In the New York Times, a letter to the editor from Nathan Diament of the Orthodox Unions appears. In response to the Times’s cheerleading for the administration’s action against the Catholic Church, he writes:
You commend the Obama administration for denying requests for an expanded exemption for religiously affiliated institutions from providing birth control in their employees’ insurance plans, even in violation of the institutions’ religious beliefs, as now required by the health care reform law.
In doing so, you — like Kathleen Sebelius, the health and human services secretary — say religious entities that “serve the general public and employ people of different faiths” should not receive the same religious liberty protections as, for example, a church or a synagogue. Such reasoning is wrongheaded.
For many people of diverse faiths, religious observance is not to be confined to the sanctuary. For many, faith compels engagement with the broader world and service to our fellow man, especially those in need. To say the government will afford religious liberty only to the most insular of religious institutions but not to those that serve, or employ, people of other faiths is a troubling view of faith and what role it should play in America.
But, of course, this view — that religious institutions must bend to the will of the government’s agenda — permeates the administration. Recall that the Obama team recently lost 9-0 at the Supreme Court on its claim that churches could be sued under anti-discrimination laws when firing a minister. Chief Justice John Roberts, writing for the majority, explained:
Since the passage of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 42 U. S. C. §2000e et seq., and other employment discrimination laws, the Courts of Appeals have uniformly recognized the existenceof a “ministerial exception,” grounded in the First Amendment, that precludes application of such legislation to claims concerning the employment relationship between a religious institution and its ministers. We agree that there is such a ministerial exception. The members of a religious group put their faith in the hands of their ministers. Requiring a church to accept or retain an unwanted minister, or punishing a church for failing to do so, intrudes upon more than a mere employment decision. Such action interferes with the internal governance of the church, depriving the church of control over the selection of those who will personify its beliefs. By imposing an unwanted minister, the state infringes the Free Exercise Clause, which protects a religious group’s right to shape its own faith and mission through its appointments.
In other words, courts of appeals have long understood what the administration does not: There is a place in civil society carved out by the First Amendment designed to protect religious faith and worship. The state can always come up with a good reason for trampling on that sacred turf, for it wants no exceptions to its laws an regulations and wants to assert its will as broadly as possible. But that is not the constitutional system we have. In America, we restrain the government and afford protection — yes, additional protection — for those seeking to practice according to their faith.
That this basic premise, explicitly set forth in the First Amendment, eludes the administration should be deeply troubling to all religious groups and indeed all Americans. It strikes me, as Nathan Diament, that the obligation of all religious leaders — Jews, Catholics, Protestants, Muslims and Hindus — is to come together to protest this move and implore the administration to reconsider. Fill a football stadium and hold a rally. March on the White House. Generate 2 million letters to the president. There is plenty to do. Religious leaders should lead and show their followers, the president and the American people that the First Amendment is not to be trifled with.