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The Chinese government has outlawed certain beliefs among the Chinese and Tibetan people, overriding some faith practices. Is the U.S. government following China's lead?
WHAT DOES the
Earlier this year, the U.S. government violated Americans' freedoms by issuing a mandate that requires employers, including faith-based ones, to provide and pay for all forms of contraception in their health care plans. Following a public outcry, the Obama administration offered an accommodation, shifting the burden from employers to health insurance providers. This so-called accommodation makes little difference in
The mandate violates the U.S. Constitution and its first amendment, which states that "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof." Under the mandate, however, Catholic hospitals, charities, colleges as well as individual Catholic employers who provide health care insurance to their employees must cover sterilization, birth control pills, and abortion-inducing drugs in health insurance plans, violating the clear teachings of the church.
Although a religious exemption exists, it covers only religious institutions that primarily serve members of their own faith. It does not protect any church institution that serves a considerable number of non-Catholics (more than 30 percent of Americans receive care in a Catholic facility), harming the ministries throughout the community. Failure to comply with the mandate would result in costly fines, forcing groups such as Catholic charities, hospitals, and schools to close their doors rather than violate their beliefs. Many Americans who benefit from their work and services would suffer as a result.
Many Catholics disagree with the church's teachings on contraception and abortion. The argument here is not about agreement or disagreement; it is about protecting freedoms that cannot be alienated by the government. The belief that rights are God-given, and therefore cannot be alienated by man, is the very foundation of our government.
GIVING, AND TAKING AWAY
On the contrary, rights in China come from the government, and what the state can give, the state can take away. For instance, while China's constitution enumerates (but does not protect) a litany of freedoms, including freedom of religion, it allows the government to suspend freedoms when the practice of them contravenes the interests of the state. The government has the sole power to determine permissible religious beliefs.
For instance, China's government forbids belief in the resurrection of the dead, the gifts of the Holy Spirit, the establishment of the Kingdom of God, and salvation for believers. It forces Catholics and Protestants to worship in state-approved churches under the supervision of the Communist Party. Those who remain true to the faith worship in illegal house churches, facing lengthy prison sentences
The Chinese government likewise controls Tibetan Buddhism. Monks undergo "patriotic education," in which they must recognize the power of the Chinese state and denounce the Dalai Lama as their spiritual leader. Nearly 12,000 monks and nuns have been expelled from their monasteries for failing to comply.
China's attempt to correct the thinking of Buddhists parallels the White House's admonition to the Catholic Church hierarchy that it needs to listen to "enlightened voices of accommodation" on Catholic teaching. Rather than submit to state domination of their faith, more than 25 Tibetan Buddhists have died by self-immolation in the past year.
With the contraceptive mandate, the Obama administration, like the Chinese government, is attempting to control the behavior of religious organizations, forcing them to violate tenets of their faith. The new rules allow religious institutions one year to comply. At the end of this period, the U.S. government compels Catholics to submit to the will of the state or risk punishment in the form of prohibitively expensive fines. To fully comply with the mandate, Catholics must stop being Catholic. This sounds very much like government control of religion in China.
Is this just a "Catholic thing"? No, it is not. Other Christian denominations and Jews have criticized the mandate, knowing that their religious principles could likewise be sacrificed on the altar of the all-powerful state. I do not think that President Obama has a particular grievance against Catholics. After all, 54 percent of Catholics voted for him in the 2008 presidential election. But his attack against a fundamental principle of Catholicism subordinates religious belief and freedom to the primacy of the state.
The issue at stake is protecting and preserving religious liberty in America, and it affects all of us.
Elizabeth Freund Larus is professor of political science and international affairs at the University of Mary Washington. She is the author of "Politics and Society in Contemporary China," a comprehensive guide to China's government and politics.