Moving the First Amendment Goal Posts… Again

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Religious leaders have joined together to fight the HHS contraception mandate since its announcement, claiming it infringes on their religious freedom. HHS has recently issued another revision in an attempt to accommodate religious institutions; but in a letter outlining his concerns earlier this month, Cardinal Timothy Dolan, President of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, had this to say:

“It appears to offer second-class status to our first-class institutions in Catholic health care, Catholic education and Catholic charities. HHS offers what it calls an ‘accommodation’ rather than accepting the fact that these ministries are integral to our church and worthy of the same exemption as our Catholic churches.”

Now it seems, these ministries and their “integral parts” are seeking to not be exempted from federal funds to rebuild after Hurricane Sandy, and the U.S. House has passed a bill to accommodate them. The Hill reports:

The House on Wednesday passed legislation that would require the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) to let churches, mosques, synagogues and temples apply for taxpayer-funded disaster aid.

The bill, from Rep. Chris Smith (R-N.J.), is a reaction to FEMA’s policy of denying disaster aid grants to houses of worship, even though it allows grants to religious-affiliated groups.

“It’s unconscionable that foundational pillars of our communities damaged by Sandy — synagogues, churches, mosques, temples and other house of worship — have been categorically denied access to these otherwise generally available relief funds,” Smith said during debate on the bill. “Current FEMA policy is patently unfair, unjustified and discriminatory, and may even suggest hostility to religion.”

There we go with the “hostility to religion” stuff; yes, that’s what it is, it couldn’t be the fact that these institutions have contributed nothing in the way of taxes toward FEMA’s disaster funds.

NPR reports (my emphasis):

More than 200 houses of worship damaged in Superstorm Sandy have applied for aid from the Federal Emergency Management Agency…

Religious institutions are considered ineligible according to FEMA regulations. But if they run a soup kitchen or a homeless shelter, or if they have community activities that are nonsectarian, they may be considered for federal aid.

In the NPR report, Nathan Diament, Executive Director of Public Policy for the Orthodox Union’s Institute for Public Affairs claims:

“If the government is giving out money to nonprofits on a neutral basis, the government does not have to go out of its way to exclude religion or religious institutions from participating in that program.”

Which is precisely the argument being made in the contraception debate, and as the New Republic pointed out in an article last year:

In addition to the tax breaks to which all nonprofit institutions are entitled, Catholic hospitals also receive taxpayer dollars via public insurance programs like Medicare and Medicaid, as well as myriad federal programs that provide extra subsidies for such things as indigent care and medical research…

As constitutional scholar Robert Natelson explains:

The HHS rule applies to employers as a class (except churches per se). It does not single out institutions affiliated with religion. In the words of the Supreme Court, it is a “neutral and generally applicable” rule.

The point is, church leaders need to quit moving the goal posts. They can’t cite First Amendment neutrality as an argument to receive aid, while simultaneously denying it applies in the healthcare mandate.

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  • Speaking for myself and not this site, and I know this is going to sound harsh to Catholics but I’m really passionate about protecting children from predators, regardless of who the predators are, so I really don’t give a damn how it sounds …

    The Catholic Church needs to SHUT THE HELL UP for about a hundred years so people have the time to forget the fact that they RAPED THOUSANDS OF CHILDREN, covered it up, and for the most part got away with it. And no, I don’t count payoffs as punishment; that’s what religious organizations, corporations and the wealthy do to avoid prison. I ask you, what other organization would ever get away with raping thousands of children? The Boy Scouts? The Boys Club? The Mormon Church? Small, independent churches? The answer is no on all counts. They would all be closed down and the rapists would be thrown in prison. But the Catholic church transferred rapists from one church to another for years and years for no other reason than to protect child rapists. To hell with protecting the children, they protected the rapists. The Catholic Church should have nothing to say about anything – PERIOD.

    Years ago, when the incredible news broke that priests raped thousands of children, I left the church for good. There are some things that I don’t believe can be forgiven, regardless of what religious leaders have to say on that subject. The rape of a child is near the top of that list of unforgivable acts. I hope others have, and will continue to leave the Catholic church. There are too many churches to choose from in this country. No one needs to belong to a church that rapes children. How many times can I make this point? They raped children!!! For all we know, they are still doing it, and still covering it up. The pope that just resigned was in charge of the rape cases. He ordered that all cases must go to his desk. I want to know what actions he took. Was he in charge of shuffling priests to avoid prosecution? I think we have the right to know.

    So I say on this and all issues, the Catholic church needs to shut the hell up. Can I get an Amen?!!