Paul Ryan is worried about “religious freedom”

Mitt Romney announced on Saturday that Paul Ryan will join him on the Republican ticket as vice-presidential nominee for the 2012 election. Ryan has an extensive record on several important issues, and although the issue of freedom of religion comes up less often, his speeches and position statements show that he subscribes to the twisted misappropriation of “religious freedom” by Catholic bishops:

While I am a pro-life Catholic, I believe [the contraception] mandate transcends the issue of personal religious beliefs about contraception, sterilization and abortion. The Obama Administration failed to recognize this mandate is in violation of our First Amendment right of religious freedom. For this reason, I am a cosponsor of H.R. 1179, the Respect for Rights of Conscience Act. This piece of legislation would amend the President’s health care law to permit a health plan to decline coverage of specific items and services that infringe upon one’s religious beliefs.

The bill he mentions goes further than most people are aware. It allows any employer – not just ones affiliated with a religious organization or with a religious mission – to refuse to provide coverage. Those institutions are in nearly all cases already covered by conscience exemptions or work-arounds already being implemented. This bill would ensure that if Chik-fil-a, for example, wanted to avoid covering preventive health care for their female employees, they could. There is also strong language in there about medical providers not having to treat anyone in ways they object to (read: not performing abortions or filling prescriptions for birth control) and not to have to refer patients for such care either. I’m not current enough on the complex law surrounding this issue to say how that would affect the current situation, but I can tell you that this is perfectly consistent with Ryan’s track record on issues of “conscience.” He also co-sponsored HR 358, misleadingly named the “Protect Life Act,” which would actually have allowed hospitals and doctors to refuse to provide emergency care that would end a pregnancy or to refer for such care even when such care was necessary to save the woman’s life. HR 358 passed the House but stalled in the Senate. While HR 1178 wouldn’t necessarily go as far towards overturning basic right-to-care provisions, it’s telling that similar language is a vital part of what Ryan considers a “freedom of religion” issue.

As a Catholic, and thus a member of a more mainstream Christian denomination than Romney’s LDS (Mormon) church, Ryan may also be tasked with providing some of the “god talk” on the campaign trail to shore up a slightly nervous base. The question of how well this will play with evangelicals – some of whom still distrust Catholics – is an open one, although if he continues to play to the issues and use hot-button and dog-whistle language, the trend of evangelicals and Catholics converging on conservative political positions may work in his favor. His initial speech included a statement that “Our rights come from nature and God, not from government,” an allusion to the Declaration of Independence and the only mention of God in any of America’s founding documents. How much that god-talk would affect policy-making is, of course, also an open question.

Hail Columbia will keep following this and other important matters of freedom of religion in the US through this election and beyond. If you have suggestions, questions, or comments, they’re always welcome!

As always, please note that none of my writing here represents speech on behalf of any other organization with which I am affiliated.

This post was written by
Literata is a Wiccan who studies theaology and enjoys developing poetry and rituals. Her work has appeared in several anthologies, including Mandragora and Anointed as well as multiple periodicals. She also blogs at Forging Futures and writes for her own site, Works of Literata, . When she's not leading Rose Coven, reading Tarot or communing with nature, she works on her Ph.D. dissertation in history and enjoys travel and spending time with her husband and four cats. Please note that everything Literata writes here is solely her own personal opinion. It does not represent the position of any organization with which she is affiliated.
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