As I was reading commentary about this on various websites, it wasn't Republican Congresspersons who convinced me, unsurprisingly. They apparently aren't worried about the votes of centrist women, or centrist men who care about women's issues. They aren't even making a stab at acknowledging that we as a society have an interest in seeing that women have as much access as possible to comprehensive health care. I would think that even apolitical, moderate citizens, if they don't have a religious objection to birth control, are likely to see that there are a couple of opposing interests to be weighed here, so I don't know why Republicans aren't giving that thought the time of day. No, they went straight to: this is a secular attack from an unholy socialist President, intent on suppressing religion in the US. Their infuriating hyperbole embarrasses them - they don't need it here, so what's the point? They needed hyperbole to make people think the Obama "War on Christmas" is bad, because it isn't real, so hyperbole is all they have. But since this is a real issue, I don't know why they feel they have to resort to the "War on Religion" rhetoric. Yuck.
What actually confirmed my immediate gut feeling that this would be a clear violation of the separation of church and state was the rationale for the rule provided by people on the left. A piece of Kevin Drum's blog on Mother Jones sums up the argument. (My comments are in brackets.):
"(I) support the Obama administration's decision to require health care plans to cover contraception, as well as its decision to permit only a very narrow exemption for religious organizations. (Here's why.)
- In any case like this, you have to look at two separate issues: (1) How important is the secular public purpose of the policy? And (2) how deeply held is the religious objection to it?
- On the first issue, I'd say that the public purpose here is pretty strong. Health care in general is very clearly a matter of broad public concern; treating women's health care on a level playing field with men's is, today, a deep and widely-accepted principle; and contraception is quite clearly critical to women's health. Making it widely and easily available is a legitimate issue of public policy.
(back to Drum's quote)]
- "On the second issue, I simply don't believe that the religious objection here is nearly as strong as critics are making it out to be. As I've mentioned before, even the vast majority of Catholics (underline his) don't believe that contraception is immoral. Only the formal church hierarchy does."
The latter statement provides a precise example of why government has to stay out of religion. The number of people within a religion's ranks who practice what their leaders preach has nothing to do with the law. And he displays an ignorance of a piece of Catholic culture that is important here. (Why wouldn't he be ignorant of it, but that's why the public should be hands off with the private.)
Individual members of a religion - even lots of them - may feel out of sync with the hierarchy's teachings, but they should still be able to expect their church to have full legal protections. There is probably scarcely a religious tenet that isn't questioned, opposed, or just not followed by some of the members of its church. Whose business is that, and what does it have to do with respecting the legal rights of that church?
For Catholics, coming to grips with the most conservative teachings of their church in real life application is not a new question. I come from a family of eight. As much as that is a reflection of Catholic teachings being followed, the fact that I don't come from a family of twelve reflects that (thankfully!) at some point my parents obviously did not follow the Churches teachings. (The old joke was, what do you call people that use the rhythm method? Parents.) Catholic teachings oppose divorce, too, but Catholics do get divorced. These are things we have to leave up to them to work out.
Regardless of what my readers think about how individual Catholics work out their faith in their own lives, the law says their church has a right to practice its teachings. I am not a religious person, and I am pro-choice and certainly pro-contraception. But I have to admit to some respect for the consistency of the Catholic belief system about the sanctity of life. They are steadfastly opposed to the taking of any life as they define it. I personally have different views about when a fetus becomes a person, and whether a person has a right to choose to die, and other such specifics. But what I'm saying is, they are so devoted to this concept that it is central to their beliefs, and it is consistent. They are against the death penalty, against the killing of enemy combatants that don't present an imminent threat, and only accept war in a self-defense capacity. What of individual Catholics practicing birth control? That is personal, very personal. I can guarantee you something: while it may be difficult for a practicing Catholic, working for a Catholic employee, to have to get a hold of their own birth control, not on the company's dime, you will have a hard time finding Catholics who want these employers to be compelled to offer it. It will be in those numbers that you will see the mistake the left is making in trying to argue, "no trust me, this is what these people want, most of them use birth control anyway."
Again, I need to take some time to look at this recent reversal on Obama's part. I was going to change this post drastically in light of it, but I have a feeling there will be a few more rounds before it's settled, so I will post this part for now. I think he made a huge blunder politically, and I'm not sure the reversal solves anything yet. I hope I am overestimating what a problem it will be, but it's going to be at least an ugly fight.
If this revision doesn't solve anything for the Catholic leadership, I hope we will keep working on it. There is some real compromise that could happen here. Would the church be willing to provide an allowance for discretionary health spending? Sort of like a flexible spending account, but not out-of-pocket? Or would the state be willing to partner with employees' current providers to defray the cost of birth control for employees of exempted institutions? We can make it work.
I'm off to research the revision - hopefully it provides the compromise we need. Look for an update soon.