Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli has embraced the contraception mandate as a political issue to define his candidacy for governor. Earlier, he made the controversial comment that opponents of the contraception mandate should prepare themselves for civil disobedience and jail to express their opposition. For the highest law enforcement officer in Virginia to say that raised a lot of eyebrows.
With Martin Luther King’s birthday this week, Cuccinelli followed up on the John Fredericks Show where he criticized liberal support of the contraception mandated as a violation of religious liberty:
“Whenever I talk about religious liberty, you know they turn it around. All they talk about — they don’t talk about denying religious liberty. They talk about contraception. And I’m not talking about contraception. Government doesn’t have a role in contraception.
“Government does have a role in protecting your civil rights especially today on MLK Day. The man who really came up with the American non-violent protest theory of civil disobedience. It’s pretty egregious that they can’t get any higher than contraception when we’re talking about protecting people’s religious liberty.”
The contraception mandate involves is a requirement that medical insurers or employers provide contraception in their health insurance plans. Embracing this as a religious issue opens up some real problems.
For example, Jehovah Witnesses refuse blood transfusions. If the religious liberty part of the contraception mandate is accepted, then a Jehovah Witness employer should have the right to exclude blood transfusions from an insurance policy. An employer who believes only in healing through prayer could exclude medical policies altogether.
There is something out of balance when an employer cannot discriminate when hiring based on religion but can impose his or her own religious beliefs on employees after they are hired.
Cuccinelli is right. There is a comparison to the civil rights movement, but it isn’t as he sees it. African-Americans were forbidden to eat in “white only” restaurants in the South or use drinking fountains as clean as the ones white people used. Segregationists claimed it was their Constitutional right to associate with people of their choosing. However, the Supreme Court determined that when it comes to commerce, all people must be treated equally.
That is relevant to today. Contraception is as much an economic issue as eating in a restaurant.
Cuccinelli would have a valid comparison to the civil rights movement if people were being denied the right to contraception on the basis of their religion just as African-Americans were denied the right to eat on the basis of their race.
Cuccinelli’s argument is more on the side of segregationists than it is on the side of civil rights. Comparing his position to Martin Luther King is wrong. He looks a lot more like George Wallace than King.