Two more completely predictable voices have joined the ranks of supporters of the Obama administration’s assault on freedom of conscience and religious liberty. Exalting the unlimited availability of free contraception as a greater value under the Constitution than freedom of religion, Americans United for Separation of Church and State and the American Civil Liberties Union have both stepped into the fray. First, AU, calls its minions to action, asking them to write Congress and tell the critters to make those evil Catholics (and others) pay the freight:

Last month, the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) announced it would stick with its original proposed rule that exempts houses of worship and similar sectarian organizations from the requirement that employers provide insurance coverage for contraceptives. Americans United is pleased that the Administration did not cave to pressure to broadly expand the religious exemption. Organizations affiliated with religious groups, such as religious hospitals and social service organizations, should respect the diverse views of their employees and their rights to access essential preventative care. The outcry from critics has been strong, so now is the time to let President Obama and Congress hear from you: Don’t let the interests of religious corporations outweigh the rights of individual women.

Let’s be clear: the HHS regulation does not force a religious group or an employee to support or buy contraceptives. It simply allows and individual employee to make an independent, private choice based on her own conscience and views about whether to take advantage of group insurance plan coverage of contraception. It is the woman’s right to exercise her religion freely and make her own decisions about reproductive health, even if she is employed by an organization that holds a different position on these matters. [Emphasis in original.]

In 1966, the U.S. Supreme Court in Griswold v. Connecticut declared that states could not prevent people from using contraception. Since then, that ruling has been transmogrified. Now, in the view of AU, it means that everyone working for an employer who offers health insurance has a right to have that employer pay for the employee to have free access to something that they could get in any convenience store or online for $10 for a pack of ten. The Pill, meanwhile, can be had for as little as $20 a month. In fact, there’s one form of birth control that is universally available, and costs absolutely nothing. Of course, I know it’s taken as indisputable fact on the left that no human being can keep his or her pants zipped for more than fifteen minutes at a time, but that doesn’t change the availability of the method.

All of which, however, is really beside the point. What AU and others like it seem to be saying here is that only individuals have religious liberty, and so only individuals can have that liberty curtailed. Hence, when an organization that happens to be connected to, say, the Catholic Church refuses to pay for contraception for its employees, that must be a restriction on their religious freedom to boink without consequence. The institution, however, has no such freedom to be curtailed. Therefore, the government can tell it what it must or must not do, regardless of the convictions of its ecclesiastical parent.

Now, AU detests any form of religion, and especially Christianity, that does not toe a liberal–make that very liberal–line on all things moral and political. Thus, their support for a regulation that will not effect liberal Protestants who have no problem with contraception, or abortion for that matter, is not surprising. The ACLU, on the other hand, is at least in theory a defender of religious freedom, and has in fact defended it on numerous occasions. But in this instance, they turn the whole idea of religious liberty on its head:

To be clear: No one is requiring people of faith to stop preaching that contraception is sinful, if that’s what they believe, or forcing churches to buy contraceptive coverage for their ministry. In fact, the proposed guidelines included an exemption for religious institutions like churches or synagogues that hire people of the same belief for the purposes of advancing that faith. This didn’t satisfy the bishops and others. For example, the bishops have demanded that institutions like religiously affiliated hospitals and universities — institutions that serve and employ millions of non-Catholics — be allowed to deny coverage for contraception. But try as they might, the bishops could not prevail over the simple truth:

Religious freedom gives everyone the right to make personal decisions, including whether and when to use birth control based on our own beliefs and according to what is best for our health and the well-being of our families. It does not give religious groups the right to impose their beliefs on others.

It does, however, apparently give the government the right to tell religious groups when they must pay to subsidize other people’s contrary convictions.

No one is forced to work for a Catholic hospital or school. No one is forced to attend a Catholic college. No one is forced to use the services of the Catholic Church in any way, if they choose not to. When one goes to work at, say, the University of Notre Dame, one supposedly recognizes that one is going to work for an institution that teaches that contraception is wrong. One is free to disagree, and even to practice contrary to the employer’s belief, if one chooses. But to expect that institution to pay for what it condemns as immoral, and to look to the government to force it to do so, strikes at the very heart of what religious freedom is supposed to be about. It’s an amazing commentary on our times that people who make such a big deal about the Constitution can’t seem to handle the idea that religious liberty is right there in the First Amendment, while the right to have someone else pay for your birth control exists only in the minds of those who would style themselves constitutional watchdogs.

UPDATE: I had just finished this and clicked over the MCJ, where Chris Johnson is on top of another development on this issue. Seems a bunch of “religious leaders,” most of whom are connected in one way or another with the Religious Coalition for Reproductive Rights (surprise!), have made a statement and sent it out via Unitarian sex educator Debra Haffner through the Huffington Post. Their principle they want to make their stand on? Believe it or not…church-state separation! Really:

We stand with President Obama and Secretary Sebelius in their decision to reaffirm the importance of contraceptive services as essential preventive care for women under the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, and to assure access under the law to American women, regardless of religious affiliation. We respect individuals’ moral agency to make decisions about their sexuality and reproductive health without governmental interference or legal restrictions. We do not believe that specific religious doctrine belongs in health care reform — as we value our nation’s commitment to church-state separation. We believe that women and men have the right to decide whether or not to apply the principles of their faith to family planning decisions, and to do so they must have access to services. The Administration was correct in requiring institutions that do not have purely sectarian goals to offer comprehensive preventive health care. Our leaders have the responsibility to safeguard individual religious liberty and to help improve the health of women, their children and families. Hospitals and universities across the religious spectrum have an obligation to assure that individuals’ conscience and decisions are respected and that their students and employees have access to this basic health care service. We invite other religious leaders to speak out with us for universal coverage of contraception. [Emphasis added.]

For the most part, this is the kind of nonsense AU and the ACLU are spouting. But that claim about church-state separation is especially bizarre. What the HHS regulation essentially does is substitute the government’s position–that artificial contraception is morally licit–for the Catholic Church’s, and require the church through its constituent institutions to use its funds to subsidize something that it considers immoral.

Imagine the howls that would go up if signer President Geoffrey Black’s United Church of Christ was required by the federal government to pay for reparative therapy for homosexuals who wanted to become heterosexuals. Then imagine Pastor Martin Niemöller nodding over his latest form of vindication.