The Boston Herald‘s Margery Egan wrote last week that Massachusetts GOP Senator Scott Brown had “sided with the nuts” in his embrace of the Blunt-Rubio-Ayotte amendment (SA1520) to the Affordable Health Care Act, which purports to be an effort to accommodate the Catholic Bishops’ desire to deny insurance coverage for contraception to the diverse employees of church-affiliated secular organizations. Missourians, though, have the rare distinction that our GOP Senator Roy
Bond Blunt, the Bond Blunt in Blunt-Rubio-Ayotte, is actually jockying for a position as one of the leaders of the nuts.
Something, though, is a bit amiss with the heretofore effective GOP manipulation of wedge issues. Senator Blunt, who rarely ever acknowledges specific criticism, but simply trudges woodenly along his chosen rhetorical path, must be realizing that this particular appeal to right-wing sexual hysteria might not be a slam dunk, nor is it doing the expected yeoman duty as a smokescreen for gutting the Affordable Care Act (ACA). Why do I think this is so? Simply because the usually impervious Blunt has actually bothered to post a “Fact Check” on his Webpage that is intended to set “the record straight about U.S. Senator Roy Blunt’s (Mo.) amendment to stop the Obama administration’s violation Of Americans’ religious freedom.” Sounds a little defensive, doesn’t it?
But don’t worry. Our reliably fact-free Senator Blunt hasn’t gone all wonky on us. If you bother to read his “Fact Check,” you’ll notice right away that it simply states his beliefs – or rather, what he wants you to believe – without any effort to substantiate his assertions. And what he wants you to believe is that a simple regulation that insures equality of treatment for employees of federally subsidized organizations is a massive violation of religious liberty, and that privileging the druthers of the Catholic Bishops does not violate the rights of non-Catholic employees of Catholic-affiliated hospitals and colleges.
Most folks recognized right away that the broad language of the Blunt-Rubio-Ayotte amendment would permit any employer to deny almost any type coverage for any reason, under the guise of either religious or personal “moral” qualms. Bond doesn’t tell us why this is not true, but simply declares that it isn’t, and then attempts to deflect the issue by repeatedly claiming that the amendment restores some imagined status quo in the form of “conscience protections that existed before President Obama’s flawed health care law – the same protections that have existed for more than 220 years since the First Amendment was ratified.”*
Sounds impressive, doesn’t it? But I would like Blunt to show me where “morals,” a notoriously subjective concept, are mentioned in the First Amendment. I would also like to have Senator Blunt explain to me what distinctions, if any, he is making between my secular conscience and questions of conscience that are contingent upon religious teaching. On the question of religious conscience, Senator Blunt should also answer The New York Times Supreme Court Reporter Linda Greenhouse’s question: “whose conscience is it?”, apropos of which Greenhouse observes:
… it’s important to be clear that the conscientious objection to the regulation comes from an institution rather than from those whose consciences it purports to represent. (Catholic women actually have a higher rate of abortion than other American women, but I’ll stick to birth control for now.) While most Catholics dissent in the privacy of their bedrooms from the church’s position, some are pushing back in public. The organization Catholics for Choice, whose magazine is pointedly entitled Conscience, is calling on its supporters to “tell our local media that the bishops are out of touch with the lived reality of the Catholic people” and “do not speak for us on this decision.”
Even granting that institutional religious conscience rights might have have some legal standing, I would like Senator Bond to explain how he can talk about the violation of conscience “protections that have existed for 220 years” in the face of the numerous court cases where, when such rights conflict with other rights or the need to insure public welfare, they have been judged to be subordinate. As Bruce DeSilva puts it:
… All of our Constitutional rights are limited. For one thing, my rights are limited when they conflict with yours. For another thing, one Constitutional right is limited when it conflicts with another. […]
In the case of freedom of religion, every American is free to believe anything he or she wants, but no one is free to do anything he or she wants. Limits on what we can do in the name of religion are many, and some of them should be familiar to everyone. Christian Science parents are not permitted to deny their children treatment for life-threatening diseases, and if they do so they can be criminally charged. Breakaway Mormon sects are not permitted to engage in bigamy or marry off underage girls, and some of their leaders are in prison for doing so. Conscientious objectors, such as Quakers, may believe that their federal taxes should not help fund wars, but if they don’t pay those taxes they face criminal charges.
Blunt asserts that “many longstanding federal health care conscience laws protect conscientious objections to certain types of medical services.” You will notice that he does not discuss any of the efforts to pass laws in the past 20 years that would allow private individuals to use conscience claims to pick and choose which laws or parts of laws they wish to observe. And it is a wise decsion on his part, since the issue continues to be legally fraught and has never been the settled issue that Blunt implies.
As you can seee, Blunt’s “Fact Sheet” is about as bogus as his “Jobs Plan” was back when he was running for the Senate in 2010. The only thing it proves is that it’s hard to fact check a “Fact Check” that doesn’t offer any facts. I wonder if enough people let ol’ Roy know that they’re still waiting for the facts, would he try to give us a real rationale for his destructive legislation? Can’t hurt to give it a try – if you’re so inclined, click this link for his Webpage contact sheet and tell Roy Blunt you’re still waiting for an explanation of his efforts to help the Catholic hierarchy deny contraception to non-Catholic women.
* Sentence edited slightly for clarity.