After much anticipation, Kentucky Governor Steve Beshear rejected the proposed merger between the University of Louisville Hospital, Jewish Hospital, Sts. Mary and Elizabeth Hospital with the Denver-based Catholic Health Initiatives. Even though this will probably hurt all institutions involved financially, I feel this was the right thing to do. Although some other factors were cited in the decision, the overwhelming problem with the merger was the imposition of Catholic beliefs on the practice of reproductive medicine at University Hospital. Like most university hospitals, there is a large indigent patient population that is served by the hospital, and, like it or not, reproductive services are an important offering. We are not just talking about abortion here. The merger would have banned procedures like tubal ligations and prescribing of oral contraceptives. Yes, in the sacrosanct illogical world-view of mainstream Catholicism (not to mention many Protestants), contraception is verboten even though it is probably the best way to cut down on abortions. Anyway, the compromise position that the hospitals proposed was that patients needing reproductive services would be bused (hmm…) to Baptist Hospital East, the hospital for the wealthy Louisvillians who live on the east side of town (Louisville is still quite segregated, with marked contrasts between its east and west sides). Among other things, the arrival of a busload of poor black folk at the predominantly wealthy white Baptist Hospital would be a sure tip-off of what these people were there for, which is a clear-cut HIPAA violation.
Recent years have seen a encroachment of the 1st amendment separation of church and state. Government funding of religious charities, the so-called “Faith-based Initiatives” started by President George W. Bush and maintained by President Obama, are an obvious example. Elections have become much more religious in nature, with candidates defending their religious faith, or raising their hands at a debate to say that no, they don’t believe in evolution. We’ve gone quite a way backwards since the day that John F. Kennedy had to defend himself by saying that his religious views (he was a Catholic) would not influence his policy making in the White House. Any candidate who said that would get nowhere in politics in the America of 2012. There are real doubts that a Mormon could be elected president, because, well, he’s a Mormon.
Despite the professions by the uninformed that “we are a Christian Country” (or the slightly more expansive “Judeo-Christian Country”), the founding fathers were mostly Deists, who went out of their way to set up a Constitution that would avoid the religious persecution that existed in Europe at the time. There is no mention of God in the Constitution. Even the presidential oath of office does not mention “so help me God.” Despite the myth that it was added by George Washington, the first recorded use of the phrase in the presidential oath was by Chester Arthur in 1881. “In God We Trust” was not made a motto of the United States until 1956. It was added to paper money in 1957. “Under God” was added to the Pledge of Allegiance in 1954. This all happened at the height of the Cold War, when the United States was pitted against the “Godless Communists.” Here is a recital of the Pledge from the 1940s or 50s without the “under God” phrase. The point is that the increasing entanglement of politics and religion in the United States is a relatively recent phenomenon, and I applaud any attempt to resist this, in the true spirit of our founding fathers. So kudos to Gov. Beshear!