John Burger came to the Register in 2001 as a staff writer after working as a reporter for Catholic New York, the newspaper of the Archdiocese of New York. He has a bachelor’s degree in English from Iona College in New Rochelle, N.Y., and a master’s degree in English from Iowa State University and has taught in China and France.
Several sources are reporting that both the House and Senate versions of the health-care reform legislation contain a religious exemption.
CQ Politics, the Watertown (N.Y.) Daily Times and others are reporting that Amish people are exempt from the requirement — expected to be part of the final bill — that people purchase health insurance or pay a fine.
“The emerging bills in both the House and Senate include language patterned on an existing ‘religious conscience’ exemption to laws requiring workers to pay taxes for Social Security and Medicare,” CQ Politics said. “What’s not clear is whether the exemption, originally designed to apply only to the Old Order Amish, might be used by members of other religious groups — or those who just say they are — in order to evade the insurance mandate.”
CQ Politics explains that the exemption dates to 1965, to settle a dispute over paying social security self-employment tax on farm income.
“Amish farmers argued that Social Security was a form of public insurance, and their religious beliefs prevent them from taking part in public or commercial insurance,” the report said. “Instead, the Amish effectively self-insure within their own community: When a church member needs medical care, for instance, the family pays out of pocket and the church takes up a collection or reimburses them from a common fund.”
Now, if one religious group is allowed an exemption, what about others? And what about an exemption when something more serious is involved than tax on farm income, namely the forced cooperation in the evil of taking innocent life?
According to the National Right to Life Committee, the Nelson-Reid deal in the Senate version allows states to force taxpayers to fund the abortions of others.
So why not a religious exemption to that — for the legions of people, including but not restricted to Catholics, who have a conscientious objection to participation in abortion, including paying for it?
In a letter to members of Congress Jan. 9, National Right to Life’s executive director, David O’Steen, and legislative director, Douglas Johnson, urged: “The final bill must have strong pro-life ‘conscience’ language. At a minimum, the ‘conscience’ protection provision for health-care providers that was included in the House-passed health bill (H.R. 3962, Section 259, sometimes referred to as the ‘Weldon language’) should be included in the final bill.”
That’s for health-care “providers.” The bishops of the United States have urged Congress and the administration to “fashion health-care reform legislation that truly protects the life, dignity, health and consciences of all.”
Since final legislation signed by President Obama may very well force Americans to pay for abortion, it would be good to find a way to exempt conscientious objectors. Otherwise, people might begin thinking about the need for civil disobedience, as called for in the “Manhattan Declaration: A Call of Christian Conscience.”
“Through the centuries, Christianity has taught that civil disobedience is not only permitted, but sometimes required,” said that document, signed by prominent Christian leaders, including several American bishops, and more than 375,000 other people since its promulgation Nov. 20. “Unjust laws degrade human beings. Inasmuch as they can claim no authority beyond sheer human will, they lack any power to bind in conscience …. Because we honor justice and the common good, we will not comply with any edict that purports to compel our institutions to participate in abortions, embryo-destructive research, assisted suicide and euthanasia, or any other anti-life act …. We will fully and ungrudgingly render to Caesar what is Caesar’s. But under no circumstances will we render to Caesar what is God’s.”