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Contraception, snake handling, religious liberty and the death of Jamie Coots

Michael Sean Winters opines in yesterdays National Catholic Reporter about how the death of the aptly named Paster Jamie Coots from a rattlesnake bite while performing snakehanding rituals on a reality show and his death due to his refusal of treatment and how it relates to the religious liberty cases before the Supreme Court, including the Hobby Lobby case which involves a non-religious employer claiming a religious liberty right to not provide contraceptive care in its insurance policy. You can read the original commentary at My opinion has always been before you get into the rights of religious employers (or the religious rights of employers) you need to consider the issue of contraception generally and its context.

The contraception ban was original a ban on involuntary euthanasia by the state in dealing with the mentally handicapped and mentally ill. That was a good idea. Contraception is also deplorable (as is Natural Family Planning) when we resort to it instead of insisting on wages tied to family sizes - and that includes when the Church is employer. Indeed, no Catholic employee would use contraception unless it had to do with maternal health if wages grew by $12,000 a year for each child. All the other Church arguments against contraception are rooted in skewed ideas of science (life begins at Gastrulation, period) and sexual relations between married and unmarried heterosexual couples. None of that has any impact on requiring coverage of contraception - a requirement based not on the fiat of Secretary Sebelius or even the thoughts of Valerie Jarrett in rallying women to Obama electorally - but instead on the recommendations of the Institute of Medicine. Natural law decisions (aside from the weird versions that are based on reason in absence of evidence - sadly what the USCCB and the CDF teach) must be based on science. I trust the Institutes of Medicine over the Vatican and USCCB on medical issues every time. Anyone should - especially if they have a wife, daughter or mother. Anyone who has never had much chance to talk to an OB/GYN needs to just keep their mouths closed on this issue.

Be that as it may, the question is not simply the rights of the religious, especially on Hobby Lobby. Rather, it is the religious liberty rights of employers v. employees. The question of whether the government may constitutionally settle such disputes in law is what is at issue. As a matter of labor law, I would say the government definitely has such an interest - in these cases protecting both the religious libery rights of employees who do not share the religion of their employer or if they are the same religion, those of employees who disagree with their employer on that particular issue (most Catholics).

As for the snake handler, the right to do this practice is an essential practice in their sect. Of course, by cheapening his belief by putting it into a reality show he was gaining fame for his own sake, not witnessing for the Lord. If the Lord does protect snake handlers generally, once they call the Discovery Channel and sell the experience, I would suspect that would be withdrawn. This, however, is between the snake handler and God. There is no role for government in the question.

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