Contraceptive Mandate: Women’s rights versus religious rights?

This entry is part 2 of 5 in the series Contraceptive Mandate
One century ago, in March 1914, birth-control pioneer, launched her famous magazine, The Woman Rebel. She took the slogan "No Gods, No Masters" from a famous slogan in the early labor movement. By August of that year, she was indicted under U.S. postal obscenity laws for mailing the magazine.

One century ago, in March 1914, birth-control pioneer Margaret Sanger launched her famous magazine, The Woman Rebel. She took the phrase “No Gods, No Masters” from a famous slogan used in the early labor movement. By August of that year, she was indicted under U.S. postal obscenity laws for mailing the magazine.

The CONTROVERSY over the so-called contraceptive mandate is being framed as a clash of basic rights: women’s reproductive rights versus an employer’s religious rights. Adam Liptak, in yesterday’s New York Times, wrote that the case opening before the U.S. Supreme Court today “pits religious liberty against women’s rights.”

The contraceptive mandate requires employers to provide birth control as part of their insurance plans. The cases before the high court concern the owners of some for-profit corporations who object to the contraceptive mandate on religious grounds. To be precise, they don’t object to all forms of contraception. They object to contraceptives that “end life after conception” such as the morning after pill and intrauterine devices (IUDs).

About one-half of pregnancies in the U.S. are unwanted, according to an article in the prestigious New England Journal of Medicine. Reducing unwanted pregnancies would cut risks to women’s health and costs to families and societies. “Contraception is a highly cost-effective public health measure, and the most effective methods are also the most cost-effective,” write the authors. “Unfortunately, the cost to individuals can be a substantial barrier to the use of highly effective methods.” The most cost-effective methods, such as IUDs, “carry a high up-front cost that can present an insurmountable barrier to women who might otherwise want to use them.”

Is “religious rights versus women’s rights” the correct framing of the issues?

Should public health trump religious objections?

Contraceptive Mandate: Do corporations have the people’s rights?

This entry is part 1 of 5 in the series Contraceptive Mandate
US Supreme Court blog logo

The “Supreme Court of the United States” (SCOTUS) blog has a lot more about this case and will include updates this week. Click the logo to visit the blog.

The U.S. Supreme Court begins hearings this week on the contraceptive mandate—the provision in the Affordable Care Act that requires employers to include birth control in their insurance plans. Several issues are in play—all have to do with values.

One issue is this: Do corporations have religious rights? Are they “people”?

Churches and religious groups are exempt from the contraceptive mandate, meaning that they don’t have to provide this coverage if it violates religious principles. The cases the high court considers this week involve secular corporations whose owners object to the mandate on religious grounds. The companies are Hobby Lobby (owned through a trust by evangelical Christians) and Conestoga Wood Specialties Corporation (owned by a Mennonite family).

Similar cases heard in federal courts around the country have produced conflicting decisions, which is why this challenge to the Affordable Care Act has risen to the U.S. Supreme Court.

An argument preview on the Supreme Court of the United States blog presents one of the core issues: “At the level of their greatest potential, the two cases raise the profound cultural question of whether a private, profit-making business organized as a corporation can ‘exercise’ religion and, if it can, how far that is protected from government interference… In a manner of speaking, these issues pose the question — a topic of energetic debate in current American political and social discourse — of whether corporations are ‘people.’ The First Amendment protects the rights ‘of the people,’ and the … law protects the religious rights of ‘persons.’ Do profit-making companies qualify as either?”

Do corporations have religious rights?

Are corporations “people”?

How would you decide the Hobby Lobby and Conestoga cases?

LGBT Trends: Is same-sex marriage a Constitutional right?

This entry is part 4 of 5 in the series LGBT Trends
Click the graphic to visit the Washington Post website for the entire polling story.

Click the graphic to visit the Washington Post website for the entire polling story.

Majority support for legalizing same-sex marriage has reached a record high, according to a brand new Washington Post-ABC News survey. Almost six of ten Americans (59%) now say they support giving gays and lesbians the right to legal marriage.

How many also say that the U.S. Constitution guarantees the right? What would the framers of the Constitution have to say?

Support for legalizing same-sex marriage has reached a new high, but this support is not equally shared across demographic, religious, and political lines. For example, women (63%) are more likely than men (54%) to support legalized gay marriage. Eight of ten religiously unaffiliated Americans support it, while just three of ten white evangelical Protestants agree. Eighty-two percent of liberals support legalized same-sex marriage; only 39% of conservatives feel the same way.

Obviously, the U.S. Constitution doesn’t say anything explicitly about same-sex marriage. Judicial interpretations of the U.S. Constitution strive to divine the founders’ original intent, or view the document as a “living constitution” that changes according to the times in which it is interpreted.

Whether the Constitution is a living document or it should be strictly construed, most Americans have an opinion about whether or not it supports legalized same-sex marriage. Here’s the exact wording of the poll question. What’s your answer?

“Regardless of your own preference on the issue, do you think that the part of the U.S. Constitution providing Americans with equal protection under the law does or does not give gays and lesbians the legal right to marry?”

Half of Americans (50%) say that equal protection under the law does give the right for same-sex couples to marry, while 41% say it does not. (The rest didn’t have an opinion.) Here, we see the same pattern we saw before—a lack of agreement about this issue across demographic, religious, and political boundaries.

Do you support or oppose same-sex marriage?

Do you think the Constitution does or does not give the right for same-sex marriage>

What would the framers of the Constitution have to say?

Volunteering: Religious volunteers…in prison?

This entry is part 3 of 5 in the series Volunteering
Religious Accommodation in Pew survey results

WHAT KINDS OF RELIGIOUS RESOURCES ARE PERMITTED FOR INMATES? While “religious accommodation” is a right in America, there is no uniform set of religious rules. Pew asked chaplains to answer these questions. (To read the entire Pew report, click on the graphic.)

We usually don’t think of volunteering in a prison context, but volunteers are often used in state prisons to meet the religious and spiritual needs of prisoners. Religious volunteers supplement the work of prison chaplains, leading worship services, providing religious education classes, running prayer or meditation groups, and more.

Do you know any religious volunteers who serve the prison population?

To learn about the role of religious volunteers, the Pew Research Center surveyed prison chaplains in all 50 states. These chaplains reported that they have too few—and too many—religious volunteers. They have more Protestant religious volunteers than they need, and too few Muslim, Wiccan, and Native American religious volunteers.

How well do religious volunteers perform? Overall, almost all prison chaplains say that volunteers are excellent or very good at leading worship services or religious rites, at leading religious education classes, at leading prayer or meditation groups, and mentoring prison inmates.

Volunteers don’t do as good a job at providing services to the families and children of prison inmates. This is especially true when it comes to mentoring the children of inmates. They do a somewhat better job when it comes to helping inmates’ families by giving food, clothing, or holiday gifts.

There are no official records of the religious affiliations of the incarcerated population, so the prison chaplains were asked to describe the religious composition of their prison populations. Pew researchers note that these estimates are impressionistic at best, but it is interesting to note that the religiously or spiritually unaffiliated appear to be less frequent among prisoners than the general population.

Did you know that religious volunteers regularly supplement the work of prison chaplains?

Are you, or someone you know, a religious volunteer who works in prisons?

If so, what has the experience been like?

Dogs, Bees and Us: A link between cruelty to animals and humans?

This entry is part 4 of 5 in the series Dogs, Bees and Us
The Humane Society of the United States website

VISIT The Humane Society of the United States website for more information. Just click on this small snapshot fro the HSUS website.

Cruelty is the dark side of human-animal interactions.

Did you know that there is no national accounting of cruelty to animals? We have uniform accounting, each year, of crimes against humans—but not so for animal abuse and other attacks against animals. The U.S. Humane Society (HSUS) reports:

“The shocking number of cruelty cases reported daily in the media is only the tip of the iceberg. Most cases are never reported, and most animal suffering goes unrecognized and unabated. Although there is no national reporting system for animal abuse, media reports suggest that it is common in rural and urban areas. Cruelty and neglect can also cross socio-economic boundaries.”

Despite the lack of national reporting, the HSUS has collected and summarizes a lot of data from media reports. And, if these reports move you to do something, HSUS provides a Take Action page as well. Of course, most of us are deeply troubled when we hear of such abuse.

And, my question today may add to your concern: Can cruelty to animals predict cruelty to humans?

Researchers are sure there’s a link, as Marc Bekoff summarizes in Why Dogs Hump and Bees Get Depressed, the book we’re consulting this week. He focuses on the work of Australian psychologist Eleonora Gullone, from her book Animal Cruelty, Antisocial Behaviour, and Aggression: More than a Link. She notes that “mild and isolated forms of animal cruelty may be part of normal exploratory developmental behaviour” in children. But “persistent or recurrent cruelty to animals” is associated with, precedes, and predicts later anti-social behavior, aggression, and violence toward humans.

Once again, the HSUS has helpful information, including various connections between animal and human cruelty. Here are some of them:

  • Animal abuse can reveal people who are also engaged in criminal activities, as well as reveal family violence.
  • Cruelty to animals can be a “warning sign for at-risk youth.”
  • One of the predictors of domestic partner abuse is cruelty to companion animals.
  • A history of animal abuse in childhood may translate into tolerance of interpersonal violence in adulthood.

Have you observed the cruel side of human-animal interactions?

Have you seen a link between cruelty to animals and to humans?

United America, Core Value 3: Freedom

This entry is part 3 of 10 in the series United America

Cigarette with smoke photo by Challiyil Eswaramangalath Vipin via Wikimedia Commons

I grew up in a cloud of second-hand smoke. People smoked everywhere. It was a time when not smoking was abnormal. Now, smoking is banned in many public places, such as restaurants and bars. But a Michigan politician wants to repeal the ban, arguing that it infringes on our liberty.

Does this make sense to you?

The Michigan politician is State Rep. Tom McMillin, a Republican from Rochester Hills. Here is what is said, according to CAPCON-Michigan Capitol Confidential: “I am not a smoker, but to me this is an issue of liberty and property rights. That’s why I didn’t support the smoking ban legislation when it was in the House. If I was in one of these areas with my children and someone started smoking, I’d go someplace else. I believe that’s a choice we always have.”

“Liberty” is the ability to do what you want without restraint—like smoking in public places. Many Americans believe in liberty, but not enough to qualify as a core American value. Rather, “freedom” is one of the 10 core values, as I discuss in United America. Since my new book was just published Monday, we’re using this series to introduce each core value and link them to contemporary issues. United America developed from a combination of my four national surveys of Americans and years of discussing values here at

Core Value 3: “Freedom”—as summarized in the chart of values, this one means “Having the right to participate in politics and elections; expression of unpopular ideas without fearing for one’s safety.” Freedom, then, comes with responsibility.

This Michigan House bill that McMillin advocates comes 50 years after the first report issued by the U.S. Surgeon General that warned about the health hazards of smoking. Since then, we have made great strides in reducing tobacco usage in America, including bans on smoking in public places. Sustained outreach and education programs have reduced smoking. Smokers are now a dwindling minority. But there is still a long way to go. Some children and some demographic groups continue to light up. The economic costs alone are over $289 billion each year, according to a U.S. Surgeon General report published this month.

Do you see the ban on smoking in public places to be an infringement of your liberty?

Do you support or oppose the ban?

What does freedom mean to you?

Capitalism: Is dysfunctional government the big problem after all?

This entry is part 5 of 5 in the series Capitalism
Click on the Gallup chart to read the entire report.

Click on the Gallup chart to read the entire report.

“Government is not the solution to our problem,” said Ronald Reagan in his 1991 Inaugural Address, “government is the problem.”

Gallup reports that record numbers of Americans today believe Reagan was right after all.

We began the week asking if capitalism is working for you and whether it is or isn’t a big problem if everyone doesn’t have an equal chance in life. We noted that confidence in our economy is at low ebb, and discussed the economic values that should guide government policy.

Dysfunctional government is now seen as a bigger problem than the economy, according to a Gallup poll taken about a week ago. Dysfunctional government tops the list of the biggest problems our country faces. Thirty-three percent of Americans now say that it is the most important problem facing the country. In contrast, 19% of Americans say the economy is the most important problem.

Here’s the shocking news: The percentage of Americans who now say that dysfunctional government is the most important problem is the highest percentage that Gallup has ever seen—going all the way back to 1939!

Is dysfunctional government the biggest problem we face?

If government got out of the way, would your faith in capitalism increase or decrease?

Please, take a moment to add a Comment, below. And invite friends to read along. Use the blue-”f” Facebook icon or the small envelope-shaped email icon.