Glenn Beck. Remember him? The guy who used to be on FOX News with the crazy conspiracy theories diagrammed on a blackboard and the dramatic tears? He’s back. With a prominent guest column gig in the Washington Post about threats to our religious freedom. We should have known – any issue that gives him an opportunity to invoke fear is like catnip to Glenn Beck.
Beck argues that all of our religious freedom is threatened by the Obama administration’s new HHS rule providing free access to birth control. The free birth control is just one aspect of the range of excellent free preventive care benefits included in the Affordable Care Act. There is a full exemption for religions from the birth control access requirement (such as churches), and a limited exception for religiously affiliated organizations (such as universities and hospitals run by religions) by which the health care insurers will be required to pay the costs of the employees’ birth control instead of the religious organizations with religious objections. The limited exception was heralded by a wide variety of religious organizations, including many Catholic organizations, but not the Republicans in Washington or the Catholic bishops. Beck takes up the cause of this small group of stubborn objectors with the clarion call, “We are all Catholics now!” despite the fact that, as he notes, he is actually Mormon.
The fact that Glenn Beck is a Mormon claiming religious persecution is interesting in itself. You might not know this, but Mormons have played a central role in clarifying what the First Amendment’s free exercise clause means and doesn’t mean in constitutional law jurisprudence.
In 1878, the Supreme Court heard the appeal of an LDS member (Reynolds) who was prosecuted under a federal anti-bigamy law applicable to the then Territory of Utah. He argued in defense
‘that it was the duty of male members of said church, circumstances permitting, to practise polygamy ; . . . that this duty was enjoined by different books which the members of said church believed to be of divine origin, and among others the Holy Bible, and also that the members of the church believed that the practice of polygamy was directly enjoined upon the male members thereof by the Almighty God, in a revelation to Joseph Smith, the founder and prophet of said church; that the failing or refusing to practise polygamy by such male members of said church, when circumstances would admit, would be punished, and that the penalty for such failure and refusal would be damnation in the life to come.’
The Court found that the Federal anti-bigamy law did not violate Reynolds’ constitutional right to freely exercise his religion:
So here, as a law of the organization of society under the exclusive dominion of the United States, it is provided that plural marriages shall not be allowed. Can a man excuse his practices to the contrary because of his religious belief? [98 U.S. 145, 167] To permit this would be to make the professed doctrines of religious belief superior to the law of the land, and in effect to permit every citizen to become a law unto himself. Government could exist only in name under such circumstances.
So Beck is demanding that Catholic bishops’ religious objection to birth control should trump civil laws of the land, which as the Supreme Court noted, would render government meaningless. Beck, of course, probably wouldn’t mind that outcome, except to the extent the absence of a rational government proved inconvenient to his safety and economic interests.
Beck’s argument also means that anti-polygamy laws, by encroaching on fundamental LDS beliefs in ways far more significant than the HHS birth control rule, violate the Constitution and constitute religious persecution of the Mormon church (never mind what the Supreme Court said 134 years ago). Why won’t Beck say this more directly? Could it be because that would make him an even bigger joke than he already is?
Of course, the elephant in the room when speaking of polygamy and the Mormon church is the man seeking to be at the top of the elephant party ticket, Mitt Romney. As we know, he attended a college named after an LDS polygamist, Brigham Young, his deceased ancestors are still officially recognized by LDS to be in polygamist marriages (as uncovered by the same excommunicated LDSer who discovered that LDS is still baptizing Holocaust survivors), and his relatives fled US law enforcement to Mexico so that they could continue to practice polygamy.
So why won’t Romney address the government’s trampling of his own religious liberty as a Mormon when speaking of his objections to the birth control rule? After all, I’m pretty sure having your bigamist ass chased over the border with sirens blaring is a tad more disruptive to your quality of life than having an insurer pay for your employees’ birth control pills.
Because, like Beck, he knows very well that his religious freedom claims are bogus.