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FiveThirtyEight ran a piece criticizing the prevalence of Catholic hospitals in rural communities with only one hospital in town. This scenario, to the authors, poses a dire situation: “What happens when you need or want a standard medical service, but the hospital won’t provide it?”
Their formulation of the situation sounds dire — as if religious hospitals and priests deny standard medical care. But when you dig into their evidence, you find it’s nothing more than the “dreadful situation” posed by the Obamacare lawsuit Little Sisters of the Poor v. Burwell, it’s all about abortion, contraception, and family planning. FiveThirtyEight does throw in end-of-life care to differentiate themselves.
The best part about the piece, they even acknowledge they can’t prove that religious hospitals are bad:
It’s difficult to know what services are and are not available at each of these facilities because interpretation of Catholic doctrine is done locally by individual bishops and decisions are often made on a case-by-case basis.
And the rest of the article follows a predictable pattern of anecdotal evidence that Catholic hospitals are “bad,” with statistics on how those same hospitals are taking over rural America. It’s a classic in the anti-religious genre.
People are always dying in the streets.
More to the point though, it’s an anti-Catholic screed masquerading as data-journalism. We’re supposed to take it more seriously because of “data” and weak anecdotal evidence.
It’s another data point of a progressive/secularist society trying to force religion to conform to society.
We should be praising the fact that Catholics and other religious groups are putting hospitals in these rural communities and providing much-needed care! If these groups weren’t there, medical care would get harder to find for these communities.
Secularists consistently ignore the basis for why we try to accommodate religious beliefs as a society. The first reason is the most obvious: The First Amendment. But the second reason is far more profound for Catholics, Christians, and other people of faith: It’s that their Creator, their God, directed them in the way they should live their life. Forcing them to go against those constructs forces them to sin, to violate their faith and go against their God.
That’s an incredibly critical hurdle that secularists skip past.
The choice isn’t a policy one for people of faith. It’s one of conscience. When you force a person to violate their conscience and their God, you’ve told them to elevate the secular above God. It’s akin to idol worship.
US Courts call these “sincerely held beliefs,” and they don’t question the faith or the sincerity of those holding the beliefs. If you started disputing the sincerity of all beliefs, you might as well start at square one and debate the very existence of God. And this isn’t the task of courts.
That’s why the Founders ingeniously gave us the First Amendment with the Free Exercise Clause and the Establishment Clause.
In masterful detail, Stanford Law Professor Michael W. McConnell details the history of religious accommodation in America going back to the founding in a law review article, “The Origins and Historical Understanding of Free Exercise of Religion.” The law has changed since his 1989 study, but the history is accurate.
The first account he relates is that of a Catholic priest being sued by state prosecutors in the early 1800’s to share what a man charged with a crime confessed to the priest. The Priest refused because he was forbidden by God to reveal the confession.
Ultimately the court ruled in the priest’s favor, granting an exception, giving us an example of the priest-parishioner privilege. But it also gives us an early precedent of how seriously our courts and founding society treated faith-based claims.
And from that priest’s case to the Hobby Lobby and Little Sisters of the Poor cases, you can trace a rich history of protecting religious expression in our society.
What’s proposed by FiveThirtyEight and the secular left is coercing people with sincerely held beliefs to violate their faith to achieve public policy ends. They’re not offering neutrality in laws and public policy; they’re elevating the lack of faith above genuine faith.
The US Supreme Court warned against this attitude long ago in Zorach v. Clauson (1952), saying in part:
We are a religious people whose institutions presuppose a Supreme Being. We guarantee the freedom to worship as one chooses. We make room for as wide a variety of beliefs and creeds as the spiritual needs of man deem necessary. … When the state encourages religious instruction or cooperates with religious authorities by adjusting the schedule of public events to sectarian needs, it follows the best of our traditions. For it then respects the religious nature of our people and accommodates the public service to their spiritual needs. To hold that it may not would be to find in the Constitution a requirement that the government show a callous indifference to religious groups. That would be preferring those who believe in no religion over those who do believe. … [W]e find no constitutional requirement which makes it necessary for government to be hostile to religion and to throw its weight against efforts to widen the effective scope of religious influence.
And that’s the crux of that FiveThirtyEight piece. They’re trying to sound an alarm that the government is needed to throw its weight against the Catholic church in expanding its reach in medical services. This level of animus towards religion is wrong and unconstitutional.
What would happen if Catholics were forced to choose between violating their faith or providing care? You’d likely see hospitals close over such an authoritarian demand, especially if they lost lawsuits over the matter.
Catholic groups have encountered this same issue in other areas like adoption, home services, and marriage counseling. The Canadian Supreme Court just took this exact line in denying a religious law school the right to exist because of their beliefs, and now law students have less choice in law schools.
If you’re religious and not willing to toe the progressive secularist line, you have to shut down. In the end, that denies needed services to everyone.
The FiveThirtyEight piece indicates in several sections that if not for the Catholic hospitals in some rural communities, those cities and towns would have no medical care. The article then spends the rest of its time blasting the Catholic church, encouraging policies that would force those hospitals to shut down.
Instead of attacking religious groups for entering the medical market, we should probably encourage more of them to provide medical care to rural communities. Or, if the left wants choice in these communities, secularists should open their own medical facilities. I don’t see that happening though.