Monte Shaw, the fundraising front-runner of the Republican primary in Iowa’s contested 3rd Congressional district, made comments during a debate Monday that appeared to draw comparisons between complying with the Affordable Care Act’s birth control benefit and being forced to do work for hate groups like the neo-Nazis and the Ku Klux Klan.
In response to a question about whether “in health care and other areas of American life … it’s OK for federal government to make religious institutions accommodate employee views that conflict with the institution’s views,” Shaw replied:
Our rights come from God and the Constitution is there to protect them. And it’s freedom of religion, not freedom from religion. For the government to step in and say that a religious institution has to provide a good or service that violates their beliefs because they’re Christians is flat out wrong. Think of the outrage that would be out there if they tried to pass a law that said a Jewish printer had no choice but to print up handbills for a neo-Nazi rally. Or an African American artist had no choice, but had to paint a portrait of the local Grand Wizard of the Ku Klux Klan. The outrage would be out there. And I would be joining that outrage. But I’m just as outraged that the government thinks they can tell our religious intuitions that they have to provide services that run exactly counter to their religious beliefs. That violates the Constitution and we must fight it.
Shaw’s remarks come about seven minutes into this audio recording of a “basement debate,” sponsored by the Iowa Faith and Freedom Coalition, among six primary candidates seeking to win the Republican nomination in a district that Democrats are actively trying to pick up. The winner of the Republican primary will face Staci Appel, who is one of 16 candidates to receive extra financial and strategic support from the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee’s Red to Blue program.
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Contraception, and the Affordable Care Act’s mandate that it be covered for no copay as preventive medicine, has been at the heart of recent conservative outrage over alleged government intrusion into religious liberty. Shaw’s comments echo the arguments before the Supreme Court in the Hobby Lobby case, which concerns religious owners of a private corporation who argue that their religious freedoms would be violated if they are compelled to provide insurance that includes contraceptive coverage.
Notably, Shaw seems to display confusion about what a “religious institution” is. Religious institutions such as churches are already exempt from the birth control benefit; the issue in Hobby Lobby is whether for-profit corporations can claim religious freedom to restrict specific benefits to their employees. Furthermore, neither of the examples he gave—a Jewish printer and an African-American painter—are religious institutions, but rather individuals who may wish to refuse service to specific people, and that refusal would be on free speech grounds, not religious freedom. Perhaps Shaw was also thinking about “religious liberty” laws like a failed bill in Arizona that could have allowed businesses to refuse service to gay people—but the examples he gave here still have almost nothing to do with religious freedom (a better analogy might have been a Jewish shopkeeper being forced to sell pork).
But his comments, that government may be forcing institutions to provide a specific good or service that violates their Christian beliefs, seem to be a clear shot at contraception that evoke confused notions held by many on the right that religious people will be forced to pay for other people’s birth control.
A number of politicians have recently used extreme analogies to attack the Affordable Care Act. For instance, Tennessee state Sen. Stacey Campfield compared Obamacare to the Holocaust when he wrote, “Democrats bragging about the number of mandatory sign ups for Obamacare is like Germans bragging about the number of manditory [sic] sign ups for ‘train rides’ for Jews in the 40s.”
Meanwhile, Roll Call reports that during another recent campaign forum, Shaw emphasized his “electability” in comparison to some of his challengers.