefits in their insurance plans, including contraception coverage. Houses of worship and non-profits primarily employing and serving those of the same faith are exempt from the requirement.
Rep. Jerry Nadler (D-NY) made a particularly persuasive case, arguing that the federal law treats Catholic affiliated institutions like colleges, universities, and hospitals as employers and requires that they follow standard employment laws and regulations and treat all employees fairly. And while the government would never muddle in a church’s religious operations — for instance, it would never ask that it take on female priests, it would object to it turning away female doctors from its hospitals or refusing to perform a certain medical procedure that undermines the liberties of the patient.
These organizations — which receive tax benefits from the federal government — can’t discriminate in their hiring practices or general operations and they shouldn’t discriminate against sex in the coverage they offer to their employees. Here is how Nadler put it:
NADLER: The difference here is that churches are and should be protected in their religious role. Protected against having to violate their religious views. But they must not be protected in their role as employers. We permit a church, for example, to discriminate a religious practice. No one asks the Catholic Church how come you do not permit women priests, that’s their business. But we do not permit them to discriminate as employers. We do not permit a religious hospital or university to say we will not permit the hiring of female doctors or female professors or black doctors or nurses because that would impinge on liberty. […]
The church can preach its views, it can seek to persuade people, but it cannot coerce people who may work for a church affiliated university or hospital that they may not use contraceptives if they want to. The liberty here is the liberty of the employee that must be protected. The liberty of the church must be protected in its churchly function and in its function as a religious institution. In its function as an employer, the liberty belongs to the employees and that is the distinction that is made here. It is the proper distinction.
This blog originally appeared in ThinkProgress on February 9, 2012. Reprinted with permission.
About the Author: Igor Volsky is the Health Care and LGBT Editor for ThinkProgress.org at the Center for American Progress Action Fund. Igor is co-author of Howard Dean’s Prescription for Real Healthcare Reform and has appeared on MSNBC, CNN, Fox Business, Fox News, and CNBC television, and has been a guest on many radio shows. Prior to joining the Center, Igor interned with Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting (FAIR), hosted his own political radio show at Marist College, and edited and published a political newspaper in high school. Igor grew up in Russia, Israel, and New Jersey.