Church Heavies – Roof of St. Peter’s, Vatican City 1993
Lots of verbiage has been spewed regarding the VP debates, and to be honest, there are very few voters who choose a president based on what a Veep says or doesn’t say. However, there was one statement that really bothered me, a secular person, and bothered others too, like The New Yorker’s Adam Gopnik:
But beyond the horseshit something genuinely disturbing and scary got said last night by Paul Ryan that is, I think, easily missed and still worth brooding over. It came in response to a solemn and, it seemed to some of us, inappropriately phrased question about the influence of the Catholic Church on both men’s positions on abortion. Inappropriately phrased because legislation is made for everyone, not specially for those of “faith.” (And one would have thought that, at this moment in its history, the Catholic Church would not have much standing when it comes to defining the relationship between sexual behavior and doctrinal morality. However few in number the sinners might be, the failure to deal with them openly casts doubt on the integrity of the institution.)
Paul Ryan did not say, as John Kennedy had said before him, that faith was faith and public service, public service, each to be honored and kept separate from the other. No, he said instead “I don’t see how a person can separate their public life from their private life or from their faith. Our faith informs us in everything we do.” That’s a shocking answer—a mullah’s answer, what those scary Iranian “Ayatollahs” he kept referring to when talking about Iran would say as well. Ryan was rejecting secularism itself, casually insisting, as the Roman Catholic Andrew Sullivan put it, that “the usual necessary distinction between politics and religion, between state and church, cannot and should not exist.” And he went on to make it quietly plain that his principles are uncompromising on this, even if his boss’s policy may not seem so:
All I’m saying is, if you believe that life begins at conception, that, therefore, doesn’t change the definition of life. That’s a principle. The policy of a Romney administration is to oppose abortion with exceptions for rape, incest and life of the mother. Our system, unlike the Iranians’, is not meant to be so total: it depends on making many distinctions between private life, where we follow our conscience into our chapel, and our public life, where we seek to merge many different kinds of conscience in a common space. Our faith should not inform us in everything we do, or there would be no end to the religious warfare that our tolerant founders feared.
The Founders of the United States were not infallible, they made several mistakes1 but one thing they were very clever about was removing religion from the state. I don’t want to live in Saudi Arabia, or 19th century Poland, or The Vatican, or anywhere where the law of the land is dictated by religious law. Paul Ryan very seriously intoned that if he were in charge, he would throw out 250 years of American tradition, and turn us into a Catholic-based theocracy, a scary place where the Pope would be in charge of our laws. If that isn’t a reason to vote for Biden-Obama, I don’t know what is.
one other thought, Mitt Romney’s religion is even more draconian – no alcohol, no caffeine, no contraceptives, etc. Is Romney ok with turning the US into a Mormon Republic?
at least to our modern society’s norms – slavery, rights of women to vote, rights of non-property owners, etc. [↩]
The whole contraception kerfuffle is such an obvious, partisan position by cynical Catholic Church officials and their allies in Congress, I wonder how can the Church maintain its non-profit, tax exempt status?
Gail Collins writes:
These days, parish priests tend to be much less judgmental about parishioners who are on the pill — the military was not the first institution in this country to make use of the “don’t ask, don’t tell” system. “In most parishes in the United States, we don’t find them preaching about contraception,” said Jon O’Brien of Catholics for Choice. “And it’s not as though in the Mass you have a question-and-answer period.”
You have heard, I’m sure, that the Catholic bishops are in an uproar over an Obama administration rule that would require Catholic universities and hospitals to cover contraceptives in their health care plans. The Republican presidential candidates are roaring right behind. Mitt Romney claimed the White House was trying to “impose a secular vision on Americans who believe that they should not have their religious freedom taken away.”
Let’s try to work this out in a calm, measured manner. (Easy for me to say. I already got my mother-in-law story off my chest.)
Catholic doctrine prohibits women from using pills, condoms or any other form of artificial contraception. A much-quoted study by the Guttmacher Institute found that virtually all sexually active Catholic women of childbearing age have violated the rule at one point or another, and that more than two-thirds do so consistently.
Here is the bishops’ response to that factoid: “If a survey found that 98 percent of people had lied, cheated on their taxes, or had sex outside of marriage, would the government claim it can force everyone to do so?”
O.K. Moving right along.
The church is not a democracy and majority opinion really doesn’t matter. Catholic dogma holds that artificial contraception is against the law of God. The bishops have the right — a right guaranteed under the First Amendment — to preach that doctrine to the faithful. They have a right to preach it to everybody. Take out ads. Pass out leaflets. Put up billboards in the front yard.
The problem here is that they’re trying to get the government to do their work for them. They’ve lost the war at home, and they’re now demanding help from the outside.
Right, if a Catholic women doesn’t want to use birth control, she doesn’t have to! Why make the rest of women follow the same rule?
Also worth noting, the loudest voices on this issue don’t seem to be as loud when discussing the Catholic Church’s anti-death penalty stance, or anti-war stance, or pro-immigrant stance. No, just the right of women to enjoy contraceptive options.
or as Markos “kos” Moulitsas puts it:
So to hear Republicans speak, President Barack Obama is waging a “war on religion” because of regulations requiring religious-affiliated hospitals to cover contraception for their employees. While the vast majority of denominations are cool with that, the Catholic bishops are throwing a hissy fit. You see, they are opposed to birth control because it encourages sex, and sex is only for procreation. Now most Catholics laugh at that nonsense, considering that 98 percent of sexually active Catholic women use birth control. Yet that hasn’t stopped the out-of-touch bishops from pressing ahead, and it certainly hasn’t stopped opportunistic Republicans from rallying to their defense, because, you see, opposing the bishops on this issue means a war on religion!
Wow. Got it. Problem is, under those standards, Republicans are waging quite the jihad of their own!
Republicans are waging war on the Pope by supporting the death penalty, immigrants, and poor people.
Fact is, on all these issues, as well as poverty relief, the DREAM Act, and many others, Republicans are severely at odds with the Catholic Church. Yet there is no talk about a Republican war on religion. Why? Because that notion is idiotic.
Oh, and because Fox News and a bunch of Republican presidential pretenders aren’t opportunistically fanning the flames.
Catholic leaders and the GOP presidential candidates have intentionally distorted the Obama administration’s new rule requiring employers and insurers to provide reproductive health benefits at no additional cost sharing. Conservatives are seeking a way to politically unite Republican voters around a social issue and portray the regulation as a big government intrusion into religious liberties. In reality, the mandate is modeled on existing rules in six states, exempts houses of worship and other religious nonprofits that primarily employ and serve people of faith, and offers employers a transitional period of one year to determine how best to comply with the rule. It’s also nothing new. Twenty-eight states already require organizations that offer prescription insurance to cover contraception and since 98 percent of Catholic women use birth control, many Catholic institutions offer the benefit to their employees. For instance, a Georgetown University spokesperson told ThinkProgress yesterday that employees “have access to health insurance plans offered and designed by national providers to a national pool. These plans include coverage for birth control.”
Linda Greenhouse, in the middle of a good, long article, points out:
An obvious starting point is with the 98 percent of sexually active Catholic women who, just like other American women, have exercised their own consciences and availed themselves of birth control at some point during their reproductive lives. So it’s important to be clear that the conscientious objection to the regulation comes from an institution rather than from those whose consciences it purports to represent. (Catholic women actually have a higher rate of abortion than other American women, but I’ll stick to birth control for now.) While most Catholics dissent in the privacy of their bedrooms from the church’s position, some are pushing back in public. The organization Catholics for Choice, whose magazine is pointedly entitled Conscience, is calling on its supporters to “tell our local media that the bishops are out of touch with the lived reality of the Catholic people” and “do not speak for us on this decision.”
But suppose the counter-factual – that only half, or one-quarter, or five percent of Catholic women use birth control. The question would remain: Whose conscience is it? The regulation doesn’t require anyone to use birth control. It exempts any religious employer that primarily hires and serves its own faithful, the same exclusion offered by New York and California from the contraception mandate in state insurance laws. (Of the other states that require such coverage, 15 offer a broader opt-out provision, while eight provide no exemption at all.) Permitting Catholic hospitals to withhold contraception coverage from their 765,000 employees would blow a gaping hole in the regulation. The 629-hospital Catholic health care system is a major and respected health care provider, serving one in every six hospital patients and employing nearly 14 percent of all hospital staff in the country. Of the top 10 revenue-producing hospital systems in 2010, four were Catholic. The San Francisco-based Catholic Healthcare West, the fifth biggest hospital system in the country, had $11 billion in revenue last year and treated 6.2 million patients.
These institutions, as well as Catholic universities – not seminaries, but colleges and universities whose doors are open to all – are full participants in the public square, receiving a steady stream of federal dollars. They assert – indeed, have earned – the right to the same benefits that flow to their secular peers. What they now claim is a right to special treatment: to conscience that trumps law.
But in fact, that is not a principle that our legal system embraces. Just ask Alfred Smith and Galen Black, two members of the Native American Church who were fired from their state jobs in Oregon for using the illegal hallucinogen peyote in a religious ceremony and who were then deemed ineligible for unemployment compensation because they had lost their jobs for “misconduct.” They argued that their First Amendment right to free exercise of religion trumped the state’s unemployment law.
In a 1990 decision, Employment Division v. Smith, the Supreme Court disagreed. Even a sincere religious motivation, in the absence of some special circumstance like proof of government animus, does not merit exemption from a “valid and neutral law of general applicability,” the court held. Justice Antonin Scalia wrote the opinion, which was joined by, among others, the notoriously left wing Chief Justice William H. Rehnquist.
The U.S. Supreme Court today turned down a request by Catholic Charities of New York to review a state court decision requiring insurance companies to include contraceptive coverage in drug benefit packages. The Court’s refusal to hear the case leaves in place a law that promotes women’s health and addresses gender discrimination while appropriately protecting religious freedom.
“Religiously affiliated organizations, such as Catholic Charities, that employ and serve people of diverse beliefs should not be able to discriminate against their female employees by refusing to cover basic health services,” said Louise Melling, Director of the American Civil Liberties Union Reproductive Freedom Project. “Religiously affiliated organizations that provide nonreligious services to the public must play by public rules.”
The law at issue, the Women’s Health and Wellness Act, requires insurance companies to cover women’s preventive health care, including mandating that insurance plans that cover prescription drugs do not exclude contraceptives from that coverage. The law exempts religious employers such as churches, mosques, and temples, whose main purpose is to promote a particular religious faith and who primarily employ and serve people who share their religious beliefs.
“This law ended the practice of treating birth control, which only women use, differently than other commonly used prescription drugs — a practice that contributed to disproportionately high health costs for women,” said Galen Sherwin, Director of the New York Civil Liberties Union Reproductive Rights Project. “The Supreme Court’s decision not to review the case ensures that the state of New York can continue to protect women from this form of discrimination.”
Among other things, I am morally opposed to money being spent on wars and capital punishment. And yet I am inexplicably forced to pay for these things through my taxes. And when I hire someone to work for me, I must pay a share of taxes for these things on their behalf as well. I demand that I be allowed a “conscience” exemption.
It truly does pain me to participate in these activities. I’m not kidding. But for some reason I’m forced to pay for many things the government does that appall me. But my conscience isn’t given any special dispensation. And the funny thing is that Catholics who believe as I do — and there are many — aren’t given any dispensation for those beliefs either. The only area where religion trumps citizenship is when it comes to private sexual behavior. Isn’t that odd?
Let’s stipulate at the outset that almost everyone on the right you hear talking about the issue of contraception coverage is cynically adopting this position for no other reason than they believe it to be a handy cudgel to bash the Obama administration. (One notable exception is Rick Santorum, who genuinely believes that contraception is wrong, since it unleashes our dirty, dirty thoughts and allows people to have sex without being punished for it. But Santorum is also pro-Crusades, so make of that what you will.) They may be right or wrong about the political wisdom of taking up this fight—a lot depends on whether the administration stands firm and makes sure everyone remembers that what we’re talking about is birth control, for goodness’ sake, something that outside the ranks of the celibate old men who run the Catholic Church is accepted by just about everyone, Catholics included. But we should keep in mind the principle for which conservatives are now arguing.
Their argument is that a large institution like a hospital or university, if it has a religious affiliation, should be able to pick and choose the laws it follows. In this case, remember, they aren’t being asked to use birth control or dispense birth control; all that’s required is that the insurance coverage they provide their employees include birth control (free of charge). That’s the law, as it was passed in the Affordable Care Act. But the Catholic bishops don’t like the law, so they don’t want to follow it. According to this principle, religiously affiliated hospitals or universities would be able to ignore any other law as well. Let’s say they decided that they didn’t like minimum wage laws. They could say that their “conscience” forbids them from paying the janitors and cafeteria workers they employ more than $2 an hour, and it’s their prerogative to ignore the minimum wage if they like. After the hospital paints its exterior, it could dump the leftover paint in a nearby river in violation of environmental laws—hey, our scriptures say God gave us dominion over the earth, so too bad.