While those little two, three and four-letter words might seem like English’s lesser children, they play a very important role in communication and understanding.
Take for instance the following phrases – freedom of religion and freedom from religion.
Three words each with only the middle words, both prepositions, different. Yet each phrase means distinctly different things.
For some, the first phrase, freedom of religion, is a protected right encoded in the First Amendment. It means the government cannot restrict one’s right to worship one’s god anywhere, any time and any way.
For others, the second phrase, freedom from religion, is a right encoded in the First Amendment that restricts the government from imposing, banning or requiring a particular type of religion or allowing any person or religious order to do so.
This week, the Arizona Legislature is poised to pass a bill that allows religious institutions that provide health care insurance plans for their employees to eliminate from those plans coverage for contraceptives, abortions, abortion medications (so-called morning after pills) or sterilization.
For proponents of the bill, it’s an assertion of the freedom of religion phrase – these types of medical procedures and treatments violate the tenets of some religions and it would be a violation of the First Amendment for religious organizations who have employees, such as Catholic hospitals, to be forced to fund heath care procedures that violate their religious beliefs.
For opponents of the bill, it’s violation of the freedom from religion phrase in that it gives government sanction to religious discrimination and allows a type of employer to impose its religious beliefs on its employees, which is a violation of the First Amendment.
The opponents have the better argument and Gov. Jan Brewer would be wise to veto the bill if it gets to her desk.
If proponents are right, that means our society must abandon the 236 years of religious toleration and pluralism that has allowed us to get along and prosper despite our differences. If religious discrimination is what the First Amendment allows, than any employer may choose to hire only employees who believe what they believe.
The great strength of the First Amendment is that it is both of and from – it allows any person to believe whatever they want while preventing the government from interfering with that belief and preventing those believers from imposing their beliefs on others.
House Bill 2625 allows religious groups who have decided to leave the church and enter the public marketplace as employers to impose their religious beliefs on their employees.
In fact, the bill’s own language contradicts itself because it says in several places the religious employers must follow all state and federal rules prohibiting discrimination, which includes religious discrimination.
Yet any employee or prospective employee is forced to either agree with the religious employer’s view of reproductive health care or find employment elsewhere. That’s discriminatory and a clear violation of the First and Fourteenth amendments.
This law wanders into dangerous and divisive waters and if it isn’t vetoed, the courts should immediately overturn it.