FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
(LANSING)—As the Senate Health Policy Committee addresses legislation today concerning contraceptive mandates, the Michigan Catholic Conference is urging lawmakers to uphold and respect the bedrock constitutional principle of religious freedom.
“The Conference has no interest in mandating the teachings of the Catholic Church upon secular society, and in the same respect the State has no right, in light of the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, to force its law upon the teachings and practices of the Catholic Church and her institutions,” said Paul A. Long, Michigan Catholic Conference Vice President for Public Policy.
Today the Senate Health Policy Committee took testimony on Senate Bills 41 and 42; legislation that would mandate employers that provide prescription drug plans to include contraception. Such measures have been introduced in past legislative sessions and have routinely failed to include exemptions for religious organizations that do not find contraception acceptable.
According to testimony given by Long before the committee: “The Michigan Catholic Conference opposes Senate Bills 41 and 42 because we believe them to be a direct assault upon the religious freedom rights of religious employers in general and the Catholic Church in particular. This legislation would impose a mandate upon Catholic religious institutions to provide contraceptive insurance coverage, coercing essential ministries of the Catholic Church under the color of law to act contrary to one of the Church’s most profound religious teachings on matters of morality and social justice. If this legislation were to pass, it is difficult to imagine any limit upon the state’s ability to require religious institutions to violate the principal tenets of their religious beliefs.”
Long’s testimony in its entirely can be read below.
Testimony on Senate Bills 41 and 42
RE: Contraceptive Mandates
Senate Health Policy Committee
14 May 2008
Thank you Mister Chairman and members of the committee. My name is Paul Long and I am the vice president for public policy for the Michigan Catholic Conference. As you know, the Michigan Catholic Conference is the public policy voice for the Catholic Church in this state. We welcome this opportunity to offer our reflections on these bills.
The Michigan Catholic Conference opposes Senate Bills 41 and 42 because we believe them to be a direct assault upon the religious freedom rights of religious employers in general and the Catholic Church in particular. This legislation would impose a mandate upon Catholic religious institutions to provide contraceptive insurance coverage, coercing essential ministries of the Catholic Church under the color of law to act contrary to one of the Church’s most profound religious teachings on matters of morality and social justice. If this legislation were to pass, it is difficult to imagine any limit upon the state’s ability to require religious institutions to violate the principal tenets of their religious beliefs.
Advocacy organizations pushing this legislation will say the mandate can be avoided by simply declining to provide employees with prescription drug coverage. As a matter of justice, Catholic institutions consider it a religious duty to provide such coverage. How is the health and welfare of employees better off if there is no prescription drug coverage? Given the large numbers of persons without any kind of prescription drug coverage, or who are wholly uninsured, one can fairly question whether the creation of such reverse incentives truly advances public health and the common good. It is especially hard to defend the claim that the public welfare is served by penalizing Catholic schools, Catholic Charities, Catholic hospitals, and Catholic colleges and universities for not paying for prescription contraceptives when other employers pay for no prescription drugs or health benefits whatsoever.
Over the years the Conference has advocated against legislation that was thought to be in conflict with other religious traditions. Most notably is the issue of autopsies and the conflict with the Jewish faith and our work with Christian Science.
It would be a grave mistake for the Legislature to extinguish the freedom of church agencies to organize and operate internally in a manner consistent with their religious convictions. Deference to law of general applicability should not, and does not, override the freedom of churches and their agencies to be distinctively different from their secular counterparts. That would be to enforce the state’s uniform laws over a church’s beliefs in contravention of that church’s freedom to govern and organize itself in accord with its religious faith. Such intolerance on the part of the state is inconsistent with the First Amendment to the United States Constitution.
Aside from religious freedom, is the notion that health benefit plans and prescription drug benefits are designed to prevent and provide treatment for a disease. Advocates for this mandate are effectively defining fertility as a disease that demands treatment. So not only are we turning the religion clauses of the First Amendment on their head we are now redefining the point and purpose for an employer sponsored health benefit and prescription drug plan.
A third reason of opposition stems from the notion that contraception helps to reduce the number of abortions. Advocates of this legislation have stated this as a main reason for encouraging passage. 1.3 million abortions are obtained in this country each year. According to Planned Parenthood’s Alan Guttmacher Institute, more than half of women having abortions used contraception the month they became pregnant. So this argument proves to be without merit.
Finally, we would argue that employers design benefit plans based on the needs of their employees and the financial ability of the employer. The relationship between the employer and employee goes along way toward the development of these plans. Government should not interfere in that relationship.
For these reasons the Michigan Catholic Conference stands opposed to Senate Bills 41 and 42 and encourages that they remain in committee.
Michigan Catholic Conference is the official public policy voice of the Catholic Church in this state.
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