Saturday, April 7, 2012

Is Religious Freedom for Individuals or Organizations?

Who could possibly want to fight against more religious freedom?  That is a question that Colorado and Florida are bringing to the public this coming elections season.  The questions are not the same, but considering the timing it is likely that they are both responses to the debate over contraceptives that we have spent so much time discussing over the last few weeks. 

In Florida the proposed amendment will repeal the law that forbids the government from providing financing to religious organizations.  The opposition worries that this will open the door to more voucher programs sending students to parochial schools instead of public schools.  In Colorado the proposal is vaguer.  It simply seems to restate principals from the constitution.  The proposed extra text can be found here.  It mostly changes things I believe by adding religious organization to the clause which is part of what is being debated when it comes to the issue of religious freedom.  Do organizations have rights, or is it simply a matter of individuals.  The issue that this is likely responding to makes it even more complicated since the individuals that make up the organization seem to have a difference of opinion from the organization itself.

Was the wording of our constitution meant to protect religious organizations or just individuals in their personal belief?  It is a question that is fraught with a lot of baggage.  The religion that many Americans follow is one that is centered on individual choice and interpretation, but that is not the way with all religions.  By favoring a legal system that favors the individual over the organizations that they may belong to are we in fact favoring a certain type of religion? 

I agree that the rights of the individual are what this country is built on and not the rights of organizations, but I do not think that that means that the organizations have to be completely stripped of rights.  I think that the Catholic Church has the right to disagree with birth control and I think that parishioners have the right to leave the church if they disagree with it.  I also think that if they are an employer then they should follow the same laws as other employers and receive the same benefits.  By this token I actually do not see a problem with the proposal in Florida.  I think allowing religious organizations the same rights to government money that nonreligious organizations receive is completely constitutional.  I agree with the opposition that it could lead to more voucher programs providing money to parochial schools, but that was already held up as constitutional in Zelman v. Simmons.  The one in Colorado is a little more troubling, but not enough that I disagree on just the surface.  I think it leaves too little space for the government to decide that the rights of the individuals or the benefit of the people around the organization trumps their rights.  Like so many things with the interaction between religion and law it is difficult to see just what the effects of either of these initiatives will be if they make it to law.  

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