Archive for the ‘In the news’ Category

This post is out of my usual mode. It is prompted by the American election, and by comments made in my office and on this blog about the election.  The video below is about American foreign policy. Children in the United States are taught a version of history in which America’s ‘manifest destiny’ still plays a part, even if the term is no longer used. Americans stand for ‘peace, justice, and the American dream’ – and take this mission on the point of a gun or a missile to far-flung corners of the world.

The video could as easily be about American domestic policy – at least as far as it applies to the poor and to migrants (particularly illegal migrants). And even then, it is mostly about American military interventions. It doesn’t even begin to touch on American economic policy, or so-called charitable interventions that come with American strings attached.

The same ‘here we come to save the day” philosophy underpins all of these other things not covered by the video. So it seems to me, the views taken in with mother’s milk continue to colour a life-long belief in the central importance of the United States, and in the right of US citizens to benefit from belonging to the world’s richest nation, however that wealth was acquired.

Of course, this is a generalisation, and if you’re an American and you don’t hold those beliefs, then good for you.

This little rant is relevant to the usual subject matter of this post. Our cultural baggage helps to shape the lens through which we view the world. How could it not? The lens through which American Catholics view the world is shaped by both their country and their Church – and whether they gravitate to the conservative or liberal end of the spectrum, few of them escape a US-centric view and an assumption of privilege that undermines the value of their conclusions for anyone outside of the United States.

(As a matter of disclosure, the lens through which New Zealand Catholics view the world has until recently – and the advent of imperialistic American Catholic propaganda – been largely Irish, and politically radical but morally conservative. I, of course, was raised Protestant, but for all that, like almost all New Zealanders, come from a stewpot of views that would be called socialist in most countries.)

‘Why do they hate freedom?’ asked a friend of mine, in the aftermath of 9/11. Where do you start on the assumptions underpinning that plaintive question?


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I have a friend who is an enthusiastic cyclist. He’s been talking to me about a submission he’s been making on the New Zealand Transport Agency’s long-term plans for the transport network. He makes a compelling case that cyclists discriminated against by the planning agencies, the legislators, the roading managers, and the driving population. He has the research to back up his case, and many ideas for ways in which the lot of cyclists could be improved. And those ways would have a positive effect on a whole range of quality-of-life indicators for the community as a whole.

My friend is addressing the issues, and good on him.

Another approach to the issue would be simply to change the language. What if we legislated so that the meaning of the word ‘motor vehicle’ was broadened to include bicyles, tricycles, and perhaps monocycles? Such a change would reverberate through dozens of pieces of legislation. All of a sudden cyclists would be able to go all the places that motor vehicles go. It would no longer be legal to bar them from motorways or to prevent them from taking pride of place in a parking space.

To take a more serious example, in New Zealand, one in five people who identify as Maori don’t know their iwi (tribal) affiliations. More have little to do with their iwi. Iwi have – with increasing success – argued for tribal self-government. Many iwi own and operate highly successful businesses, manage their own social support services, provide scholarships for education, and offer other benefits to their members. Those Maori without iwi affiliations might be justified in feeling discriminated against. Don’t they, like any other Maori person, have the right to benefit from being part of a tribe? We could solve the problem by changing the definition of the word ‘iwi’ so that it means anyone who lives in a particular area.

Or how about we deal with the resentment evidenced by many white New Zealanders by changing the definition of Maori? Perhaps it could mean anyone who was born in New Zealand or who has lived here for a set number of years?

Of course these solutions would be unpopular with those who cherish the current definitions. Such solutions would create at least as many problems as they solved. And they would be deeply unjust to those whose traditions and heritage are trampled on. Sounds familiar.

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In the preamble to the Marriage (Definition of Marriage) Amendment Bill, the drafters have explained their reason for the Bill:

Marriage, as a social institution, is a fundamental human right and limiting that human right to 1 group in society only does not allow for equality.

The term ‘institution’ in this context means ‘a custom, practice, or behaviour pattern of importance in the life of a community or culture’.  A social institution, then, is a custom, practice, or behaviour pattern of importance to society. Yes, I’d have to agree that marriage is a social institution.

Marriage, the Bill says, is a fundamental human right. The Bill refers, I assume, to Article 16 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights:

  • (1) Men and women of full age, without any limitation due to race, nationality or religion, have the right to marry and to found a family. They are entitled to equal rights as to marriage, during marriage and at its dissolution.
  • (2) Marriage shall be entered into only with the free and full consent of the intending spouses.
  • (3) The family is the natural and fundamental group unit of society and is entitled to protection by society and the State.

The statement as it stands has a lot of qualifiers. Men and women. Of full age. Free and full consent. The right is not an absolute. Come to think of it, that applies in general. Rights are always limited by the interests and rights of others. You have the right to swing your arms, but that right stops a short distance from my nose.  You have the right to say whatever you like, but that right doesn’t permit you to tell lies about me. So you and I have the right to marry. But we must be unmarried and of age. Our prospective partner must also be unmarried and of age, and must consent. We cannot marry close kin. The proposed amendment does not remove any of these other limitations . So a limit on the application of the right is not, in itself, a problem.

It remains to be proven that the limitation of marriage to people of different genders is, then, an equality issue.

The Bill’s preamble claims that the prohibition on marriage between people of the same gender is a matter of discrimination, but to prove discrimination one must first prove harm. How are people in New Zealand harmed by making their public registered commitment under the Civil Unions Act rather than the Marriage Act? What are the differences between the two pieces of legislation that mean people are not being treated equally?

I heard someone on the radio claiming that he wanted the same right to marry as anyone other New Zealander. But of course that is exactly what he now has. He has the right, provided he isn’t married and is of age, to marry someone who is unmarried, not close kin, of age, and of the complementary gender, and who consents to marry him. He doesn’t want to do that, and – indeed – it would probably be quite wrong of him to exercise that right given that he is not attracted to members of the complementary gender. But he still has the same rights as any other unmarried person who is of age.

The article in the Universal Declaration has an interesting focus. The right to marry is linked – as tradition and practice has linked it through time – with the concept of family. I’ve posted before about the State’s right to legislate on marriage – that regulating and recording this particular relationship rather than any other is more about the rights of children than about the rights of adults.

I have a beef with the last part of the rationale from the Preamble to the new Bill. It objects to ‘limiting that human right [to marry] to 1 group’. It’s a pretty big claim that only 1 group can marry. That group contains all the millions of people who marry every year – varying ages, races, religions, ethnicities, nationalities, education levels, interests, occupations, and countless other differences that make combining them unlikely. All they have in common is that each couple is heterosexual. And the rationale, by implication, contrasts them with another group – similarly diverse –  but not heterosexual. How insulting! Surely there are more important things to define people by than who they prefer to have sex with?

Of course, in New Zealand, people have a choice about which legislation they make their formal commitment under. Heterosexual couples can apply for a marriage license under the Marriage Act. Any couple can apply for a license to form a civil union under the Civil Unions Act. The Civil Unions Act changed more than 140 pieces of legislation to give civil union couples the same legal rights as married couples, with two exceptions: they cannot adopt as a couple, and there are some questions around maintenance for children of a household if the relationship splits up. If there are questions about these – and there are – let’s have legislation on the table about these points, and let’s debate them honestly and openly. The current Bill is trying to sneak in changes by changing the definition of the name of a treasured social institution. Not fair. Not right.

In a judgment this year, the European Court of Human Rights found that those entering civil unions are not entitled to the same rights as those who are married. However, they said that if gay marriage is legalised, then it would be discrimination to refuse services to gays wishing to marry (which would affect churches, wedding photographers, celebrants, and so on) or to treat gay adopting couples differently to heterosexual couples.

Let’s by all means talk about the rights of gay couples. But let us also talk about the rights of other affected individuals, and especially the rights of children.

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In Wellington archdiocese, all of the parishes are looking at the earthquake worthiness of their buildings. Our parish has been told that both churches are suspect; we’re going for a fuller assessment, but it seems at least possible that we won’t be able to afford to bring them up to code. I’ve heard that 80% of parishes are in the same boat – probably New Zealand-wide, not just in Wellington.

The bad news is that we might need to condemn 80% of our churches. The good news is that we have a great opportunity to work together to provide new churches for our parishes.

The Church of Latter Day Saints – for their buildings all over the world – uses a single architecturally designed plan, kitset components, and volunteer labour. Their churches are instantly recognisable, and are fully paid for at the time of erection – both very desirable goals.

The New Zealand bishops could approach a kitset home/barn manufacturer and ask them to design and produce three sizes of church buildings – small, medium, and large. These building could be made to look like a church with the addition of a tower and cross attached to the building or separate. Indeed, when I say ‘look like a church’, we could get away from the Northern European church design mindset and create something that expressed the same trancendent values in a Kiwi idiom.

The kitset manufacturers would develop the architectural drawings, ensure that the buildings met code, and so on. They would also use their current process to develop building instructions to go with the kitset parts.

A bulk purchase would allow maximum discounts, and the bishops are in a position to organise such value.

Each parish that needs to replace a church could then decide what size church they need, and what additions to include (for example, a bell tower; a lean-to porch; a kitchen annex etc) to customise the building for that particular parish and its needs. They could also decide whether to hire a builder, and if so whether that builder will erect the kitset or simply supervise volunteer labour. Each parish would need to organise its own consents and base, and any engineering or construction required for the base.

Later, we might like to commit the money we save on construction to buying a church kitset for an African parish, or sending them to places that have been hit by natural disasters.

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The following is an edited version of a homily delivered by Fr Peter Steele in 2004 at Xavier College and included in A Local Habitation: Poems and Homilies (Newman College, 2010). It was reprinted in Kairos Catholic Journal, Volume 22, Issue 6, and was posted on the website of the Catholic Archdiocese of Melbourne in April last year.

On the face of it, for Christians to be commemorating Anzac Day is a very strange thing. The day would have no meaning at all if it were not for war: and morally and spiritually war is always a great disaster. I know that there can be winners and losers in war, but the fact that people make wars or have wars is a dreadful sign of human failure, and a sign of the power of evil in the world. Wars presuppose at the very least that some people are expendable, and that is exactly the lie which Jesus Christ came to deny and to refute. Wars tend to legitimate hatred, not to speak of mass murder, and to foster them is simply the work of the Devil. To defend one’s country against a warring opponent is sometimes justified, but the situation can never be less than tragic.

I remember, when I was still at school, a couple of years from leaving, that a priest made the point on just this day that we should not sentimentalise the young Australian men who volunteered to go on the Gallipoli campaign. He pointed out that some were probably on the run from debts, or from unhappy relationships, or even from their own maturity; and surely he was right. At Gallipoli there must have been a ration of criminals and cowards, of fugitives and fools, since every human community includes some of these. But there were as well, quite certainly, brave and generous and very gifted people – British and New Zealand and Australian among others, on the one side, and Turkish on the other. I imagine that they killed and were killed at about equal rates.

The alternative to sentimentalising war, or to sentimentalising peace, is to think, and to speak of them, starkly. Anzac Day is a stark day, and Christianity is a stark religion; if there are to be things for us to celebrate on Anzac Day, especially as Christians, we had better have them on the table, now. And the essential thing I have to say in this Memorial Chapel, where so many of the dead are commemorated, and so many of the living have been celebrated in weddings, is that Jesus stands with us, clear eyed, when we name the victims of war, and when we contemplate with distress the makers of war.

First then: the one we call ‘Jesus Christ our Lord’ was, quite straightforwardly, a casualty of war. He died at the hands of an army of occupation, whose commander-in-chief sentenced him first to torture and then to death, and whose foot soldiers and relatively junior officers got the job done. If we were speaking mythologically, we would say that Mars, the god of war, put Jesus, the Lord of Peace, to death. Which would also be like saying that when he was tried and sentenced and tortured and executed, Mars was doing the same to the possibility of peace. The abolition of Jesus Christ was, from the point of view of Mars (also known as Satan), the abolition of peace, and thus the abolition of love.

The war of which Jesus was a casualty was the still unfinished war between the possibility of comprehensive human love and its impossibility. And if you think that this sounds like a war between love and death, you are quite right. The reason why the murder of Jesus was important was not only on account of who he was, but on account of what he meant. He had said that either you chose him or chose death. He meant it, and it was true; and one sprawling human company made its choice, a choice for death, and here we are.

But the place where we are is, surprisingly, the place of love and peace after all; since the death of Christ defied even the worst consequences of our human decisions, and the Resurrection, the ‘being-raised’, of Christ insisted that our worst and most perverse and most idiotic decisions could still be outbid, outplayed, by the most insightful and most committed of human beings, in whose body and soul God our Father flooded a human sterility with a divine vitality. Love outmanoeuvred death, after all.

This, above all, is what every Mass, every Remembering, every Thanksgiving, proclaims – often, it would seem, in the face of the evidence. When men like my father, who were involved in a war at the peril of their lives, and at the peril of their wives’ and children’s happiness, went to a Mass being said on top of ammunition boxes, they were pretty clear as to the war between love and death – they could see it dramatised in front of them. And in the same vein, when, as in the Gospel passage for today, our Lord asks his fragile friend and servant Peter whether he really loves him, this is not some kind of social flirtation: it is the question asked by a man who has died at the hands of Mars, asked of another man who had earlier caved in to the hands of Mars. Jesus’ question to Peter is not only, ‘do you love me?’ but ‘do you – really, seriously, as a grown-up and often scared person – believe in love enough to stake your life on it?’

That is not a question which has gone out of date, or can in fact ever go out of date. As I speak here, we all know the kind of answer which is, so often, given to that question. Anzac Day need not remind us only of healthy young men dying, quite close to the site of ancient Troy, most of a hundred years ago. Anzac Day can, and should, remind us of the battle between love and death which is everybody’s scenario, however placid their circumstances, and however benign their temperaments. Later this week, quite certainly, and in so many words, men and women will ask one another, in this country and in most others throughout the world, ‘do you love me?’ and much will hang on the truthfulness and the seriousness of the reply. All of them, and all of us, will need a lot of dexterous guidance from the Good Shepherd.

Anzac Day, in other words, is not only the most famous Australian secular festival, which it certainly is. It is a day, like Christmas Day and Easter Sunday, when we may be challenged to choose a certain lavishness in compassion and love, as against the acid pitilessness of death. The speechifying is all very well, and so is the patriotism, and so is the convivial drinking. But what really matters is the first step, the first choice, towards rejection of Mars the Devil, and so the first step, the first choice, for the Lord of Peace. Every Mass says that this is possible; but only you or I can say whether it will be our way to go.

Fr Peter Steele SJ is Professor Emeritus of English literature at Melbourne University and was Provincial Superior of the Jesuits in Australia from 1985 to 1990.

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Those heroes that shed their blood
And lost their lives.
You are now lying in the soil of a friendly country.
Therefore rest in peace.
There is no difference between the Johnnies
And the Mehmets to us where they lie side by side
Here in this country of ours.
You, the mothers,
Who sent their sons from far away countries
Wipe away your tears,
Your sons are now lying in our bosom
And are in peace
After having lost their lives on this land they have
Become our sons as well.

[From a speech given by Kemal Attaturk at ANZAC Cove in 1934. These words are engraved on memorials at ANZAC Beach, Wellington, and Canberra]

Something to think about on Anzac Day 2012, 97 years to the day since the first ANZAC troops landed at Gallipoli.

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I did something similar in my adolescence, but I must say this guy was far more systematic than I was:

Bowen created Project Conversion. “The aim – he explained – was not to reconquer my faith in God, but my faith in humanity. I wanted to begin a path of education and tolerance.”

Bowen defined 2011 as his “spiritually promiscuous”year. In January he practiced Hinduism, in February he joined the Bahá’í faith and in March he became a Zoroastrian. In April he switched to Judaism, in May to Buddhism and in June to agnosticism. In July he became a Mormon, in August a Muslim, in September a Sikh, in October a Wiccan and in November a Jain. Finally, in December he became a Catholic.

During the first week of each month, Andrew concentrated on studying the doctrine and rituals of his chosen religion. In the second week he would touch on the artistic and cultural aspect of the faith and in the third, on social themes and conflicts. The last seven days before switching to a new faith, were dedicated to a private reflection on what he had learnt during that month.  He also paid visits to the various religious communities. “Vaste programme” as De Gaulle famously said.

Bowen, who keeps a blog and is writing a book on his experience said Buddhism, taught him the art of silence and how dishes should be washed. To the Mormons, he owes his precious learnings of humility, while he was struck by the beauty of Catholic ceremonies. “After a month living as a Muslim – he added – one would not fall prey so easily to certain widespread images and stereotypes related to Islam…” Bowen also spent a number of months searching for mentors in each religion: professors, journalists, simple believers. Not everything went smoothly however: Bowen spent hours on YouTube trying to learn how to tie a Sikh turban; during his month as a Jain, when he was forbidden to take a bath, the hostility shown by his wife, who is a nurse and very particular about hygiene was hard to take; then, there were the shelf-fulls of sacred texts.

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Thanks, BamacNZ, for this news.

3,500 adults baptised in Hong Kong at the Easter Vigil, and close to three million more around the world

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Dear Brothers and Sisters in Rome and throughout the world!

“Surrexit Christus, spes mea” – “Christ, my hope, has risen” (Easter Sequence).

May the jubilant voice of the Church reach all of you with the words which the ancient hymn puts on the lips of Mary Magdalene, the first to encounter the risen Jesus on Easter morning. She ran to the other disciples and breathlessly announced: “I have seen the Lord!” (Jn 20:18). We too, who have journeyed through the desert of Lent and the sorrowful days of the Passion, today raise the cry of victory: “He has risen! He has truly risen!”

Every Christian relives the experience of Mary Magdalene. It involves an encounter which changes our lives: the encounter with a unique Man who lets us experience all God’s goodness and truth, who frees us from evil not in a superficial and fleeting way, but sets us free radically, heals us completely and restores our dignity. This is why Mary Magdalene calls Jesus “my hope”: he was the one who allowed her to be reborn, who gave her a new future, a life of goodness and freedom from evil. “Christ my hope” means that all my yearnings for goodness find in him a real possibility of fulfilment: with him I can hope for a life that is good, full and eternal, for God himself has drawn near to us, even sharing our humanity.

But Mary Magdalene, like the other disciples, was to see Jesus rejected by the leaders of the people, arrested, scourged, condemned to death and crucified. It must have been unbearable to see Goodness in person subjected to human malice, truth derided by falsehood, mercy abused by vengeance. With Jesus’ death, the hope of all those who had put their trust in him seemed doomed. But that faith never completely failed: especially in the heart of the Virgin Mary, Jesus’ Mother, its flame burned even in the dark of night. In this world, hope can not avoid confronting the harshness of evil. It is not thwarted by the wall of death alone, but even more by the barbs of envy and pride, falsehood and violence. Jesus passed through this mortal mesh in order to open a path to the kingdom of life. For a moment Jesus seemed vanquished: darkness had invaded the land, the silence of God was complete, hope a seemingly empty word.

And lo, on the dawn of the day after the Sabbath, the tomb is found empty. Jesus then shows himself to Mary Magdalene, to the other women, to his disciples. Faith is born anew, more alive and strong than ever, now invincible since it is based on a decisive experience: “Death with life contended: combat strangely ended! Life’s own champion, slain, now lives to reign”. The signs of the resurrection testify to the victory of life over death, love over hatred, mercy over vengeance: “The tomb the living did enclose, I saw Christ’s glory as he rose! The angels there attesting, shroud with grave-clothes resting”.

Dear brothers and sisters! If Jesus is risen, then – and only then – has something truly new happened, something that changes the state of humanity and the world. Then he, Jesus, is someone in whom we can put absolute trust; we can put our trust not only in his message but in Jesus himself, for the Risen One does not belong to the past, but is present today, alive. Christ is hope and comfort in a particular way for those Christian communities suffering most for their faith on account of discrimination and persecution. And he is present as a force of hope through his Church, which is close to all human situations of suffering and injustice.

May the risen Christ grant hope to the Middle East and enable all the ethnic, cultural and religious groups in that region to work together to advance the common good and respect for human rights. Particularly in Syria, may there be an end to bloodshed and an immediate commitment to the path of respect, dialogue and reconciliation, as called for by the international community. May the many refugees from that country who are in need of humanitarian assistance find the acceptance and solidarity capable of relieving their dreadful sufferings. May the paschal victory encourage the Iraqi people to spare no effort in pursuing the path of stability and development. In the Holy Land, may Israelis and Palestinians courageously take up anew the peace process.

May the Lord, the victor over evil and death, sustain the Christian communities of the African continent; may he grant them hope in facing their difficulties, and make them peacemakers and agents of development in the societies to which they belong.

May the risen Jesus comfort the suffering populations of the Horn of Africa and favour their reconciliation; may he help the Great Lakes Region, Sudan and South Sudan, and grant their inhabitants the power of forgiveness. In Mali, now experiencing delicate political developments, may the glorious Christ grant peace and stability. To Nigeria, which in recent times has experienced savage terrorist attacks, may the joy of Easter grant the strength needed to take up anew the building of a society which is peaceful and respectful of the religious freedom of all its citizens.

Happy Easter to all!

Pope Benedict XVI, Easter 2012

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Women’s rights? Or freedom of conscience? Looking after the health of the poor? Or an unwarranted attack on the separation of Church and State?

These – as far as I can see them from this distance – are the polar positions of the US debate about proposals by their Department of Health and Human Services for implementing an employer-pays private insurance scheme for all employees.

The discussion on an earlier post of this blog has helped me a bit, and I’d like to sum up what I think I’ve learnt.

We can agree, I think, that the issue is not whether or not the US needs or should have a universal healthcare provision. The US Catholic bishops, along with many other advocates for the poor, have been calling for such a provision for a long time. We might argue whether private insurance is the way to go, or whether the HHS proposals will give universal coverage, or whether requiring employers to pay insurance premiums for their employees will have an inflationary, deflationary, or neutral effect, or whether State-level setting of standards will disadvantage some people (particularly children), or whether it will decrease health performance by adding costs to the sector. But this isn’t where the bulk of the debate is taking place, and it isn’t the sticking point for US religious leaders.

Nor is there a problem with covering both corrective and preventative healthcare.

The issue is the HHS decision to include sterilisation procedures and contraceptive medications and devices in the mandated coverage as part of the preventative healthcare category.

The Church teaches that sterilisation and the use of contraceptive medications and devices for contraceptive purposes is damaging to the individuals involved, and to society. To take artificial measures to prevent conception is disordered, or sinful, says the Church. It is also well established in moral theology that procuring the opportunity for someone else to do a sinful act (such as by paying for their contraceptive medications or devices) is, in itself, sinful. (And sometimes illegal, as Kim dot Com is in the process of finding out.)

Is the HHS healthcare plan an attack on religious freedom?

In relation to the HHS healthcare plan, the Church says that it is an offence to religious freedom to require a Church employer (such as a university or a hospital) to pay for contraception for its employees.

On the previous thread, we debated at length whether or not contraception is wrong. And a lot of the US debate has been on this ground. However, for this post, can we put this issue to one side and just accept that the Church believes it to be wrong?

So here’s the question: under what circumstances can the US State require a legal or human person to do something that their religion says is wrong, or to provide money so that someone else can do it? [UPDATE Question edited to meet Jerry’s input]

This post will get too long if I try to bite all of that off at once, so I’ll just address a point that Chris raised.

Is the insurance payment part of the wage packet?

In the recent discussion, Chris raised the argument that insurance premiums paid by the employer are part of the employee’s wage packet, and therefore it is the employee who is paying for the insurance. This is a reasonable point, and needs to be fairly considered. If the employer acts merely as an agent for the employee in collecting the premiums and passing them to the insurer, then that puts a layer of distance between the employer and the payment, part of which is being used for a purpose the employer considers to be evil. The Church has a whole set of principles around co-operation with evil, and when we are able (under duress or for the sake of a greater good) to be part of something that others are using for evil purposes.

We could debate where we’d sit collecting for someone else their premiums for sterilisation and contraceptive cover on such a continuum. But is this in fact the case? Are the insurance premiums part of the wage packet? This is certainly the case for private insurance paid for by the employer in New Zealand. I have four questions to clarify the US situation.

1. Will the employee’s taxable income include the insurance premiums when tax is calculated?

2. For those on the basic wage, will the insurance premiums reduce their take home pay, and for those on the cusp of a tax level, will the premiums change their level?

3. Does the employee have the choice to refuse the health insurance, or to choose their plan?

4. Have the premiums been described by the US government as a cost to the employee matched by a wage rise from the employer.

If the answer to all four is yes, then the premiums are part of the wage packet. So let’s have a look.

1. No, the premium is not counted in the employee’s wage for tax purposes. On the contrary, the employer – if categorised as a small enterprise – will receive a tax credit of up to 50% of the cost of the premium.

2. No, the premium payment does not change the employee’s tax status, nor does it take the take-home pay of a minimum wage worker below the threshhold.

3. No, the employee has no choice about joining the scheme or about the basic package that the scheme covers.

4. No, the US government has made it very clear that this is FREE health insurance.

What do you think? Have I missed some questions? Have I misinterpreted some facts? Or are the healthcare payments a cost on the employer rather than a payment by the employee?

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