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The irresistible force of modern ‘rights’ meets the immovable object of the Catholic Church

President Obama’s contraception mandate has opened a new front in the culture war

By on Wednesday, 23 May 2012

Obama Birth Control

On January 27 this year, I blogged about the furore in the US caused by the announcement of the Department of Health and Human Services that it will become mandatory for all employers to provide their employees with health insurance policies for contraceptive services, including sterilization and abortifacient drugs. In effect, this would mean that hundreds of religious colleges, hospitals, schools and charities would now be required to provide insurance coverage for their employees for practices they believe to be wrong and contrary to their beliefs.

This has predictably led to determined opposition from religious institutions, including Catholics ones. In her blog for May 21, Sheila Liaugminas, a US political commentator, says that 43 Catholic institutions have now joined a dozen law suits against the Obama administration for its so-called “contraceptive mandate” and are challenging the constitutional legality of the new requirement.

Among them are Notre Dame University, the Archdiocese of New York and the Catholic University of America. Cardinal Timothy Dolan, Archbishop of New York and President of the US Bishops’ Conference, has issued this statement: “We have tried negotiation with the Administration and legislation with the Congress…but there’s still no fix. Time is running out and our valuable ministries and fundamental rights hang in the balance, so we have to resort to the courts now…We applaud this courageous action by so many individual dioceses, charities, hospitals and schools across the nation…It is also a compelling display of the unity of the Church in defence of religious liberty.”

Interestingly, the mandate has managed that rare thing: to unite liberal and orthodox groups within the Church. Fr John Jenkins, the President of Notre Dame, was at pains to explain that their law suit was not against a woman’s right to use contraception: “Many of our faculty, staff and students – both Catholic and non-Catholic – have made conscientious decisions to use contraceptives” he said, adding that “As we assert the right to follow our conscience, we respect their right to follow theirs. And we believe that, if the Government wishes to provide such services, means are available that do not compel religious organisations to serve as its agents.”

Fr Terence Henry TOR, President of Franciscan University, stated that “the Obama administration’s mandate is a grave threat to our ability to carry out [our] mission. It makes it impossible for us to operate freely s a Catholic institution without overbearing and invasive governmental interference.” And the Archdiocese of Washington made it clear that the law suit “is about an unprecedented attack by the federal government on one of America’s most precious freedoms: the freedom to practise one’s religion without government interference.” It emphasised that “It is not about whether people have access to certain services; it is about whether the Government may force religious institutions and individuals to facilitate and fund services which violate their religious beliefs.”

Kathleen Sebelius, secretary to the Department of Health and Human Services, who is pushing forward the mandate, describes herself as a Catholic. In reality, she is “modern woman”, just as Barack Obama himself is “modern man” – part of a powerful cohort today, largely in the West, who has no fixed principles of any kind, except for the fixed principle that all morality is simply a matter of individual rights and choices; and that these rights must trump all other rights, especially those hallowed by traditional religious beliefs. For such people, truth is simply a matter of one’s personal feelings and preferences; and “Christianity”, as they see it (and as Obama has invoked it recently), can be reinterpreted and moulded to accommodate whatever flawed and a-historical zeitgeist happens to be dominant.

It will be interesting to see what happens in this case, when the irresistible force of modern, democratic “rights” meets the immovable object of the Catholic Church.

  • JabbaPapa

    Repeating the same fallacies 100 times makes them no more convincing than the first time that you make them — and a tiresome monologue is not a “discussion”.

    Can you please STOP this spamming ?

    It’s not as if anybody failed to understand your point of view, is it …

  • Lazarus

    So it is compulsion, but is justified…? Is that what you’re saying? (That would be a coherent point of view, but at least come out and say it so it can be challenged directly.)

    (Once you’ve done that, you can then try and explain how Catholic institutions simply trying to preserve the status quo against state innovations is ‘a clear overreach’, but let’s at least get one point clarified in your fog of argument.)

  • Lazarus

    A misapprehension shared by BPAS apparently: 
    ‘How does the Emergency Contraceptive Pill Work?The emergency contraceptive pill mainly works by preventing or delaying the release of an egg from the ovary (ovulation).  It may also affect the lining of the womb so a fertilised egg cannot settle there.’ 

    Since life begins at fertilization, this is killing a human being.

    Are BPAS (hardly the most pro-Catholic organization in the UK) also wrong?

  • aearon43

    Ok, I suppose in some sense they are imposing their religious beliefs.  Religious liberty does not mean that one has the right to be free from all religious expression everywhere. In the US, it means primarily two things: 1. the state cannot establish an official religion, and 2. the state cannot prevent valid expressions of religious belief.

    The US Constitution does not apply to employers, it applies to the state. Religious employers are given wide berth in US law to manage their organizations according to their beliefs. Please see the recent Hosana v. Tabor case which was decided 9-0 in favor of religious hiring rights. Also check out this clip:

    Again, under American law, religious liberty is something that prevents the state from interfering. It simply does not apply to private employers. All employers are quite free to, for example, have every employee take an oath of fidelity to the pope, and they are free to not hire anyone who doesn’t want to sign it. No one has the right to work at a Catholic institution in the first place, much less the right to receive certain benefits having been hired.

  • EdinburghEye

     I thiink that protecting religious liberty is important, don’t you?

    The status quo in the US is for religious liberty for the individual, protected by the Federal government, the Supreme Court, and the US Constitution. These Catholic institutions are attempting to override the status quo and make use of the Federal Government to enforce their religious wishes on their employees. This, they cannpt be allowed to do.

    I can’t see why you find that “foggy”. Surely we both agree that religious liberty is important?

  • EdinburghEye

    In what way is it any of an employer’s business what their employees use their health insurance for? The right of an employee to free choice must be protected. 

    If a Catholic employer demands the right to control how their employees use their health insurance, in the name of religion and regardless of the faith of the employee, why shouldn’t they then demand the right to control how their employees spend their wages?

  • EdinburghEye

    . Contraceptives do still cost something

    But they cost less than paying for the health costs of pregnancy. Which is why the insurance companies charge more for an insurance plan that doesn’t cover contraceptives.

    The Church does not want to pay for contraceptives at all,

    The Church is not paying for contraceptives. It is paying for health insurance. It is the free choice of the employee to decide if they will follow Church doctrine or not.

  • EdinburghEye

     Do you think the Church wants employers to be unable to provide contraception?

    As an employer, yes: that’s surely the point of this argument?

    but it really does sound like you don’t understand what’s actually happening.

    I’m genuinely confused why anyone would think that an attempt by an employer to enforce their religious beliefs on employees could possibly in any world be described as protecting religious liberty.

  • EdinburghEye

     The only thing that could get struck down by the courts is the federal mandate.

    Sorry if I misspoke. The Court could and will declare that the federal mandate is constitutional because it protects the religious liberty of “We the People” against the attempted encroachment of employers who don’t like the idea that employees shall be free to opt out of their employers religious’s beliefs.

  • EdinburghEye

     Edin, it is common for American employers to provide some type of health coverage, usually also paid for in part by employees


    It’s a very bad, patchy system – a universal healthcare system would obviously be much better. But it is the system in the US.

    And it does not appear that the Catholic Church as an employer is objecting to paying for health insurance – only to the idea that employees have religious liberty & free will to decide for themselves how to use it.

    The costs of pregnancy you mention can likewise be avoided simply by abstaining from sex.

    An employer has no right to demand that an employee, married or unmarried, lead a celibate life: that is an unwarranted interference in an employee’s personal life.

  • EdinburghEye

     I suppose in some sense they are imposing their religious beliefs.

    Thank you for acknowledging that.

    Religious liberty does not mean that one has the right to be free from all religious expression everywhere.

    Of course not! Religious liberty means each individual has the right to decide for themselves about religious doctrine.

  • JabbaPapa

    It ALSO means that distinct groups of people have the collective prerogative of doing so too.

  • JabbaPapa

    This is because you do not understand “religious liberty”, by virtue of your failure to understand religion in the first place.

    It is not possible to understand the meaning of any adjective derived from any noun that is not itself understood.

  • JabbaPapa

    The subject of religion is not employer/employee relationships, nor is it “thirty pieces of silver“.

  • EdinburghEye

     Of course not, and there is nothing in Catholic teaching which encourages that

    Perhaps you should point that out to Athelstane, who just downthread is claiming that Catholic teaching does encourage bullying by telling kids their parents are “abnormal”.

  • EdinburghEye

    …the facts?

    What else would you teach in biology class?

  • Isabel Wood

    As far as I understand it, the difference between the two is that an organisation has no right to restrict the moral decisions of individuals, but the government DOES have to right to restrict the moral decisions of the institution when the institution is acting as a secular employer.

    Basically, when an organisation becomes an employer, they are bound by the same legal rules as all employers, they cannot mix and match.

    It is totally optional to be a member of a religion, and if you have chosen to be Catholic it would be assumed that you would follow the rules. The point is that just because a person works for a Catholic organisation does not mean that they themselves are Catholics, the job market doesn’t work like that. When a nurse accepts a job at a hospital they do not sign away their rights to the same healthcare that other employers provide just because the hospital happens to be Catholic. Some people might really want to work for religious employers, but it would be foolish in the extreme to say that everybody has the choice.

  • EdinburghEye

     So little kids should be encouraged to “divide and rule” – some kids taught their parents are abnormal, other kids taught that their friends’ parents are “abnormal”?

  • EdinburghEye

     So is Athelstane, apparently.

  • EdinburghEye

    Employers are not paying for contraception directly: they are paying for health insurance.

    What is at issue here is an employee’s right to make use of their health insurance coverage according to their beliefs, not their employers’.

  • JessicaHof

    No, that was not what he wrote. I can’t tell whether it is reading or comprehension which causes you most difficulty; whichever, it certainly derives your posts of any utility beyond the coconut shy.

  • JessicaHof

    No, that is not what he said. Please show me where he said he is in favour of kids bullying anyone. You do make these things up, don’t you?

  • Isabel Wood

    They get taught about human reproduction. Sexual reproduction isn’t a moral issue, it’s about biological processes. 

    However is a sex education/PSHE class, they are teaching children about how sex works in relation to them, and their lives, and there is A LOT of non-reproductive sexual activity that these children will engage in (whether they are taught about it or not), and it’s only sensible that they have the opportunity to talk about these things openly, learn about STI transmission, what can ACTUALLY get you pregnant etc etc. Of course, I don’t agree that any moral judgements should be made in this class, but children DO need to learn about these things. 

    After all, they are going to realise that gays exist, not teaching them about it will only make them ignorant about something which is a visible part of everyday life. 

  • EdinburghEye

     Actually, that is exactly what is being proposed.


    The proposal currently on offer is:

    1) The Federal government intends to require all employers who provide health insurance to provide a basic, inexpensive standard of care that allows every individual woman employee to have the free choice of whether to use contraception or not.

    2) The Catholic Church want the Federal government on their side: they want the right to pay extra in order to get health insurance plans that do not allow women who work for organisations run by the Church to choose for themselves whether or not to follow Church doctrine on contraception.

    I don’t want to quibble with you over percents, but it’s clear that the Catholic Church knows that the vast majority grassroots Catholics do not follow Church doctrine about contraception – or they wouldn’t be insisting on paying a premium to ensure that they can’t,

    Doctrine does, eventually, change according to the grassroots belief rather than the will of the hierarchy. An overwhelming majority of Catholics believe it is no sin to use contraception, How many decades before that means a Pope is elected who grew up knowing that no Catholic he knew regarded contraception as a sin?

    Once, it was a heresy to question that the Sun went round the Earth.

  • EdinburghEye

     Then the Catholic Church should not be trying to make it about that, should they?

  • EdinburghEye

     But not to enforce their collective decision anyone else!

  • Lazarus

    ‘As far as I understand it, the difference between the two is that an organisation has no right to restrict the moral decisions of individuals, but the government DOES have to right to restrict the moral decisions of the institution when the institution is acting as a secular employer.’
    And what is your understanding based on? The table talk of Pol Pot? The wit and wisdom of Stalin? It is precisely this abdication of moral responsibility to the infallible state that is at the root of the worst tyrannies of the modern age. The preservation of an individual’s rational, conscientious moral reflection in the face of overwhelming state power ought to be one of the building blocks of modern democracy. That this is being forgotten in the US and elsewhere in the west is truly terrifying.

  • JabbaPapa

    What ? 20 pieces of silver instead of 30 ?

    What a bargain !!!

  • JabbaPapa

    You’re obviously not very good at understanding biological reality, are you…

    Want to try birds and bees first ? Before moving onwards to mummies and daddies ?

  • JabbaPapa

    Facts :

    Two men produce zero babies.

    Two women produce zero babies.

  • Lazarus

    Yes, I think that religious liberty is important. Now answer my question: is forcing a Catholic institution to do what it regards as a serious act of immorality an exercise of compulsion or not?

  • JabbaPapa

    We aren’t.

    You are.

  • JabbaPapa

    I think that protecting religious liberty is important

    No you don’t.

  • EdinburghEye

     We aren’t.

    *sigh* Suggest you re-read the OP.

  • EdinburghEye

     there is nothing in Catholic teaching which encourages that

    Then those primary school classes are fully accordance with Catholic teaching – what were you complaining about?

  • EdinburghEye

     What does this have to do with teaching primary school kids to respect every loving family as a normal family?

  • EdinburghEye

     Interesting. Upthread you say that this isn’t about the money, here you say it is.

  • EdinburghEye

    If you regard religious liberty as important, why is it not important to you that the federal government in the US protect the religious liberty of each individual against any organisation or employer trying to override that religious liberty?

    Now answer my question: is forcing a Catholic institution to do what it
    regards as a serious act of immorality an exercise of compulsion or not?

    Why should a Catholic institution regard paying for employee health insurance as a “serious act of immorality”?  What is “immoral” about health insurance?

  • EdinburghEye

     Because I’ve spent this entire thread argiing for the religious liberty of individuals, you think this means I don’t regard it as important?

    How odd.

    I refer you to the thread on losing arguments with atheists.

  • EdinburghEye

      it’s still not clear how this is a religious liberty issue

    Because the Church is claiming as a right of religious belief to deny the choice of using contraception.

    This makes it a religious liberty issue rather than, if they were Republicans, a simple misogynist issue.

    Or, read the original post. Francis Philip certainly understood this to be a “religious liberty” issue, even though she’s taking the position that the religious liberty of individuals does not matter.

  • JessicaHof

    No they are not. Catholic teaching is that homosexual behaviour is sinful, but we must treat homosexual people with compassion and kindness. If you are, as you are, unable to justify your claim that Catholic teaching encourages bullying, a decent and honourable poster would withdraw the charge; I shall watch with interest, but little hope, whether you do that.

  • JessicaHof

    Jabba – he has an axe to grind, and grinding it  he is.

  • JessicaHof

    You keep missing the point. No one is saying that people should not be respected – but if you try teaching classes on sexual reproduction maintaining that gay sex is as valid for this process as the heterosexual version, you are teaching nonsense.

  • Recusant

    This is false. Many Catholic institutions in the US self-insure, that is pay the bills without an underwriter. These will have to pay directly for contraception.

    While I admire your persistence and refusal to apply logic to facts, let me try to pin you down on a couple of issues :

    1. Consider an employee who does not wish to be covered for contraception by her employer for religious reasons. Under the mandate, how will her religious liberty be respected?

    2. Since we have established that nobody at present is denied access to contraception (they merely have to bear the cost of their choice, as is entirely reasonable), yet the freedom of Catholic employers will be restricted by mandate, you must surely agree that freedom is being reduced for no gain?

  • Recusant

    The problem with this argument is that there is no limit on its application. What are the limits to the rules a government has authority to make? Can the government mandate that every employer provide a lunch canteen with a meat option? This would seriously offend a vegetarian employer, who would have to bend the knee to government authority. People retain liberty to decide what contractual obligations to enter, whether the government agrees with them or not. Religious communities are merely collections of individuals who retain these liberties, and the government has no authority to force them to perform an action (eg paying for contraceptives) with which they disagree.

  • Recusant

    This is not true (why does virtually every posy of yours contain a whopper?). Organisations that self-insure pay the bills directly. 

    And contraceptives belong in an insurance plan about as much as a car service belongs on my auto-insurance. If I choose when to make use of the product it is not insurance as there is no element of contingency.

  • theroadmaster

    A religious institution no matter whom it employs, is fully protected by the !st Amendment, in regards to protection from state interference in regards to it’s ethos.  This Amendment makes no fine distinction between priest or lay-person in it’s employ and thus your point is cancelled out by it.

  • EdinburghEye

     You, further down, where the thread got narrow: No one is saying that people should not be respected

    The people in British Columbia who oppose little kids in primary school being taught that everybody’s loving families are equal and as good as each other – regardless of whether they’re gay parents or lesbian parents or single parents or whatever – are saying that “these people” should not be respected.

    - there are required classes for primary school kids to teach them that homosexuality is normal, and on par with heterosexuality. True, many people believe this, but now that point of view is, in fact, being forced down the throats of Catholics. Even if my friend does not believe this, she has to send her kids to these classes. They are not optional.

    Yes. Because teaching kids to love and respect everybody’s families is not optional.

    This is where a lot of people get mixed up. They hear “TEACHING CHILDREN ABOUT HOMOSEXUALITY!!” and they leap INSTANTLY to the idea that first-graders are going to hear about SEX.

    But for first-graders, “teaching about homosexuality” isn’t about sex -it’s about other kids’ parents.

    Bob and Jack have two adopted kids; Susan and Jeffrey have three kids from their previous marriages and a fourth adopted; Lucy and Mary have two children  via a gay male donor who’s a family friend and both children call him “Uncle David”. 

    YOU, as a good Catholic, may not approve of any of these adult relationships.

    But all the kids need to know is that some of their classmates have two daddies, some have two mummies, some have a mummy and a daddy, some have … etc. What  the kids need to be taught in school, and parents have no business interfering, is that all of these families, if they’re loving and kind, are equal to each other and equally deserving of respect.

    The idea (downthread) that FIRST you begin with teaching the kids basic reproductive biology? Well, you can if you like but first grade seems awfully young to be learning that in school.  I would stick to teachig love and respect for everybody’s families – and I’m really at a loss why you think that’s not a Christian thing to do.

  • EdinburghEye

     Organisations that self-insure pay the bills directly.

    Then it would seem to make sense for Catholic organisations to not “self-insure”, wouldn’t it?

    They’d probably get a better deal with large-group insurance anyway,

    (why does virtually every posy of yours contain a whopper?).

    Why does virtually every comment of yours to me contain an insult?

  • EdinburghEye

    It is precisely this abdication of moral responsibility to the infallible state

    How is it “abdication of moral responsibility” for the state to protect each individual’s right to make their own moral decisions?

    Surely the “abdication of moral responsibility” is when you advocate that an institution, your employer, should make your moral decisions for you and enforce them on you.

    The preservation of an individual’s rational, conscientious moral
    reflection in the face of overwhelming state power ought to be one of
    the building blocks of modern democracy.


    That’s precisely why employers can’t be allowed to override their employees’ “rational, conscientious moral
    reflection” .The employer may not agree with an individual’s decision to use contraception, but it would abrogate the employee’s freedom to rationally, conscientiously, reflect and decide for themselves if the employer were granted the rights the Catholic Church is demanding.

    Contraception is a specific example. The right to decide, to take the moral responsibility, is the core issue. That’s what I said at the start of the thread, and really, I find you actually agree with me!