Political Animal


January 30, 2012 1:22 PM Contraception and “Religious Liberty”

By Ed Kilgore

It’s been underway for a good while now. But the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ offensive to label federal requirements that religiously affiliated non-church institutions offer coverage for contraceptive services in employee health plans as an assault on “religious liberty” gained steam yesterday as many priests around the country were required by their superiors to read statements from the pulpit on the subject.

The Bishops’ specific complaint is that the “conscience” exception whereby churches are permitted to waive coverage of contraception for their employees has not been expanded to include affiliated institutions such as charities, hospitals and colleges. As Sarah Kliff explains at Wonkblog, states have adopted a range of “conscience” exceptions, mostly a bit more expansive than the current federal rule, but none as expansive as the Bishops would prefer.

Many reproductive rights advocates have favored no exception at all, and there may be some merit to E.J. Dionne’s argument today that the administration has placed Catholic progressives on a bit of a slippery slope by trying to thread the needle with a relatively narrow exception.

But step back from the specific dispute for a moment, and if nothing else, it should be clear that given the vast opposition of U.S. Catholics to the Church’s teachings on contraception and (to a lesser extent) abortion, the Bishops do not exactly come to the table with clean hands when it comes to its demands for “religious liberty.” Maybe they should choose another term.

UPDATE: Speaking of clean hands, Mit Romney’s campaign blasted the administration’s policy on the scope of the “conscience” exception for coverage of contraceptive services, even though Romney himself endorsed a virtually identical policy as governor of Massachusetts.

Ed Kilgore is a contributing writer to the Washington Monthly. He is managing editor for The Democratic Strategist and a senior fellow at the Progressive Policy Institute. Find him on Twitter: @ed_kilgore.


  • Caffiend on January 30, 2012 1:30 PM:

    I'm so effing sick of the Bishops and their authoritarianism I could puke. If they want to influence policy, they can pay the cover charge, commonly known as taxes.

  • Trollop on January 30, 2012 1:34 PM:

    Contraception doesn't much matter when your religious organization is chock full of child rapists..
    I'd like to hear that explained from the pulpit!o

  • c u n d gulag on January 30, 2012 1:41 PM:

    Dear Catholic Bishops,
    I don't want to demean you, but I have to ask - just how f*cking stupid are you?
    This is NOT about "religious liberty!"

    If I'm a Catholic, I can go the the Catholic Church of my choice. I can drive to one two towns away, if the nearest one isn't to my liking.

    If I'm thinking of converting to Catholicism, I can do the same.

    If I'm of a different religion, I can go worship wherever I want.

    But, if I'm in an accident, and the only hospital nearby is a Catholic one, I may not have much of a choice.

    What if you were against stitching-up wounds, because no one was there to stitch Jesus' wounds?

    Should I bleed to death because of your beliefs?
    And exactly how long do you think any government would allow you to have a license to practice medicine if that was what you believed?

    And if a woman has been raped, and in need of a morning-after pill, or in need of an emergency abortion to save the life of the mother, your hospital should be, first and foremost, A HOSPITAL!

    I suggest you have your Priests keep their pecker's packed, whether it's with boys or girls, men or women, put away your misogyny, and you have more consideration for the women who may need the services.

    Or, are you afraid, that the child that is prevented through contraception or abortion, might be one of your Priest's?

    And I know you need more people, because Americans are deserting your church in droves.

    But, instead of putting women through "Forced Labor," you might want to consider how you, your Pope's, and other leaders have behaved that is causing people to leave.

    You remain out of touch.
    Which is a shame, because for awhile there, your church was important in the lives of people, and in fighting for social issues.

    WTF happened?
    Vatican II too Liberal?

    Disrespectfully Yours,
    c u n d gulag.

  • zandru on January 30, 2012 1:44 PM:

    "Religious Liberty"?

    Liberty is for people, not religions. Women are people. Where is the concern for the liberty of WOMEN?

    As the late Earl Butz once said about the Pope and Catholic hierarchy in general, "He no play-a the game, he no make-a the rules."

  • Mitch on January 30, 2012 1:45 PM:

    To a Theocrat religious liberty means nothing more or less than the freedom for their religion to impose their whims on others. Their rights are greater than human rights, because they are "divine". If you don't understand that they have a greater right, then you are at war with them. Their way is the only way. The opinions and desires of others do not matter.

    It's not just Catholics that feel this way. This persecution complex and dictatorial tendency is the hallmark of monotheism.

  • bob h on January 30, 2012 1:50 PM:

    So id they are not happy with it let them go with the Mormon. Or better yet, with their converso, Newt.

  • Peter C on January 30, 2012 1:52 PM:

    I've never really understood this issue. If the Catholics dislike providing reproductive health services as part of the health services, what is stopping them from sub-contracting that out? It is not intuitively obvious to me that running a hospital is part of their core mission anyway. But, if they want to run a hospital, they should expect to have to live by the rules and regulations that the government establishes for hospitals. If individuals don't wish to follow specific rules, they can decide to pursue other careers. If the institution does not wish to provide mandated services and does not wish to force their employees to provide them, they can contract with other to provide them.

    I understand that, for the super-religious, pregnancy is the direct result of a gift from God, and that any effort to control sexuality and reproduction is an infringement of devine preogatives. They are free to hold medival and irresponsible beliefs like this and to live their lives accordingly (that's freedom of religion). They are free to spread these beliefs one argument at a time (that's freedom of speech). What I vehemently object to is their drive to impose these beliefs through official government policy (that would be ESTABLISHMENT of religion).

  • Sgt. Gym Bunny on January 30, 2012 1:56 PM:

    I'm confused, so other's must pardon my ignorance...

    At what point does a religious institution's refusal to cover contraceptives conflict with employee rights? If I work for a religious affiliated organization but I don't observe said religious-affiliated organization's beliefs, how would I get access to contraceptives? Whose supposed to pick up the tab on those employees that do want access to contraceptives.

    Silly question, but anyone can correct any presumptions claims I might be assuming....

  • theAmericanist on January 30, 2012 1:57 PM:

    For sheer unexamined bigotry, it'd be hard to top Ed's "given the vast opposition of U.S. Catholics to the Church’s teachings on contraception and (to a lesser extent) abortion, the Bishops do not exactly come to the table with clean hands when it comes to its demands for “religious liberty.”

    1) The Roman Catholic Church is an authoritarian institution. It's not a democracy. There is a long history (look up James G. Blaine and the Blaine amendments) of anti-Catholic laws in America based precisely on subverting this fact of Catholicism.

    2) From a religious, not even a specifically Catholic perspective, disobeying an instruction is not "opposition". Does the fact of sin mean a sinner opposes morality?

    3) Ed is arguing that Catholic bishops have an obligation -- a need for "clean hands" -- to stop being Catholic: after all, "vast" numbers of Catholics do not follow the Vatican's instructions. So the doctrine has to change, because it's not popular.

    4) Since the Roman church is authoritarian, and since this new policy on paying for contraception is an act by the Federal government, Ed has just neatly described the solution: the government should coerce the single largest denomination in America, part of one of the world's largest and oldest faiths, to abandon its central organizing principle AND what it regards as an essential doctrine.

    Nice job, Ed. Following up on your comfort level with folks who dis democracy and your confusion between citizens and immigrants with explicit support for government coercion of religion: you're off to a helluva start.

  • kindness on January 30, 2012 1:58 PM:

    It was my understanding that current law holds employees of businesses held by the Catholic Church had to offer those employees contraception access via their insurance.

    If that is the case, how are they allowed to complain about it now?

  • Kathryn on January 30, 2012 1:58 PM:

    There is a reason Catholic families today have small families as opposed to the 12 my Grandmother had and the 8 and 9 my older cousins had, contraception and vasectomies, it sure wasn't the rhythm method. The appalling right turn of the Roman Catholic Church is just that appalling. Just the other day, I read about a parish in Chantilly, Va. that is going to ban girl scout meetings from their premises because of falsehoods about abortions support by the international girl scout org.

  • chi res on January 30, 2012 2:07 PM:

    By the Bishop's reasoning, Jehovah's Witness institutional employers shouldn't have to offer employee health insurance that includes coverage for blood transfusions.

  • arkie on January 30, 2012 2:08 PM:

    "the government should coerce the single largest denomination in America, part of one of the world's largest and oldest faiths, to abandon its central organizing principle AND what it regards as an essential doctrine."

    As long as said denomination is subsidized by the government (charitable deductions) and contracts with the government to provide certain services (Medicare and Medicaid) it should be subject to government regulations.

    The Roman Catholic Church (only one of many Catholic denominations) is free to give up its 501(c)(3) status and its hospitals can refuse to accept patients whose care is largely paid for by the government.

  • TCinLA on January 30, 2012 2:31 PM:

    At the risk of sounding like some anti-Catholic Protestant extremist (which I am not), an examination of history reveals that the Catholic Church hasn't known what "religious liberty" is since they climbed into bed with Emperor Constantine.

  • sjay on January 30, 2012 2:39 PM:

    Most of the commentators above have missed the substance of this particular dispute: it's not about hospitals and what sort of services they provide,it's about religious institutions who are employers and what must be provided as an employee benefit.

  • SYSPROG on January 30, 2012 3:05 PM:

    'read statements from the pulpit on the subject', WTF? These child diddling pedofiles should stick to preaching and teaching and stay out of politics. And yes Americanist, I GET it. They should provide HEALTH insurance, and counsel their people in the confessional. In case YOU don't get it, I've been a Catholic for years and I'm sick and tired of them trying to take us back to the 1950's when they could say anything they wanted and we were supposed to obey. Teach the word of God and leave the rest to others.

  • Mitch on January 30, 2012 3:07 PM:


    "...the Catholic Church hasn't known what "religious liberty" is since they climbed into bed with Emperor Constantine."

    I once read a history of the Church which said something along these lines (paraphrasing): Even in the Middle Ages, the Roman Catholic Church stood for the right of all individuals to believe or not believe in whatever they choose; as long as they kept any unconventional beliefs private, and did not attempt to share them with others. Heretical beliefs have no place in the public sphere.

    That's about as much "liberty" as can be expected from Theocrats. We have the right to be free, as long as we're only free in our minds.

  • Crissa on January 30, 2012 3:08 PM:

    It is not anti-Catholic to point out that the Bishops hid child-rapists. They did this, and still refuse to cooperate. It might be off-topic, but it is not anti-Catholic.

    It is not anti-Catholic to point out that these specific Bishops, and the organization they run, have acted politically on this topic in the past.

    No one is saying they're doing anything they aren't, as an organization, doing. Hence, Ed is not anti-Catholic by this post.

    Now someone who says Ed is anti-Catholic for pointing out their hypocrisy? That someone is a bigot, not Ed. Don't confuse religious freedom for freedom from the law or ethics or morality.

  • Mitch on January 30, 2012 3:16 PM:


    I agree that the conversation has wandered off-topic; such is the nature of the Internet.

    arkie, above, made the clearest case as to why employment at a "religious" hospital is not the same thing as employment at a church.

    I do believe that the government should stay out of religious arguments, and let various churches follow their beliefs. But hospitals get so much of their money from the government, giving the government a right to have a say in how it is spent.

  • Fitz on January 30, 2012 3:17 PM:

    There seems to be some serious confusion over the definition of democracy and religious liberty, both in the original post and here in the comments.

    The action of the bishops had no connection whatsoever to the religious liberty of US Catholics. That liberty is best expressed in their ability to choose to be Catholics or not and to openly worship as Catholics or not.

    The Catholic church itself is not a democracy. It is still, literally, Pauline christianity. A continuation of the churches founded by St. Paul. Those churches have a moral heirarchy, as described by Paul in his letters to the early churches.

    One can certainly disagree, but the bishop's job is to promote and educate about Catholic dogma. What the majority of Catholic's want or don't want isn't supposed to have anything to do with it. For the first 1000 years of the church, one big battle was over infanticide. Paul spread the church to the gentiles who did not have the 1st century Judean disdain for simply abandoning or killing unwanted children (see Philo of Alexandria for some good descriptions of this culture gap).

    There is a case where the conventional wisdom has shifted. The overwhelming majority were OK with infanticide, now most non sociopaths would be horrified to see it.

    I have no idea how history will look back at contraception, etc., but it is morally consistent with that faith's dogmatic teachings. Remember, they overall all concept is consistently pro-life, death penalty, war, abortion, euthanasia and there is high emphasis on specific concepts of family and chastity.

    As it happens, I think that the bishops are being a bit hypocritical in putting so much emphasis on this particular instance, but I think it is also hypocritical to object to their doing so. Having read the statement, it limits itself to accurately reinforcing Catholic dogmatic teaching. It doesn't come remotely close to the open political activism I have witnessed in many 3rd Wave Evangelical Churches. Further, the consistent Catholic moral ethic is much closer to mainstream Progressive thought.

    Catholics, including Catholic bishops, supported Obama at rates about 20% higher than any other Christian denomination. Torture, unjust war, etc. were big issues. The Church also just reaffirmed the rights of workers and all of humanity to socially just economic development.

    Catholic charities remain the largest non government social safety net in the nation. Which is not surprising since, for about a century, the Catholic church was the only real social safety net in the nation.

    It is human nature to assume that anyone who drives faster than you on the freeway is reckless and anyone driving slower is an idiot. But I don't see the point of mocking and shouting down non-lock step agreement. The Catholic church promotes many progressive causes, Catholics lean progressive in political life. It seems silly to start going all tea party on them just because they have a different idea of the proper line of government intervention and personal religious freedom.

    Like the squawking tea party idiots I endured at town hall meetings, I find squawking in ignorance particularly galling. It would take approximately 5 minutes for someone of average intelligence to use the internet to understand that the global Roman Catholic church is not, and has never been, a majority rule democracy.

  • Dave on January 30, 2012 3:24 PM:

    Re: "Romney’s campaign blasted the administration’s policy ... even though Romney himself endorsed a virtually identical policy as governor of Massachusetts."

    Obama should endorse Romney just to see what Mitt does then. Endorse Newt?? LOL

  • theAmericanist on January 30, 2012 3:27 PM:

    Sjay, you managed to miss the point even as you pointed out that most folks don't understand it . It's Gym's question: where does a religious institution as an employer give up its rights under the First Amendment?

    Generally speaking, the Catholic Church as an employer is not barred from firing a teacher who becomes pregnant if she is not married, even though a secular employer could be sued for the same act.

    There are some -- like arkie -- who would drive the Catholic Church out of health care enitrely, for example, not because the Catholic Church is a criminal enterprise (although I suppose there's a case to be made there), but because the Vatican has policies on contraception that most Americans don't accept. The same principle, of course, would also close Catholic schools as well as Catholic hospitals.

    What exactly is the principle here? Nobody is compelled to work for a Catholic employer. If you don't want to pay for your own contraception, find an employer who offers a health care plan that pays for it. What's the principle that requires that a CATHOLIC employer has to pay for it?

    That's why I noted that Ed is now urging an astonishing bit of bigotry and coercion. And you guys are applauding it. In Ed (or arkie)'s formulation, the only way for the Catholic Church to function as an employer in America is to stop being Catholic. And you justify that with the quaint idea that most Catholics seem to agree with you -- as if this is a Catholic principle. (It ain't.)

    Just to be clear (since most folks don't actually know the origin of the Vatican's doctrine on such stuff): before the 20th century, reliable contraception wasn't technically possible, so there wasn't much reason to come up with an elaborate theology about it. A series of Papal statements first urged that Catholics must oppose legalized divorce (Casti Connubi, a hundred years ago), then legalized contraception, abortion, and now same-sex unions. (No, there has never been a similar statement against the death penalty. The Vatican has mumbled they don't like it, but they have never said that Catholics must vote against politicians who support it.)

    But none of this was an immaculate conception. The Anglicans in 1930 broke what had been a solid Christian wall against contraception, which the Catholics didn't start to deal with until the 50s. (It was a Catholic scientist who developed the Pill.) In reasponse, John XXIII did something revolutionary -- he appointed a panel that included lay people -- MARRIED people -- to examine the issue and make suggestions. That's why contraception wasn't on the agenda for Vatican II.

    When John XXIII died, Paul VI inherited this hot potato: the distinct possibility that people who actually knew something about sex might have something to say about what is sinful, and what is not. So he packed the panel, appointing a whole lot of new members including a then-obscure Polish bishop, soon to be raised to Cardinal. An odd fact about this Polish guy was that, while the Communist government in Warsaw would let him travel, they wouldn't let his boss: so out of solidarity (nice word) he never attended even a single one of the birth control panel's meetings.

    When they came up with their recommendations in 1967 (loving acts between married people are okay even if babies aren't likely), they were suppressed. (God love the Catholic Transcript, which published the leaked report.) But the Polish guy's dissent was classic -- he basically reasoned that since the Vatican had objected to the Anglicans in 1930, that would mean if the panel was right, the Vatican had been wrong, and if the Vatican had been wrong in 1930, that would mean the Holy Ghost had failed (since God advised the Vatican), so clearly the panel was wrong. (I'm not kidding -- ask, and I'll post the actual quote.)

    That dissent became Humanae Vitae, the Vatican's definitive statement on this stuff

  • theAmericanist on January 30, 2012 3:34 PM:

    Crissa, you didn't read Ed's post right: "...given the vast opposition of U.S. Catholics to the Church’s teachings on contraception and (to a lesser extent) abortion, the Bishops do not exactly come to the table with clean hands when it comes to its demands for “religious liberty...” has nothing to do with child rapists.

    Ed -- somewhat obtusely, as is his way -- was referring to the fact that pro-choice Catholics are not good Catholics, by definition. Likewise, Catholics who support same-sex marriage are also not good Catholics.

    The Roman Catholic Church gets to say what does, and does not constitute a "good" Catholic. Ed objects to that, which is why he is not saying that the bishops don't have clean hands because they protected child rapists (which they did, and ought to stop), but rather because they are Catholic bishops (whcih they are, and which it is not Ed's place, not that of the US government, to insist they should stop.)

    The Left is approaching this as a matter of principle. It's not -- it's a practical matter, and the practical result could well be major damage to both health care and education for low-income people all over the country, e.g., the Catholic schools are the best elementary education you can get in Baltimore.

  • mellowjohn on January 30, 2012 3:48 PM:

    "...even though Romney himself endorsed a virtually identical policy as governor of Massachusetts."

    i'm shocked...shocked i tells ya!

  • Ron Byers on January 30, 2012 4:04 PM:

    I am astonished by the depth and breath of this discussion. It is like we have a lot of very, very well educated Roman Catholics debating the issue. I am learning a lot. Keep it up boys. Ed, keep publishing posts like this one. This comments section should be published in the National Catholic Reporter along with your original post.

  • chopin on January 30, 2012 4:05 PM:

    "I understand that, for the super-religious, pregnancy is the direct result of a gift from God, and that any effort to control sexuality and reproduction is an infringement of devine preogatives." Peter C @ 1:52

    Very interesting phrasing? Is this what Catholic theology teaches? Exhibit A of pregnancy being a direct result of god(s) intervention would be that virgin birth thingy that happened in spite of practicing the "abstinence only" form of birth control. Hey, if the god(s) want more kids, I seriously doubt contraceptives will get in their way.

  • Rich Horton on January 30, 2012 4:08 PM:

    This is a problem easily solved. The Church could simply get out of the hospital, orphan, and social services business all together.

    There. Isn't the world a better place now?

    Well, except for all the sick, hungry, orphaned and, now, unemployed people of course.

  • Barbara on January 30, 2012 4:14 PM:

    Only in the particulars does it raise any issues that were not settled by the SSA case involving Amish employers who stated that they should not have to participate in paying SS taxes on behalf of their employees becasue SS as a system violated their religious beliefs.

    Like the payment of SS taxes, this is a neutral policy and the only issue here is the scope of the exemption. By exempting those organizations that are very specifically religious -- that is, that would only hire employees who agree to abide by the religious tenets of the organization, the administration is largely following the contours of established employment law.

    If the administration were to exempt largely secular activities carried out by employees who are hired without regard to their religious views, it would, essentially, be backing the doctrinal requirements of the church. This, it seems to me, is highly problematic, and would open the door for arguments by other religious organizations seeking to avoid other kinds of expenses based on religious conviction. I suspect that once the administration's constitutional lawyers raised these objections, it made the exemption as broad as it constitutionally could.

  • rrk1 on January 30, 2012 4:27 PM:

    There is no blindness like willful blindness, and the RC hierarchy has elevated it to a sacrament. Not seeing that almost all those who consider themselves 'Catholic' practice birth control of some sort, and have for decades says very loudly, "THEY AREN'T LISTENING TO YOU". Not seeing the molestation of prepubescent boys (mostly) by your priests as an egregious moral failing says you've got your head up your collective asses. Not condemning war, genocide, nuclear weapons, rape, plunder and pilage, human suffering caused by dictators and the banksters who control them says your 'church' has no reason for existence any longer.

    Parade around in your fancy dresses if you must, but don't claim any moral authority over anyone, let alone those who don't subscribe to your superstitious nonsense.

  • theAmericanist on January 30, 2012 4:29 PM:

    Chopin: Not quite. Peter C's description isn't wrong, exactly, but it's not how the theology itself goes.

    Like I said, all of this is pretty new as theology goes, although it has very ancient roots. Extremely simplified, this is how it works:

    Christ says pretty much nothing about it. Paul says only a little more. But for complex reasons, Christianity appealed mostly to women and slaves for the first couple hundred years, two groups of folks for whom sexuality was not exactly an unalloyed blessing under Roman rule. Christians were also competing with the Essenes, an openly ascetic faith, so there was a certain 'can you top this' dynamic about who was willing to give up more.

    Then there was a big fight about baptism, which had little to do with the erotic as such, but led straight to it. The idea was first, whether parents had to be baptize their kids so they'd be Christians (the answer was yes)L but then -- what if they didn't? The Church's answer was -- um, then they burn in hell for all eternity, which sorta bugged people who thought that was kinda cruel for babies who, after all, were born without sin since they hadn't done much of anything but breath, if they even got to do that.

    So Augustine came up with the Notion of original sin -- which we're BORN with, of course, so it is passed along, parents to kids, through fucking. Augustine was a classic reformed sinner, passionately condemning his former passions, and he had a fullblown fight with Julian, a contemporary theologian, who took the view that he loved his wife and she loved him and they should do the wild thing as much as possible since God meant us to be happy. Augustine was having none of that -- the purpose of the wild thing was babies, who were thus born in sin.

    There were various confused things said about sex by Popes for the next 15 centuries or so (notably Gregory the Great's famous unhappiness that the peasants actually seemed to sinfully ENJOY sex), but because reliable contraception wasn't possible, there was no need for much elaboration beyond misogyny and (after the 13th century) celibacy for priests and nuns.

    Then you had the Anglican/John Paul XXIII/Paul VI/John Paul II's dissent become Humanae Vitae, described above.

    It's not exactly how the Vatican tells the story, but I think it's clear from the dissent itself that rejecting recommendations of Vatican's birth control panel was primarily an authoritarian response rather than an affirmative theology. But it has since become an elaborate rationalization for that authoritarian response -- and like a lot of rationalization by smart people, it's not nuts, either.

    The idea is that sex is a gift from God, which has two essential functions: the unitive and procreative. BOTH must be present, or the act is a sin. The unitive is a requirement because it is a function of human will -- no sex without someone you don't love, and in fact, no act of erotic love outside the sacrament of marriage. (Which, for those of you who actually care about Catholic doctrine, is the only sacrament that lay people give each other -- the priest is only a witness, he doesn't perform the sacrament.)

    But the procreative is not up to humans. We can do all kinds of stuff to make it more or less likely, but the Roman church's doctrine on procreation is not unlike Gandalf's advice to Frodo in Moria when he wants to kill Gollum: 'there are many who die, who deserve life -- can you give it to them? So don't be so eager to take responsibility for life and dearth.'

    There are, after all, millions of couples who want children, who can't have them -- and one of the things that Catholic Charities and organizations like Birthright do, is help moms who don't want their kids to give them to families who will love and raiser them well.

    So the actual Catholic doctrine is that BOTH the unitive and procreative functions must be present -- the former requ

  • Col Bat Guano on January 30, 2012 5:15 PM:

    So, theAmericanist, what you're saying is that their entire theological basis for opposing contraception is unmitigated bulls**t and we should ignore them entirely? Works for me.

  • theAmericanist on January 30, 2012 6:25 PM:

    LOL -- no, that IS a bit of an oversimplification to the point of distortion.

    But if your "we should ignore them entirely" means that Catholic employers should be allowed to remain Catholic, as employers: yes, that's what I'm saying.

    Yanno, this whole thing reminds me of a more serious form of Bill Clinton taking Communion at a Catholic Church some years back, when he was President. (I think it was in Nigeria.) He attended this big public mass with a bunch of VIPs, the Cardinal was offering communion, so Clinton went up to receive. The Cardinal avoided what would have been an obvious snub, and gave it to him -- but afterwards, Clinton (a little embarrassed) explained that he didn't realize that Catholic priests are barred from giving Communion to people who aren't Catholics.

    What rang my bell about that (not unlike the earliest part of Clinton's presidency, when he would try to return the Marines' salutes, and the result was ludicrous) was that he evidently had NOBODY around him who realized that there was something here they didn't know -- and needed to find out about.

    You can see it in Ed's posts, as in Steve's before him on this one, and in the threads, in fact, pretty much everywhere on the Left: folks really don't understand why this is such a big deal for the Church -- geeze, you guys lost on this one, don't be crybabies, deal with it. So Catholic institutions as employers are going to have to pay for birth control -- what's the big deal?

    Then when Catholic Charities closes down, and Catholic schools start to follow, when the University of Notre Dame shuts down its football team (no health insurance, remember?), and finally when the US Supreme Court with its SIX Catholic justices hear a case (possibly so broadly drawn as to implicate the whole ACA)... methinks you may recall the wisdom of the principal of the Jena 6 school: "Always lower the stakes."

    This isn't a fight worth winning.

  • Doug on January 30, 2012 6:46 PM:

    Sorry theAmericanist, but if the Roman Catholic Church wishes to act in spheres outside that of the purely(?) religious, then it must abide by rules established for those activities. The old "Render unto Caesar..." thing. Or are you suggesting that because the Roman Catholic Church is an authoritan-based organization, we have to make special rules for it?
    The thought behind the current stance of the Roman Catholic Bishops, that ANYTHING touched by the Church should be exempt from civil law, is not new. It was fought over, sometimes violently (remember Thomas Becket?), during the Middle Ages and after. They lost then and they'll lose again.
    IF the Catholic Bishops feel that they simply cannot comply with these laws and still operate hospitals and charities, then they have three options: they can close down the chariities and sell the hospitals, take their case to the (non-Roman Catholic) public and try to win their support for an expanded "religious" exemption or they can play the "victim" card and try to confuse the issue.
    The Bishops have chosen the last option.

  • arkie on January 30, 2012 7:18 PM:

    theAmericanist: "There are some -- like arkie -- who would drive the Catholic Church out of health care enitrely, for example, not because the Catholic Church is a criminal enterprise (although I suppose there's a case to be made there), but because the Vatican has policies on contraception that most Americans don't accept."

    What did I say that would cause you to believe that I want to drive the Roman Catholic Church out of health care?

    I very clearly said that if hospitals accept government funding, they should abide by government rules. The Roman Catholic Church can refuse to accept any government money and continue to operate its hospitals under any rules it wishes.

  • theAmericanist on January 30, 2012 7:19 PM:

    Doug, you're dumber than your writing makes you look, which is pretty difficult.

    1) "are you suggesting that because the Roman Catholic Church is an authoritan-based organization, we have to make special rules for it?"

    Nope. I'm pointing out that it's a religion that employs people. So if you're going to force it to choose between its religious character and being an employer, it's going to stop employing people.

    Going too fast for you?

    2) You cite three options, but two of 'em are the same: they CAN close down Catholic Charities, the extensive network of Catholic schools that include some of the best in the country AND some of the best options in some of the worst school districts, not to mention hospitals and clinics that serve poor people, or they can try the politics of persuading the public and their representatives that this isn;'t a good idea, which happens to be a considerably more powerful version of the "victim card" you're scoffing at -- OR there is another option, which I noted and you didn't: they can challenge this in court. There are 6 Catholic justices, and it only takes 5 to win.

    Or is math too hard for you?

    3) I've asked in every thread on this matter -- just what, exactly, is the principle here? I've seen several negative statements of it: this is the rule, so Catholic employers have to abide by it, so there. But that doesn't state a principle beyond The Law is The Law -- it doesn't make an argument WHY this particular policy makes any fucking sense at all.

    Remember (as I keep pointing out), nobody HAS to work for a Catholic employer. If you want your employer's health plan to cover contraception, then you can go work for somebody else.

    Nor is this one the same principle that says a religious institution which employs people has to pay taxes like any other employer, which means funding aircraft carriers or Social Security, etc. I noted that there has always been a particular set of exemptions for religious institutions as employers -- for example, a Catholic school can fire someone who becomes pregnant without being married, while a secular employer can be sued for that kind of discrimination.

    Face it, you guys are determined to make this into a Church vs. State clash (dragging up Thomas Becket, yegodsandlittlefishes), which is what I've been saying all along -- you want to force Catholic institutions as employers to stop being Catholic, or stop employing people. You're absolutely certain the Church will back down.

    I look forward to hearing your brag about it when the schools and hospitals start closing.

  • theAmericanist on January 30, 2012 7:22 PM:

    Arkie -- you've evidently never been to a Catholic hospital. They are what are generally called "charity hospitals", who will take people without health insurance. That means they cannot function without Medicaid, among other things.

    Catholic hospitals remain a pillar of the social safety net in America, precisely because for much of the country they FOUNDED the safety net.

    Arkie: you're either an ignoramus, or a heartless bastard, or both. Mind explaining which?

  • arkie on January 30, 2012 7:35 PM:

    Actually, neither.

    My father was employed by the Sisters of Mercy in one of their hospitals and my parents continue to use that hospital when required.

    "They are what are generally called "charity hospitals", who will take people without health insurance. That means they cannot function without Medicaid, among other things."

    Medicaid is a government financed health insurance program. Accepting a Medicaid or Medicare patient is not an act of charity.

    Neither is turning over unpaid bills to collection agencies which is what our local hospital does. In fact, there is no difference reference "charity" that I can identify between our local Catholic hospital and our secular non-profit hospital.

  • theAmericanist on January 30, 2012 8:49 PM:

    On the contrary, you've just demonstrated you're both.

    First, what demonstrates your ignorance:

    "Charity hospitals" denote care for people who don't have insurance. True, Medicaid is often referred to as "insurance", but unlike actual health insurance, it isn't based on a large pool of healthy people paying into it so that a small percentage of sick or injured people can get benefits. Since this was sorta central to the whole health care finance debate of a few years ago, I've gotta conclude you're so ignorant you don't even realize when you're displaying it like a frigging peacock.

    Medicaid is "charity" in that it is provided by the taxpayer. Before Medicaid, this sort of health care was provided (often by Catholic hospitals) funded by private donations. If you're saying that private donations can replace Medicaid, you are literally the only person on this planet who thinks so. (That is, if you are on this planet.)

    Which, in any case, misses the point; If a Catholic hospital (or school, etc.) cannot recruit and retain employees because it is barred by the intersection of Catholic doctrine and US law from offering health insurance, then it will close, regardless of what happens with Medicaid.

    Second, what denotes that you're a heartless bastard:

    Without charity hospitals (sometimes referred to as 'welfare hospitals') a very large percentage of the working poor and a whole lot of the destitute will simply have no access to health care at all. That's what no means of payment other than Medicaid signifies -- charity hospitals are all they've got.

    You seem to think that the Catholic Church will be able to keep these hospitals, clinics and the like open with private donations, or perhaps by liquidating the Church's vast wealth. I suggest you notice what the damage even the relatively small payments the Church has had to pay for the victims of abuse that it hid has done to various Catholic school systems. So you're basically insisting that all the destitute and the working poor who rely on the largest network of charity hospitals in the country should just decrease the surplus population: you're a heartless bastard, arkie.

    Third, evidently you have some misplaced personal animus here, since you hint that your folks got caught up in the maw of health care finance and chased by a collection agency. Apparently you imagine that a "charity hospital" shouldn't expect people to pay their bills.

    A smarter guy than you would have figured out that this is exactly why sensible people want to keep Catholic hospitals open -- because without Medicaid, damned few folks at the lower end of the economic spectrum can pay ANY health care costs.

  • Daniel on January 30, 2012 8:51 PM:

    The real problem here is, and remains, the lack of a national health care system. If we had that they would be no reason for any organization to set religious standards, however BS, on health care coverage.

  • Bonnie on January 31, 2012 1:54 AM:

    I am not Roman Catholic. Never have been, never will be. I am a woman and I have always hated in when the Roman Catholic church tries to shove their doctrine down my throat. Which what they do every time they fight progress regarding women's rights. When I have a prescription for birth control pills and I try to get it filled, I don't ask what religion the pharmacist is. However, if the pharmacist tells me he/she won't fill my prescription because of his/her personl held beliefs, then he/she is shoving his/her religion down my throat.

  • Col Bat Guano on January 31, 2012 2:24 AM:

    So I guess all those Catholic hospitals and schools are going to go Galt unless we let them deny insurance coverage for contraception for non-Catholic employees? Some compassion there.

  • theAmericanist on January 31, 2012 3:28 AM:

    Yup, that's pretty much it. You guys really should notice when you're proving the other side in an argument -- you want Catholic employers to CLOSE, or to cease being Catholic: QED.

    Consider Bonnie. She figures she can go to a professional and -- just because she wants to buy something -- require that professional to violate their religious faith. What right does a professional have to individual conscience?

    Consider Guano. First, he EXACTLY mis-states the First Amendment issue: it's not that Catholic employers would discriminate between Catholic and non-Catholic employees, with only the non-Catholics getting contraception at the employer's' expense. This isn't about the employees' right to buy whatever health care they choose. It's about the simple fact that a Catholic employer cannot pay for contraception -- and remain Catholic.

    Second, he insists that he knows better than the Catholic Church what is, and is not compassion here. Who is the Vatican to decide what is "compassion", for a Catholic? Gee, if the Church really does go there, and starts to close down Catholic employers like hospitals and schools because this new government policy forces that choice, well -- that's the Catholic Church's fault, because it just didn't keep up with the times. What, you think the Vatican gets to decide what is, and is not, Catholic? That's soooo behind the times.

    Consider Ed's argument. He insists "given the vast opposition of U.S. Catholics to the Church’s teachings ...the Bishops do not exactly come to the table with clean hands when it comes to its demands for “religious liberty."

    He wants to use the enormous power of the US government to force the Catholic Church to reverse itself on a matter of faith and morals, because (he figures) it CAN. After all, there is "vast opposition" to the Church's teachings on contraception (and, he notes, to a lesser degree on abortion), so clearly the Church is vulnerable here. The US government can push it around. Who knows, once Ed wins this one on contraception, maybe abortion will be next -- then, women priests? Couldn't the government force Catholic schools not to fire teachers who become pregnant when they're not married? Why not force Catholic schools to employ same sex couples with civil marriages? Hell, shouldn't the US government use its power to force Catholic Churches to perform same sex marriages? Those are all, to a greater or lesser degree, matters on which most nominal American Catholics disagree with the Vatican. Shouldn't the US government step in and force the Church to catch up with modern morality? Lead American Catholics against their own Church?

    Consider my argument. I've merely asked -- over and over and over again -- what exactly is the principle here?

    Nobody is forced to work for a Catholic institution, like Catholic Charities. If you want your employer's health insurance to buy contraception for you, you can find another employer. You're not 'denied' access to contraception.

    Bonnie insists that there IS a principle -- her right to buy contraception from any professional means that, as a professional, that person gives up any right to their conscience. All pharmacists must sell contraception -- so she imposes a religious test on pharmacists: no Catholics (or Mormons, I gather) need apply.

    You guys want to extend that to all Catholic employers. Be proud of yourselves. Don't be ashamed of your own argument.

    Cuz it's not like folks don't recognize explicit bigotry and coercion when they see it.

    I just keep noting this fight isn't worth it.

  • tamiasmin on January 31, 2012 4:03 AM:

    theAmericanist @ 3:27 PM:

    "But the Polish guy's dissent was classic -- he basically reasoned that since the Vatican had objected to the Anglicans in 1930, that would mean if the panel was right, the Vatican had been wrong, and if the Vatican had been wrong in 1930, that would mean the Holy Ghost had failed (since God advised the Vatican), so clearly the panel was wrong."

    I'm sure it's much too late for it now, and it probably was then, but Vatican decision makers might have saved the good name of the Holy Ghost by saying that it was not His failure but their misunderstanding of Him in 1930 that led them to their pronouncement on contraception; and that they were wrong, not He. Such admissions are always difficult, and the more so when you claim to speak infallibly on just such matters. But for all I have ever heard of Him, the Holy Ghost might be better pleased with a humble acknowledgment of error than with an obstinate clinging to it.

  • theAmericanist on January 31, 2012 8:10 AM:

    True 'dat -- which is yet another reason why this astonishing overreach by the Obama administration is a very, very bad idea.

    Yanno, being a liberal -- a progressive -- used to denote that you stood up for people who believed something unpopular, like the Jehovah's Witnesses who refused to pledge to the flag during WW2, or the Civil Rights Movement who asserted "the need to be free now", as Martin Luther King Jr put it.

    It is impossible to reconcile that historic meaning of liberal, with this policy. This is simply the government imposing its will on a religious institution that it considers backward.

    You guys can argue that's a good thing, a matter of the highest principle -- after all, the US government coerced the Mormon Church to abandon polygamy (somebody should make the parallel and ask Romney), it killed Jim Crow, and so on.

    My point is just that: you can't argue that this is anything else, but the US government trying to coerce Catholic institutions to choose between being employers and being Catholic. Somebody pointed out to me once that in every political fight, you should fill in the blanks of this sentence: "On behalf of .... we're going to ....."

    What are the blanks to be filled in here? "On behalf of non-Catholics, we're going to force Catholic institutions that employ people to close or stop being Catholic?"

    How about Ed's framing: "On behalf of bad American Catholics, we're going to force American Catholic institutions to reject the Vatican?"

    For -- um, whom? I keep pointing out that this doesn't deny anybody access to contraception, not even employees of Catholic institutions. They can buy 'em pretty much anywhere. If you want your employers' health insurance to pay for 'em, don't work for a Catholic institution.

    So you really, REALLY should ask before this escalates, as it surely will: is this one worth it?

  • Andrew J. Lazarus on January 31, 2012 11:23 AM:

    Sex with little boys doesn't require contraception.

  • theAmericanist on January 31, 2012 11:47 AM:

    At the risk of respecting the other side (anathema 'round here), this is a typical text of what was read in all 18,000 American Catholic parishes, to roughly 15 million American Catholics yesterday (the 25% or so of the 65 million who show up for Sunday mass ever week):

    "I write to you today about a matter of great concern to us as faithful Catholics who also are committed to be good citizens of our great country. What makes our country great is that the United States was born out of a commitment to protect the rights of all its citizens, one of the most cherished of which is the right of religious liberty guaranteed by the First Amendment of the Constitution and the Bill of Rights. Sadly, recent events are clearly threatening that basic right.
    One week ago, the Federal Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) chose to uphold its mandate to require virtually all private health plans to include coverage for all FDA-approved prescription contraceptives, including abortion-inducing drugs, female sterilization procedures, and related patient education and counseling “for all women with reproductive capacity.”
    To demand that sterilization, abortifacients and contraception be included in all health plans---including those offered by Catholic institutions and employers---flies in the face of the very basic principle of our Constitution to respect the rights of citizens to not be forced to violate their own conscience.
    As Cardinal-elect Timothy M. Dolan, archbishop of New York and president of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops stated: “To force American citizens to choose between violating their consciences and forgoing their healthcare is literally unconscionable. It is as much an attack on access to health care as on religious freedom. Historically this represents a challenge and a compromise of our religious liberty.”
    As faithful Catholics, who are also good citizens, we should be deeply troubled at this alarming disregard for our rights. Unless the rule is overturned, Catholic employers---from parishes to hospitals to universities---will be compelled to either violate our consciences or to drop health coverage for our employees and suffer the penalties for doing so. The ruling’s only concession was to give our institutions one year to comply.
    I join with my brother bishops of the United States on this weekend, urging you to do three things. First, as a community of faith, we need to recommit ourselves to prayer with the hope that wisdom and justice may prevail, and religious liberty may be restored. Second, I would encourage you to learn more about this severe assault on religious liberty by visiting the USCCB website at www.usccb.org/conscience. Third, please voice your concern by contacting your Congressional representatives in support of legislation that would reverse the Administration’s decision.
    Asking God to give us the grace and to help each of us to remain strong in our faith and asking God’s blessings upon our great country to help it to hold fast to the principles which make us great, I am
    Faithfully yours in Christ,"

  • tamiasmin on January 31, 2012 3:13 PM:

    Perhaps applying the new HHS mandate to Catholic hospitals will prove unsustainable. I suspect that the Administration did not grant a one-year grace period in the expectation that the Catholic Church would come to accept the mandate within that time. A year allows the Church to fight it with all the legal and public relations weapons that it has, and that fight has already begun. I am content to let it play out. It may well end in the Supreme Court, and if it does, I am reasonably hopeful that the presence of six Catholic justices on the Court will not prejudice the outcome. However uncomfortable these conflicts make us, however unnecessary they may seem, they are the ordinary and customary way of settling questions in our diverse society and of forming a new understanding of rights and responsibilities. On the whole, I think that process has worked fairly well.

    The wholesale closing of Catholic institutions which has been cited here and the consequent loss of services which poor people depend on is, I suppose, a possibility. But since the bishops themselves do not mention it in their pastoral communication, I think it can be kept on the back burner for now. It is more likely that in extremis they would choose to disaffiliate rather than shut the hospitals down. After all, preferential regard for the poor is also a Catholic teaching, and one of the modern Church's truest works of grace.

    Religious liberty and the rights of conscience are values worth defending, whoever the defenders are. Of course, when the Church and its leaders were more closely wedded to secullar power than they are today, they were somewhat less solicitous of the consciences, or even the bodies, of non-adherents. I am glad that they have had a change of mind and heart, even if it is mostly in their own case.