Friday, October 20, 2006

Sixteen words

Neuhaus on the First Amendment in First Things:
The sixteen words, of course, have to do with the first freedom of the First Amendment: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.” The Religion Clause—note that it is one clause with two provisions, no-establishment and free exercise—has been turned upside down, with the result that free exercise, which is the entire purpose of the clause, is again and again trumped by no-establishment. In recent years, the Supreme Court has been increasingly candid about the incoherence of its Religion Clause decisions, admitting that they are riddled through with contradictions. There is reason to believe that the Court just may be ready to return to the original meaning of the text, which is to protect the free exercise of religion.

Meanwhile, however, the battles continue. Just yesterday, the New York Court of Appeals ruled that religious institutions must cover contraception services in their employee health plans. The appeal of Baptist and Catholic groups for an exemption was denied. The ruling clearly burdens the free exercise of religion for those who believe that paying for artificial contraception is complicity in evil. Defenders of the decision say the decision only marginally inhibits the free exercise of religion. But free exercise means free exercise. When the exercise of religion is inhibited, it is not free exercise.

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