Is the Government Infringing on Religious Freedom, or are they Maintaining Separation of Church and State?
There is an ongoing debate as to whether or not the United States government is somehow infringing on or persecuting religious institutions and/or individuals and businesses. The U.S. political arena is confounded and murky and the primary way citizens understand it is through news mediums. The topics that carry the most weight when seeking clarity in this issue are: categorization, textual interpretation, American response to news, and the purpose of news. By analyzing news articles regarding the topic of religious freedom, one can see how news attempts to report on and potentially bring clarity to this issue. Further, the impact of the news can be seen by the way people respond to it. In my opinion, the conclusion to the debate over religious freedom and the government’s involvement with it is unclear, which reflects the complexity of the U.S. political arena, the lack of bias from fairly objective news sources, and the strength of arguments from opposed biased sources.
In the past there have been debates as to whether or not the United States government has been unconstitutional in regard to its involvement with religion. The Constitution provides for separation of church and state, however there exist clauses within the bill of rights and elsewhere that justify their claims or at least include clauses using the term “God” in them. For instance, the Bill of Rights dictates that all men are created equal under God. Another example is in the Pledge of Allegiance: “I pledge allegiance to the Flag of the United States of America, and to the Republic for which it stands, one Nation under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.” Some have argued for the removal of the “under God” portion of this, as well as the justification for human rights as humans being created equal under God. The advent of the Affordable Care Plan put forth by Obama Care has fueled the fire in this heated debate by generating new issues of contention; some directly related, and others brought into question due to their shared theme.
Refusal’s of Affordable Health Care Act
Bobby Jindal: Government waging “silent war” on religious freedom
Republican governor Bobby Jindal has made the claim that the government is “waging a silent war” against religion, specifically the Christian tradition. One of the examples he cited was a recent suit filed by the government against the retail chain, Hobby Lobby, which objected to the laws put forth by Obama Care which require health insurance to cover contraceptives. Hobby Lobby said they felt it violated their religious beliefs and the case will be heard in the Supreme Court.
This article does a good job summing up Jindal’s perspective and his speeches that are related to his most recent claim against religious intolerance from the government. It does not, however, provide any pushback against Jindal’s claims or his stories he gave in his speeches. This does not seem to be analytical of the issue raised by Jindal, but rather cites Jindal’s most compelling comments regarding the subject in a somewhat fond tone. This could leave one to believe the article is somewhat supportive of Jindal and/or his position on this subject.
May 10th, 2014 – CBS News
Supreme Court takes up Hobby Lobby’s challenge to the contraception Mandate
Religion News Service covered the ongoing Supreme Court case regarding arts and crafts company Hobby Lobby’s and cabinetry company Conestoga Wood Specialties’ lawsuits against the Affordable Care Act that was put in place under Obama Care. The article is framed as a dialogue or debate between opposed parties regarding the legitimacy of the suit. It also has pictures portraying advocates for both sides as you read along.
This article does a fabulous job of maintaining a seemingly unbiased tone. With the dialogue format, there is very little room for opinions of the author of the article. The quotes they cite to communicate the arguments of both sides seem fair and are of the logistical and principled nature.
March 25th – Religion News Service, written by Lauren Markoe
ObamaCare vs. Religion: why Media Research Center has filed suit against the government
Fox News website published an article written by the founder and president of the Media Research Center explaining his distaste for Obama Care: “In requiring employers to provide insurance coverage for contraceptives, the government has trampled on people who believe artificial contraception to be wrong as a matter of morality and ethics.” He went on to combat the argument that most Catholics don’t practice the non-use of contraceptives by bringing up a quote from his father that conveys the point of non-use: “[non use] unlocks the door to the even more awesome mystery of life, which in turn reveals the reality of the supernatural. If the Church does not own this key, it does not own any keys at all.”
I included this source because the sources that had come up most immediately were fairly unbiased. Obviously, Fox News is a right-wing news source and is notorious for their biased reporting. This isn’t a secondary article, but a primary one that reflected Fox’s view regarding Obama Care and contraceptives. Although there is some credence to Bozell’s claim that he would feel violated if he had to provide contraceptives to his employees, his refutation of the “the Catholics don’t do it anyway” argument is somewhat lacking. Bozell’s position clearly comes from his Catholic background and he is most likely conservative for economic reasons as well, given his role as the president of a company.
May 23rd – Fox News, written by L. Brent Bozell III
Supreme Court Takes Up Dispute over Obamacare and Religion
NBC reported on the Supreme Court case involving lawsuits filed by corporations that contested provisions under the Affordable Health Care Act that mandated them to provide contraceptives to their employees. The article begins by raising a leftist question: “To answer that question, the justices must first decide whether the companies challenging the law, three for-profit corporations, even have religious views in the first place.” The article argues the Obama administration’s side of the debate, citing that: “The Obama administration says they do not, arguing that freedom of religion is an individual right, not a corporate one.” The article concludes by referring to slavery and Jim Crow laws, which they claimed were defended by religion.
In contrast to Fox News, NBC is known for reporting on political issues from the left side of the isle. Their bias is seen clearly throughout the article, beginning with the leftist question they raise. They cite and advocate Obama’s administration far more than they do the opponents of Obama care. The most bold and blatant form of bias comes at the end of the article when it cites a source saying: “religion has frequently played the opposite role in our nation’s history, invoked by those who sought to perpetuate discrimination based on race or gender.”
March 21st – NBC News, written by Pete Williams
Supreme Court Ruling on Prayer in Town Halls
Town Hall Meetings Can Have Prayers, Justices Decide
A recent Supreme Court ruling found that town hall meetings are allowed to begin their sessions with religious prayers. This is a landmark case in that it set the precedent for allowing local governments across the nation to incorporate prayer into their proceedings. The Supreme Court ruling was a close 5-4, which represents the divide between the conservative and liberal justices.
The article is set up as a dialogue between the opposed justices, primarily Justice Kennedy and Justice Kagan, who headed the arguments of the two views. This debate format is fairly neutral as it used powerful quotes from each of the justices to convey the strengths of their arguments. The article does have a slight tone of assent for the ruling, which can be seen in the title. It makes it seem as though the Supreme Court Justices, who are well respected, universally agreed on the ruling.
May 5, 2014 – The New York Times, written by Adam Liptak
Letters: Misguided liberal compassion; keep religion out of government
Several editorials were compiled in the “Opinion” portion of the Gazette, which were questioning the involvement of religion in the government from various angles. This source allows us some insight on how individuals respond to the news they are exposed to.
The second editorial, “Private Prayer More Appropriate,” makes the claim from a Biblical standpoint that the Supreme Court, which voted in favor of allowing local government to begin sessions with prayer, are going against Christian doctrine. This claim is founded on Matthew’s Gospel, Chapter 6: “when you pray, you must not be like the hypocrites who love to pray in the synagogues and at street corners, that they may be seen by others; but when you pray go into your room and pray to your Father in secret.” The author of the editorial offers an alternative: “I would recommend a few minutes of silent prayer to each individual’s own god as a better alternative and one more likely to have a positive impact on each individual member of the group.” Written by Sumio Go
The author of this editorial makes some good points about the Supreme Court ruling and offers a sincere and respectable alternative. However, the author failed to understand that the ruling of the Supreme Court only based its decision off of U.S. legal doctrine, not religious doctrine, which the author used to criticize the outcome. Basing the ruling on a specific religious doctrine would completely contradict many of the long-standing American political decisions.
The third editorial, “Keep Religion Out of Government,” attacks the Supreme Court justices who ruled in favor of allowing prayer sessions in local government. The writer claimed that the Catholic justices who voted in favor of the ruling were basing their claim off of “the weakest” type of argument, which they claim to be tradition. The author concludes with a comment based on a quote from James Madison: “So, many of us make a modest proposal: Please keep your religions out of my government.” Written by Larimore Nicholl
Although this author raises a good counterargument for founding an argument on tradition by bringing up the dismantling of slavery, which was thought of as a tradition, they fail to recognize that agnostics and atheists can be considered to be in a religious category as well. Given that religion is nearly indefinable, it could be construed that they have a system of beliefs that could be seen as religious in nature. When they claim that religion should be kept out of government, they are essentially forcing others to follow their system of beliefs, which is the exact thing they are frustrated by with the ruling of the Supreme Court.
May 12, 2014 – The Gazette
Arizona’s Religious Freedom Bill
Religious Right in Arizona Cheers Bill Allowing Businesses to Refuse to Serve Gays
On February 21st of 2014, The New York Times published an article about the passing of legislation in Arizona that allows private businesses to deny service to same-sex couples by citing their religious freedom as their reason for doing so. The article summarized the opposed views regarding the bill: “The supporters say it would simply tweak an existing religious freedom law in Arizona to make it clear that private individuals can use religious freedom as a defense in civil litigation; the opponents say it would allow business owners to discriminate against anyone they do not like, citing religious freedom.” At the time of publication of the article, the bill was yet to be signed by Republican Arizona Governor Jan Brewer, so much of it focused on her stance on similar issues that she voted on in the past.
This article seems somewhat neutral and unbiased as it does a good job explicating both sides of the argument as given by sources of varying caliber, ranging from individual business owners who either support or object to the bill to formal interest and governmental groups who have taken a stance on the issue. The article also earns legitimacy because it gave background information on Gov. Brewer that might lend some insight on how she might react to the bill due to the context of her position. However, there is a slight tone of favoring the passing of the bill to be felt within the article as it begins and ends with supporting arguments for it.
February 21st – The New York Times, written by Michael Paulson and Fernanda Santos
Bill Viewed as Anti-Gay Is Passed in Arizona
In relation to the last article covered, it seems helpful to analyze a different article written by The New York Times on the same subject but a day earlier, on February 20th of 2014. The article is shorter than the aforementioned one due to the fact that it primarily covers the statistics of the vote and only briefly quotes people’s opinions on the matter.
However, in contrary to the previous article, it begins and ends with an opposed perspective on the bill. In addition, the title of the article has a tone of being opposed to the bill while the first article’s title seems slightly in favor of the bill. This article concludes with a quote that reinforces its title: “’You can’t argue the fact that bill will invite discrimination,’ said Senator Steve Gallardo, a Democrat.”
February 20th – The New York Times, written by The Associated Press
I think the articles that cover these subjects do a good job of appearing somewhat neutral, and even after analyzing them the biases are subtle. This applied far more to the more immediate news organizations. It took searching within the websites of Fox News and NBC News to find more biased sources. In my opinion, the news ought to report political events as objectively as possible to best inform the citizens of the country who will make judgments about the politics presented to them. I feel it is important for citizens to be able to gauge politics and make judgments about it because they are the ones who will eventually dictate the future of the country through voting, protest, advocacy, and other forms of activity. A well-informed society invites the potential for a better future; this is the premise the founding fathers used to direct our democratic system. Through transparency, one can have the insight to make better decisions in the future to better the country.
Unfortunately, the issue of religious intolerance as opposed to the maintaining of separation of church and state is a muddled one. It is difficult to tell who is “right” when the issue is so complex in terms of the range of backgrounds and traditions of the citizens of the country as well as the variety of ways text can be interpreted. Both sides make good arguments, so my focus in this project was to analyze how these arguments are conveyed to the public through news as a medium. After analyzing each source regarding the various issues that fit under the subject of intolerance vs. separation I was pleasantly surprised to see that the sources seemed to be fairly objective, primarily by relying heavily on the debates between those who are most involved with the issues as opposed to communicating their own opinions as authors. This gives the reader the best opportunity to make judgments about the issues for themselves instead of having someone else who is privy to the direct rhetoric reiterating the pieces of dialogue that best serve their biased opinion. Although these sources do a good job reporting the basic facts surrounding the issues, I do feel they could improve by raising questions regarding how religion should be defined and categorized.
The answer to the question: Is the Government Infringing on Religious Freedom, or are they Maintaining Separation of Church and State? is totally unclear based on news medium at this point. The arguments from both sides are accurate as well as valid. Personally, I have trouble with the idea of religious owners of companies being mandated to provide something they find to be sinful and offensive. Instead of heavily “taxing” companies who refuse that part of the Affordable Health Care Act, I’d like to see the government offer to specifically pay for the contraceptive portion of the healthcare. Granted, there is a concern that this would spread to corporations filing lawsuits against other mandates of the act, such as blood transfusions or other aspects of healthcare that could be construed as offensive to religion. It seems to be an all-or-none situation in regard to exceptions based on religion; in this case, I can’t develop a clear opinion.