Thursday, December 29, 2011

Church v. State: Relgious Beliefs v. Government Contracts

Yesterday, the New York Times published this interesting article regarding Catholic Charities being closed due to their unwillingness to consider same sex couples as potential foster care and adoptive parents. In order to receive government funding, the state is requiring that such couples be considered. According to the article, this is not the only ongoing battle between the church and state regarding their charities.

Catholic Charities are also fighting the requirement that “religiously affiliated hospitals, universities and charity groups cover contraception in their employees’ health plans.” Additionally, Catholic bishops are asking that their denial of a federal contract to provide aid to victims of sex trafficking be overturned; this program was denied based on the fact that the proposal did not provide referrals for abortion doctors or contraceptives for the survivors of sex trafficking.

Church officials claim that the adoption requirements are an “escalating campaign by the government to trample on their religious freedom while expanding the rights of gay people.” At the same time, same sex couples are being discriminated against by organizations their tax dollars support. The Church also acknowledges that they do not have a First Amendment right to government contracts, but they also feel that they have “a First Amendment right not to be excluded from a contract based on its religious beliefs.”

This issue is a difficult one, and can be easily argued from either side. To start with the government’s side, it seems fair and logical that their provision of federal funds to any organization can be conditioned upon meeting certain requirements. As in other non-religious cases, failure to meet these standards means the organization receives no or limited funds. Especially if those standards are applied to both non-religious and religious organizations, it is difficult to claim discrimination.

As for the Church, each of their battles brings up unique issues, some of which are easier to defend than others. To begin with, their choice to not provide medical coverage to employees working in "Catholic and other religiously affiliated hospitals, universities and charity groups" regarding contraception seems to be an interference with their employment policies. Most employers are given the option of what type of medical coverage they provide for their employees. However, the fact that these employees work for an organization funded by government grants does muddy up the issue.

Regarding the aid to victims of sex trafficking, the Church is providing a valuable service to these people. The issue regarding requiring referrals for abortions and/or contraceptives become s more convoluted however since the Church is asking for federal aid. On one hand, it seems that the government should support these programs, with or without the questionable referrals; on the other hand, as stated above, it is not unfair or unusual for the government to require certain conditions prior to granting aid. While the Church may feel that they have “a First Amendment right not to be excluded from a contract based on its religious beliefs”, if the government is requiring this condition of all organizations seeking to aid sex trafficking victims, then any claim of discrimination seems less likely.

Finally, the issue of the same sex adoption appears to be least difficult of these issues: the government is requiring Catholic Charities to consider same sex couples as foster/adoptive parents; Catholic Charities has decided they do not wish to consider these candidates; and, as a result, many of the Catholic Charities falling under this requirement are being closed. It appears in this instance that Catholic Charities realizes that their work in this area is taxpayer driven and as a result must adhere to government requirements. The government has given them the option to accept funds and consider same sex couples as potential parents, or go it alone; in this instance, the Catholic Charities appear to be resolved that they do not want to follow the government regulations and cannot carry on alone. While the government may not have expected this result, the government cannot require Catholic Charities to remain operational.

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