"Should Catholic Employers Be Exempted From Paying For Health Insurance Covering Contraception?"

If you were reading Camels With Hammers regularly before we made the move to Freethought Blogs, you would have frequently been treated to the long, insightful, and vigorously argued comments of my friend Mary. Mary is a Roman Catholic and is politically liberal in many (but not all) respects. We met when I was a graduate student at Fordham University chaperoning out of state trips for the Fordham University Rose Hill mock trial team. Mary was on the team. She has since graduated and become a theology graduate student.

On Facebook she recently posted with approval an article from a Catholic Democrat angry over Obama administration requirements that the Catholic Church pay for insurance plans for employees that include contraception coverage whenever it hires both Catholics and non-Catholics alike as part of running universities, hospitals, social service agencies, or any other publicly accessible institutions with non-exclusively religious purposes. (At my recommendation Ophelia Benson responded to the article nicely at Butterflies and Wheels.)

Essentially, when the Catholic Church employs or serves non-Catholics and performs non-religious functions, it needs to offer all the same rights and protections that non-religious institutions are required to provide. Some Catholics, including some left-leaning ones, are up in arms alleging that this is tantamount to a violation of their rights to free exercise of religion. Mary is one of those outraged Catholics.

On the other hand, secularists, such as I, argue that governmental rules like these protect the consciences (which includes the religious consciences) of employees and the public. If a Protestant or a Jew or an atheist takes employment to teach or practice medicine at a Catholic institution, this should not interfere with her ability to get access to the contraception she needs in order to regulate her reproductive life according to her own conscience. The rights of conscience of particular Catholics, and of the Catholic Church collectively to believe and worship as it wishes, should not extend to a right to encumber the free exercise of conscience of everyone who they employ for non-religious functions. This is intrusive and authoritarian. If the Roman Catholic Church wants its employees—even the non-Catholic ones—to honor its moral dictates then it should trust them to freely obey.

Finally, I have been employed by Roman Catholic universities since 2000 (sometimes even working at two at a time). I studied for ten years at Fordham and received my doctorate there. The entire time I was there I was an atheist. I have happily never suffered the slightest discrimination. Not only was I free to write a dissertation which was highly critical of Christianity, I have received several valuable publishing opportunities from one of the department’s few Jesuit priest philosophers. My criticisms are on principle and do not come from any special animus or inherent suspicions of mainstream Roman Catholic institutions’ theoretical abilities to provide non-religious services to non-Catholics.

Mary and I have debated the merits of our respective positions and below is part one of our three part exchange:

Daniel Fincke: Could you please explain the positions of prominent Catholic leaders in the current political discourse about the application of the Affordable Care Act as it pertains to Catholic institutions, and explain why you agree or disagree with particular points?

Mary: Well, I do hesitate to speak on behalf of prominent Catholic leaders. The average “liberal” Catholic isn’t really reading Bishop Dolan’s blog. But I think that the best summation of it is in a press release from the Archdiocese of Philadelphia, “Bishops and lay Catholic leaders across the United States have made it clear that we cannot comply with this unjust law without compromising our convictions and undermining the Catholic identity of many of our service ministries. This is not just another important issue among the many we need to be concerned about. This ruling is different. This ruling interferes with the basic right of Catholic citizens to organize and work for the common good as Catholics in the public square.”

And if I were to speak for what other people I know, other concerned Catholics, think on the issue it’s that the teaching against birth control is a long-standing teaching in the Catholic Church that is directly related to important issues regarding dignity of life. Many of those Catholics, like myself, would like to see a serious dialogue within the Church about its position on birth control and, God willing, a serious editing of those beliefs. But for most Catholics it’s less about the content of the teaching of birth control and more about the fact that the government is forcing Catholic institutions, though not employees of parishes, to provide it.

Daniel Fincke: Provide birth control or provide insurance plans which cover birth control?

Mary: To alter their insurance plans in such a way that provides the birth control pill to be used for contraceptive purposes.

My fundamental disagreement with the issue lies in that dichotomy – that my priests and their secretaries get to continue to use their insurance plans as they are because they cater to a Catholic community and do “religious” work, but the teachers who teach at the adjoining elementary school are subject to the change. I think it is a terribly narrow definition of religious and religious activity. No Church, especially no Catholic Church, could ever submit to a definition of religion that is confined to masses and funerals.

I also think I should lay my cards on the table – I know very few people actually employed by a religious institution – at least very few well enough to talk about insurance benefits. So whether or not certain dioceses provide birth control or not, I really don’t know. I imagine some do.

Daniel Fincke: That’s not true that no church could submit for legal or practical purposes to a definition of religion that is confined to distinctly religious functions like masses, funerals, and distinctly religious teachings. There is nothing inherently religious about teaching or practicing medicine or arranging adoptions.

These are strictly speaking religiously neutral activities except in the case of specifically theological teaching—and even that is only religious in character when approached a certain way. The Catholic Church fully understands this in practice otherwise they would not regularly hire non-Catholics to perform these functions. If they are religious functions, they would require Catholics to perform them—just as catechism classes and funerals and masses need to be presided over by Catholics. Also Churches want to claim a secular function that legitimizes government subsidies for their charity work. If there is no separation in principle from a church’s secular and religious functions then the government is funding religion by giving grants or other advantages to putatively public (not religious) services done by churches.

Mary: I think the question of government subsidy is an important one. A part of me would love to see the government stop subsidizing religious charities if for not other reason then I could stop hearing atheists bring it up. But another part of me recognizes that the government subsidizes any private charity, religious or not, because that charity performs services in a certain way that saves the government time and money. But I do think the government should reevaluate its subsidy of religious charities.

It’s very hard for me to answer these criticisms without waxing theological because the answers seem deeply obvious to me on a theological level but that’s not at all what we’re doing here so I’ll try not to.

Daniel Fincke: That’s because part of living in a pluralistic, non-theocratic, civil society with secular laws means bracketing one’s personal theologies or conceptions of the good where respect for other institutions is necessary. You need to think in secular civil terms when in the secular, civil sphere—regardless of how you want to square that with what you privately hold theologically.

Mary: 50 years ago, there would have been almost no non-Catholic employees at the average Church-related institution, even universities. The majority of university faculty were male religious and there were few, though very few, non-Catholic employees. The regular hiring of non-Catholic employees came with two related things: the transforming of schools away from being owned and operated by religious orders to being owned and operated by lay boards of trustees that still retained religious and Vatican II which overturned centuries of Church teaching and gave a teaching on religious freedom.

This religious freedom teaching allowed many institutions, especially the Catholic university, the ability to dialogue with, engage with and work with people who weren’t Catholic. It’s a lot easier for a Jew to teach at a Catholic school when Catholics no longer call him a “Christ killer” by way of official Church teaching.

But this change didn’t come because suddenly Catholic universities recognized that they were participating in a public function that was distinct from Church ministry or that their university functions were no longer “religious” but that a serious theological shift took place within the Church that redefined how Catholics are expected to engage non-Catholics.

But Catholic universities and hospitals still maintained deep commitments, stated in mission statements and other ways, to working *as* the Church in the world.

Daniel Fincke: The theological reasoning process by which Catholicism opened up to modernity should not be determinative of secular law though. Once the Church decides to engage with outsiders and participate more inclusively with the rest of civil society, it cannot dictate all the terms of that interaction. The consciences of the non-Catholics it invites into its institutions matter also.

Mary: But every Church activity is a private one insofar as the Church only dictates the values of its own religious institutions. It would be an “imposition” if the Church forced its views on an atheist organization. It’s imposing its religious views on its own institutions. But I would like to address what you said about consciences – I think that is an extremely important issue.

Daniel Fincke: It is an imposition if the Church forces its views on its atheist employees too. Just because this is happening in a private university or hospital does not mean that public laws should not apply. And if the new law requires employees’ rights to contraception to be respected, the Catholic Church has no right to impose on the consciences of atheists, Protestants, Jews, or whomever else wants that right fulfilled. Private organizations are not lawless.

Even were the Church to employ only Catholics and serve only Catholics in a hospital, say, they should not be exempt from controls to make sure their medical practices are legitimate. People have rights of conscience against their Churches too. Religious people should not be forced to surrender basic rights of equal protection. For example, if a Catholic woman suffering domestic abuse were employed by a Catholic hospital, the hospital should not have the right to fire her if she gets a divorce against Catholic teaching which forbids them. Basic employee protections are in place to protect such abuses from private institutions, churches included. It is this arrogance and authoritarianism of the Church which thinks of itself as totally unfettered in administering the law within its institutions that is responsible for the entire decades or centuries of abuse of children with impunity. This attitude that Catholics are the property of the Catholic Church for it to dictate to them against their consciences without complaint is anti-democratic and must not be catered to by a secular, pluralistic society built on freedom of conscience.

Mary: Ok, allow me to answer your points. There’s nothing worse than the “well they don’t have to work there if they don’t like it!” argument. Especially in academia, jobs are so hard to come by that it would certainly not be indicative of religious charity in any way to say that someone should just pack up and find somewhere else to work – a somewhere that might not exist. But when any professor goes to work for any private school, or a doctor at a hospital, you are introduced to the “mission” of the school. So I’m sure in your employment at Fordham and Fairfield you were told of the explicitly religious mission of those schools that still maintained deep commitments to freedom of speech, anti-discrimination (in a perfect world) whatever. Now you are deeply hostile to religion and still chose to teach there, something I’m sure came from a place of discernment and you followed your conscience in teaching at both of those schools. I respect that choice in anyone.

Now anyone who knows anything about Catholic teaching it’s that Catholic teaching seems to hate the idea of anyone controlling birth and abortion. So there should be no thought in anyone’s mind that that institution would go out of its way, in any way, to provide either of those services. Some people understand this as an inconvenience and a burden and other people are deeply offended by the Church’s teaching on these issues. I think anyone deeply offended by the Church’s teaching on those issues who still works in that place is violating his or her conscience immediately. I would never teach or work at Ave Maria University, Christendom College, Franciscan or Thomas Aquinas College because I am deeply at odds with the missions of those schools. If Catholic feelings toward contraception were secretive and only revealed after an employee started working there, I could understand, but no one should be surprised if Notre Dame doesn’t provide birth control for contraceptive purposes.

And people, do, indeed, have conscience rights against Churches. They’re exercised all the time. 98% of Church going Catholics use methods of birth control considered sinful by their Church. Catholics divorce at a rate as high as all other religious organizations and atheists. Catholics get abortions. The Church doesn’t follow people around asking them what they do and the conscience is supposed to be respected. Unfortunately, it isn’t always respected. The nun who was excommunicated for allowing an emergency abortion to be performed is a great example – that woman did what she thought was the right thing to do and was punished for it and it was in no way right.

And I agree that the authoritarian attitude of the Church is so dangerous and harmful. The sexual abuse scandal that ran rampant for 40 years and, to this day, has hardly been sufficiently punished by civil authorities is just one example of that. Reading some of the case files of how priests used judges with Catholic sympathies to have their charges dismissed are so disturbing it makes you want to kill yourself, frankly.

But this isn’t the Church telling it’s employees that if they use birth control they’ll be fired or if they get divorced they’ll be fired – but that they won’t provide the service because it’s contrary to their teaching. I think that’s an important distinction.

Daniel Fincke: But why does being employed by an institution make you subject to its “teaching” in ways that restrict your own abilities to pursue your own reproductive freedom? Should CEOs arbitrarily dictate their “teachings” to their employees? These are people hired for non-religious functions. I’m there to teach the philosophy course, not to serve any religious functions. The Church should have no say whatsoever what I do with my paychecks. I render services, they pay me. Their abilities to dictate my conscience are constrained to those which are contractual and reasonable related to my function as a philosophy professor. They do not extend to my reproductive freedom.

Continued here.

Concluded here.

Bonus discussion with Mary on other issues related to Catholicism here.

Your Thoughts?

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About Daniel Fincke

Dr. Daniel Fincke  has his PhD in philosophy from Fordham University and spent 11 years teaching in college classrooms. He wrote his dissertation on Ethics and the philosophy of Friedrich Nietzsche. On Camels With Hammers, the careful philosophy blog he writes for a popular audience, Dan argues for atheism and develops a humanistic ethical theory he calls “Empowerment Ethics”. Dan also teaches affordable, non-matriculated, video-conferencing philosophy classes on ethics, Nietzsche, historical philosophy, and philosophy for atheists that anyone around the world can sign up for. (You can learn more about Dan’s online classes here.) Dan is an APPA  (American Philosophical Practitioners Association) certified philosophical counselor who offers philosophical advice services to help people work through the philosophical aspects of their practical problems or to work out their views on philosophical issues. (You can read examples of Dan’s advice here.) Through his blogging, his online teaching, and his philosophical advice services each, Dan specializes in helping people who have recently left a religious tradition work out their constructive answers to questions of ethics, metaphysics, the meaning of life, etc. as part of their process of radical worldview change.

  • Aquaria

    My thoughts?

    Good luck. The Catholic blinders on this one are strong and wide and deep.

  • Forbidden Snowflake

    Good debatin’. Each of your replies touched all of the objections that were welling up in my mind while I was reading the preceding Mary passage, and often more.

    Maybe you could expand a little more on the comparison between the church’s (hypothetical) restriction of ways for you to spend your salary and the (actual) restriction of services you can get through its health insurance. If the insurance, like the paycheck, is part and parcel of your entitlements as an employee, can the rules for it be any different?

    The debate seems to come down to “Well if they choose to work for an organization, they should abide by its rules”; but one side wants to apply it to the church’s employees working for the church, and the other – to the church working for the government. I see the latter application as more valid, because the former is qualified by the concept of employee rights (which stand in all cases, as opposed to the churches freedom of religion, which is suspended where the church gets into a fiscal relationship with the government) and also because the claim of “choice” is more applicable to a church, which doesn’t really *have to* run public institutions, than to employees, who do *have to* work for a living somewhere.

    These are my thoughts. Hope they aren’t too much of a garbled mess.

  • echidna

    So, a specialist non-Catholic French language teacher at a Catholic school has “accepted the mission” of the Catholic institution, to the point where health insurance is restricted?

    In Australia, it’s not an issue, because we do not have employer-sponsered health insurance. The lack of a public option is killing you guys.

    As for Mary’s argument, she’s effectively saying that by performing a secular function in a Catholic institution, an employee has agreed to become bound by Catholic religious teachings to the point where options open to Catholics working at secular organisations are denied them.

    A religious institution has no right to enforce religious constraints on non-adherants.

    • http://langcultcog.com/traumatized DuWayne

      A religious institution has no right to enforce religious constraints on non-adherants.

      I would argue that they should have no right to enforce religious constraints on their adherent employees either. I don’t buy the notion that by the simple virtue of someone being a member of the religion that runs the organization, they should somehow be treated differently than other employees. In a very strange and round about fashion, that is effectively religious discrimination.

      I accept that religious organizations should have a right to place some exceptional restrictions on ministerial staff. But at that, said limitations should be minimal. For example, I think it is entirely reasonable for a church to demand their minister step down if s/he gets caught in an extramarital affair or something else that would significantly reduce the trust of the congregation. I also think, however, that it is unethical for a minister to continue to be a minister if they choose to engage in behaviors that strongly contradict the dogmatic frame they are preaching. I am not entirely against, though have mixed feelings about allowing religious institutions to have the power to remove ministerial leadership under certain circumstances because there are a lot of highly unethical ministers out there.

    • http://qpr.ca/blogs Alan Cooper

      Whatever rights an employer has to impose restrictions on the non-employment activities of an employee should be the same for all employers regardless of religion. (In fact it would be best if there were never any mention of religion in the law at all.)

    • echidna

      No arguments from me on that score. I’m just saying that there isn’t even a reasonable line of argument to expect adherence to a doctrine from someone who does not follow it.

  • http://verbosestoic.wordpress.com/ Verbose Stoic

    The Church should have no say whatsoever what I do with my paychecks. I render services, they pay me. Their abilities to dictate my conscience are constrained to those which are contractual and reasonable related to my function as a philosophy professor. They do not extend to my reproductive freedom.

    This is the issue, though. Forcing Catholic employers to include coverage for birth control is not, in fact, limiting it to you doing what you want with your money. If they don’t provide it through the insurance, THAT’S the case where you can do whatever you want with your pay. Because employers pay into these plans, they would in effect be paying for your choices, choices they disagree with. So, while they should not get to decide what you do with your money, why do you think that the government is not in this case directly telling them to support something they find immoral with their money?

    Part of the problem with this whole thing is that it seems to be based on the idea that you don’t have a right if it isn’t provided for you and fully funded, and so if a business decides not to cover contraception that means that you don’t have reproductive freedom anymore. But that’s just false. You still have that right. That right does not, in fact, give you the right to demand that other people pay for it. So why, then, can’t you just pay for it yourself? Why should anyone else be forced to pay for it for you if they don’t want to?

    Now, of course, in this case it isn’t the employer paying it directly, so it’s a little more complicated. But the principle does apply; if you accept that you are not owed having contraception paid for, then there is no reason to force any employer to include it in the insurance coverage if they don’t want to, let alone employers that find contraception immoral.

    • ambassadorfromverdammt

      Are the employers required to provide insurance for non-employees? Of course not, therefore, the insurance coverage is part of the employees’ benefit package. It does belong to the employee, so how the employee uses it is none of the employers’ business.

      Does the inclusion of contraception in a health insurance package require anyone to use contraception? No. Therefore, it does not violate the religious freedom of Catholic employees.

      This is the Church not wanting to admit there is a higher power – to whit – the government.

    • http://verbosestoic.wordpress.com Verbose Stoic

      Under most systems that I’m familiar with, what is or isn’t covered is negotiated between the employer and the insurance company, and because it varies the market — ie what employees want — gets factored in (employers don’t want all the best employees leaving because their competitors’ plans are better). The government in this case is sticking their noses into that negotiation and demanding that something be included based on ideological grounds. Unfortunately, their ideology clashes with the religious beliefs of some employers. Normally, freedom of religion would get them an exemption. Here, for some reason that I cannot myself fathom, to even suggest that is considered to be completely and totally unfair and insane. Perhaps in light of what I said you can explain to me why that is.

    • http://www.nick-andrew.net/ elronxenu

      Normally, freedom of religion would get them an exemption. Here, for some reason that I cannot myself fathom, to even suggest that is considered to be completely and totally unfair and insane. Perhaps in light of what I said you can explain to me why that is.

      In this case, the government is setting a mandatory coverage requirement. That’s because there’s a clear benefit to women’s reproductive health derived from enhanced access to contraceptives. Whether or not this is an ideological decision, it is a fact-based decision. The fact is, better access to contraceptives reduces unwanted pregnancies, reduces the spread of STDs, and improves women’s health, which leads to improved productivity and a better outcome for society. Now if your ideology says that better women’s health is a bad thing you could argue against this law, but much of society disagrees with you.

      The “normal case” of religions getting special treatment so they can discriminate and spread bigoted, antiquated views is what’s insane. Perhaps the outpouring of rage you see directed towards the Catholic church comes because people are starting to get tired of giving them special bigotry privileges.

  • Kevin

    Can I get a few things clarified? Are employers legally obligated to provide health insurance to employees (I’m assuming this would only be for full-time employees). If yes, are there any specifications of what is required to be in this package? If yes, is contraception specified as one of these requirements? If yes for any of the above for private secular institutions, are there any exemptions for private religious institutions?

    • Ysanne

      Thanks for asking this question, as this is what I’m wondering about, too.
      Could the same Catholic-run places get away with providing no health insurance at all? Can US employers simply choose what kind of health plans they offer, or are there any mandatory services that have to be included in a health plan?
      If it’s the former case, then the Catholic Church would just be offering a somewhat unattractive health plan as part of their salary package — which simply makes them a less than great choice of employer, but would be completely legal. The latter case, it would amount to not wanting to follow employment laws because they see themselves as above the law in some sense.

    • echidna

      As I understand it, the Catholic church is setting itself above the law.

    • http://www.nick-andrew.net/ elronxenu

      I don’t think they can get away with providing no health insurance at all, but if they could and they did, it would be quite an asshole move.

      They would be damaging their employees far more than merely denying contraception. All because they’re butthurt that they can’t force their doctrinal beliefs onto people.

  • ‘Tis Himself, OM

    The kerfluffle over insurance-paid contraception is just another example of how the Catholic Church insists on dictating its morality (such as it is) on non-Catholics. The professional virgins who run the Church have decided that Jebus hates contraception. Of course the American Catholic laity ignores this nonsense, which gets the professional virgins’ backs up. So the professional virgins are pretending that having to pay for someone else’s moral decision is restricting the professional virgins’ exercise of religious practices. In this case, the religious practice is authoritarian control of others, including non-Catholics.

    • http://www.nick-andrew.net/ elronxenu

      Not only non-Catholics. The church has no right to dictate its morality on any employee, even Catholics.

      Whether or not somebody obeys Catholic doctrine must be a personal choice, freely made. Freedom of Religion must include freedom to pick and choose the parts of religion one wants to follow.

      Daniel Finke said much the same thing above, wonderfully.

  • carlie

    How far should the Church be able to take this? Officially, the Catholic Church believes in demon possession. So should they get to not cover antipsychotic drugs and mental health care?

    • http://verbosestoic.wordpress.com Verbose Stoic

      They have absolutely no religious objection to those things, and therefore there’s no issue of them denying it. That they may think that at least sometimes the problems seen aren’t that doesn’t mean they oppose it in general.

  • http://www.anonopotamus.com A3Kr0n

    Exempt? They should be put in prison for being in a pedophile cult ring. Shit!

  • karmakin

    @Kevin: This is brand new territory (which is why it’s coming up here) as part of the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare) that was passed what…two years ago?

    It basically mandated that employers over a certain size provide adequate health care plans for their employees, that follow certain criteria. One of those criteria, is birth control.

    There are exceptions for strictly religious organizations, but in a nutshell, you’re talking about strict church activity, or at least what we would think of as church. So other organizations, even if they’re run by religious groups, such as schools and hospitals (that’s the overwhelming majority of what we’re talking about here) would not apply for an exemptions.

  • echidna

    Religious freedom should not be used as a cudgel to be wielded by the strong against the weak, e.g. employer/employee.

    But, seriously, the church should be clamouring for a public option, so that it is not entwined with the contraceptive decisions made by its non-Catholic employees.

    • http://freethoughtblogs.com/camelswithhammers Daniel Fincke

      In the Facebook debate I had with Mary that inspired the decision to set up this formal debate, she actually argued that there should just be some form of universal health care through the government to prevent this problem.

      So she opposes the Church’s stand on contraception and favors everyone pay into a governmental system that pays for people’s contraception through their taxes—but won’t allow that the Church have to sign a check for a private health insurance plan that can be used for contraception.

      I don’t get how this distinction is so worth fighting over to her and other liberal Catholics like her but there is a rising tide of anger coming to the mainstream public discourse from them over this.

    • echidna

      I’m not surprised that Mary, and other liberals argued this distinction. This is a way of reconciling her liberal beliefs without opposing the Church in any great way. The fact is the powers that be in the Church are not clamouring for this change. If they were serious about their stance, rather than just flexing muscle, they would have supported the initial push by Obama for a public option in the first place. All churches should have done this – what sort of a public benefit do they think they are providing, if they do not advocate for the poor, especially those in need of medical care?

    • http://freethoughtblogs.com/camelswithhammers Daniel Fincke

      Obama never pushed for a public option.

    • echidna
    • http://verbosestoic.wordpress.com Verbose Stoic

      Well, I thought about that, and while it is similar if it’s funded through taxes you don’t have to be directly involved and it’s possible that your money (tax money, in that case) isn’t going to support it if it occurs. For the insurance, it is.

    • http://www.nick-andrew.net/ elronxenu

      it’s possible that your money (tax money, in that case) isn’t going to support it if it occurs.

      It’s a distinction without a difference. Money is fungible, so your tax dollars would go toward providing free contraception to the public as they would go toward funding the war in Afghanistan.

      If liberal Catholics would support this as a way for Churches to avoid having to directly pay for the hated contraceptives, it’s a time-honoured religious practice aimed at reducing cognitive dissonance. They’re quite used to inventing loopholes to get what they want despite the letter of the law. Such as selling of indulgences, people not being stoned to death for working on the sabbath, Jewish use of the eruv, and so on.

  • Mary

    I would love for the Church to clamor for public option. I’ve heard talk of such an alternative among some Law Students at Catholic schools. I think affordable healthcare is an intrinsic good and that it is intrinsically good for employers to provide it,so I’d love for the Church not to be embroiled in this mess at aLl. I would love to see a public option alternative. If the government and the people decide that nationalized healthcare is something this country needs, then they can pay for it with taxes like the rest of the nationalized health-care world does. Employers should have the ability to provide any health care they want and should only be forced to pay for natinalzed healthcare insofar as they pay taxes.

    • karmakin

      Unfortunately you’d just see the same problem, the same privilege magnified to a larger scale. You go to war with the players you have and not the players you wish you have or something like that. There’s really no chance that the major players who are against this measure would be ok with tax dollars going towards the same thing.

      I think one of the more enlightening ways to look at these sorts of issues is via the concept of moral force, that is, how strongly we wish to project our moral views onto other people. For example, I’m actually a person who thinks that drinking alcohol is something that for a variety of reasons isn’t the best thing in the world, however I have little wish to project that opinion onto other people. On the other hand, I do think that we should be working towards creating a more equitable economy and as such I DO project moral force in that regard to the point where people who use language that is in opposition makes them lesser in my eyes.

      One of my problems with lay religious folks in this regard, is that often people as in your situation, will place much more moral force towards issues such as contraception than they will towards an issue such as universal health care or a public option or whatever. Scale is important, it truly is. And I think this way of looking at things is entirely backwards. More moral force should come towards the latter than the former. But that’s rarely the case.

      This I think is why there’s a lot of mistrust towards religious progressives, even in regards to people who agree with us about 80% of everything. It just seems to us that the other 20% where we might disagree are the parts that come with more moral force. They’re more important to you. Now maybe they are for one reason or another. But for people who have different moral force priorities, there’s nothing untowards about harboring a bit of suspicion about your views, when they don’t seem like they are getting what we would think has the necessary moral force behind it.

      (I will add that we’re not perfect. I think that the progressive secular left on occasion has a habit of downplaying the moral force behind what we’re saying)

    • echidna

      I think affordable healthcare is an intrinsic good


      and that it is intrinsically good for employers to provide it

      No. A thousand times no. It locks people to their employer, making it almost impossible to leave if they or their family have any kind of medical issue. It paves the way for abuse of all kinds. Also, imagine getting a long slow disease, like multiple-sclerosis or cancer. If health insurance is tied to your job, then try to stay under the radar for fear of losing your job, and health insurance with it. In the rest of the developed world, it’s much easier to focus on your health. Taking time off from work, even quitting your job, is not such a big issue.

    • echidna

      I think affordable healthcare is an intrinsic good


      and that it is intrinsically good for employers to provide it

      No. A thousand times no. It locks people to their employer, making it almost impossible to leave if they or their family have any kind of medical issue. It paves the way for abuse of all kinds. Also, imagine getting a long slow disease, like multiple-sclerosis or cancer. If health insurance is tied to your job, then try to stay under the radar for fear of losing your job, and health insurance with it. In the rest of the developed world, it’s much easier to focus on your health.

  • mandas

    This is such a pointless argument. By the same logic being put forward by Mary, I should have the right to withold that portion of my taxes which are being used for purposes for which I have a moral or religious objection.

    But I don’t, and it would be ludicrous for me to argue otherwise. That despite the fact that I strongly believe that there should be zero – I repeat zero – allowances or dispensations made for religious organisations. They should pay taxes just like every one else; and that includes land tax, payroll tax, etc, etc.

  • echidna

    If the Catholic stance that they should be allowed an exemption is accepted, it would automatically mean that the JW’s would also be allowed to offer health insurance that would not cover blood transfusions. Churches who believe in faith healing alone – what of them?

    If I were to offer one suggestion to fix the US health care system, I would point to the root problem: that health insurance is a tax deduction for employers, but not individuals. This automatically sets up a system where the health insurance is priced inappropriately for the individual consumer, and puts the provision of health care in the hands of the employer, where it does not belong. It means that people who become too ill to work lose their health insurance. Obama has gone some way to putting a patch on this problem, but the new rules do not address the underlying tax exemption which makes it difficult for individuals to get insurance in the first place.

    The second underlying problem is hospitals bill an uninsured person much more for the same service as an insurance company would pay (say three times as much in cases I personally know of). This distortion of the market means that self-insurance effectively subsidises the health insurance companies.

    The church complaints about religious freedom are a distraction from the underlying systemic inequities.

  • http://qpr.ca/blogs Alan Cooper

    I think the nature of the business activity is a red herring and that you are both right when you concentrate instead on the subsidy. On one level it’s really very simple. Any organization that accepts a government subsidy (including tax relief) must abide by whatever terms the government chooses to apply, or forego the subsidy. The question is whether it is wise or fair to apply conditions on a subsidy that will exclude a certain class of groups from access.

    If I open up a private dry cleaning service am I obligated to provide health insurance to all my employees? and are we not free to negotiate what it will cover (with the individual employees being free to add further individual coverage from other providers at their own discretion)? And if I were opposed to abortion could I not insist on excluding abortion coverage from what I provided so long as I could offer sufficient other benefits as to induce my employees to stay? It is only if the government chooses to subsidize dry cleaning as a national priority that linkage of the subsidy to meeting other social objectives would arise as an issue. But why should the opportunity to meet a public need for dry cleaning be denied to those who don’t want to help with something completely different?

    And of course, this also cuts both ways. If the anti-abortion lobby gets control of the gov’t they might rule that gov’t subsidy cannot go to employers who *do* provide birth control support. Do you really want to open the door to acceptance of such restrictions?

    • http://qpr.ca/blogs Alan Cooper

      Actually I may have this completely backwards, with the subsidy being the red herring and the real issue being just the compliance required of any employer (including private dry cleaners) with the new “employer mandate” to provide comprehensive health insurance. If so, please feel free to delete my comment.

  • Lyra

    This argument that the Catholic Church should be able to deny its employees insurance that includes birth control infuriates me.

    It’s my fucking insurance, not theirs. If Catholics don’t want to use birth control, they can have fun with that; they can CHOOSE it. They do not get to CHOOSE for me. They idea that making them give me insurance that includes birth control is a violation of their religious freedom is absurd; is it a violation of their religious freedom to mandate that they pay in money that can be used to go buy condoms at the local grocery store? Or are we going to create special CathlicBucks(TM) that are restricted in their usage? No, because that would be freaking stupid. They should no more get to forcibly dictate that birth control is kept off my insurance than they can forcibly dictate that I don’t take money out of my wallet and use it to buy condoms. My money (and my health insurance) may be something they give to me, but once they have given it to me, it’s MINE, not theirs. They have no right to control how I use it.

    • http://qpr.ca/blogs Alan Cooper

      As one who has probably just demonstrated a complete lack of understanding of the US medical system, may I nonetheless suggest that an employer should have neither any right to restrict nor any duty to support non-employment activities of which they do not approve, and that putting basic medical insurance as other than a mutually agreed aspect of employment conditions is therefore not a good idea.

    • echidna

      That would be fine, were it not for the fact that the employee does not have free choice in getting health insurance. The employee is bound financially to get health insurance through their employer, as it is not available freely in the market place at the same price. Even if you think that that the Catholic anti-contraception provisions are reasonable, would it be reasonable for Jehovah’s Witness organisations to provide health insurance that do not provide for blood transfusions? Or one of the churches that believe in faith healing to offer medical services that do not provide for hospitalisation at all?

      Freedom of religion is being used to enforce religious principles on people who are in a non-negotiable position. This is wrong.

    • http://qpr.ca/blogs Alan Cooper

      I agree, but I would suggest that the best solution is to make sure that everyone *does* have access to affordable basic health insurance without it having to have anything at all to do with their employer.

    • echidna

      Of course. I live it – I’m in Australia.

    • http://freethoughtblogs.com/camelswithhammers Daniel Fincke

      As one who has probably just demonstrated a complete lack of understanding of the US medical system,

      I don’t think anyone fully understands all the changes related to the Affordable Care Act.

    • http://verbosestoic.wordpress.com Verbose Stoic

      Um, you do realize that in this case it is the employer providing insurance TO YOU as part of benefits, right? It’s not “your insurance”; you can take private insurance all you want and have it cover all you want. This is, essentially, THEIR insurance, what they provide to you as a benefit for working for them. Which should mean, then, that they get to provide the services they want to provide and make sense in a competitive world, and that the government should be very careful about what it mandates in that insurance and that your demands for things to be covered go only so far as the employer is willing to go.

    • http://www.nick-andrew.net/ elronxenu

      Err, no. Your argument was already destroyed upthread. The employee is the beneficiary of the insurance; the government mandated certain coverage; employees are forced by financial and other reasons to use the insurance provided by the employer. There is not a competitive world in this respect.

  • jacksmith

    REALITY!! And A Fix for Unemployment, Homelessness and Hunger

    In addition to fixing healthcare the right way we need a NewDeal. We need a permanent and updated FDR WPA (Works Progress Administration). A Full employment act requiring the government to provide a job for everyone able to work that wants to work at a living wage or better. At safe, meaningful work where they live. Guaranteed by the US government. With free or very affordable excellent healthcare and free or very affordable education and training for advancement or just personal enrichment.

    ( http://my.firedoglake.com/iflizwerequeen/2011/05/16/how-about-a-little-truth-about-what-the-majority-want-for-health-care/ )

    ( Gov. Peter Shumlin: Real Healthcare reform — http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8yFUbkVCsZ4 )

    ( Health Care Budget Deficit Calculator — http://www.cepr.net/calculators/hc/hc-calculator.html )

    ( Briefing: Dean Baker on Boosting the Economy by Saving Healthcare http://t.co/fmVz8nM )


    As you all know. Had congress passed a single-payer or government-run robust Public Option CHOICE! available to everyone on day one, our economy and jobs would have taken off like a rocket. And still will. Single-payer would be best. But a government-run robust Public Option CHOICE! that can lead to a single-payer system is the least you can accept. It’s not about competing with for-profit healthcare and for-profit health insurance. It’s about replacing it with Universal Healthcare Assurance. Everyone knows this now.

    The message from the midterm elections was clear. The American people want real healthcare reform. They want that individual mandate requiring them to buy private health insurance abolished. And they want a government-run robust public option CHOICE! available to everyone on day one. And they want it now.

    They want Drug re-importation, and abolishment, or strong restrictions on patents for biologic and prescription drugs. And government controlled and negotiated drug and medical cost. They want back control of their healthcare system from the Medical Industrial Complex. And they want it NOW!


    For-profit health insurance is extremely unethical, and morally repugnant. It’s as morally repugnant as slavery was. And few if any decent Americans are going to allow them-self to be compelled to support such an unethical and immoral crime against humanity.

    This is a matter of National and Global security. There can be NO MORE EXCUSES.

    Further, we want that corrupt, undemocratic filibuster abolished. Whats the point of an election if one corrupt member of congress can block the will of the people, and any legislation the majority wants. And do it in secret. Give me a break people.

    Also, unemployment healthcare benefits are critically needed. But they should be provided through the Medicare program at cost, less the 65% government premium subsidy provided now to private for profit health insurance.

    Congress should stop wasting hundreds of millions of dollars of taxpayer money on private for profit health insurance subsidies. Subsidies that cost the taxpayer 10x as much or more than Medicare does. Private for profit health insurance plans cost more. But provide dangerous and poorer quality patient care.



    This is what the American people are shouting at you. Both parties have just enough power now to do what the American people want. GET! IT! DONE! NOW!

    If congress does not abolish the individual mandate. And establish a government-run public option CHOICE! before the end of 2011. EVERY! member of congress up for reelection in 2012 will face strong progressive pro public option, and anti-individual mandate replacement candidates.

    Strong progressive pro “PUBLIC OPTION” CHOICE! and anti-individual mandate volunteer candidates should begin now. And start the process of replacing any and all members of congress that obstruct, or fail to add a government-run robust PUBLIC OPTION CHOICE! before the end of 2011.

    We need two or three very strong progressive volunteer candidates for every member of congress that will be up for reelection in 2012. You should be fully prepared to politically EVISCERATE EVERY INCUMBENT that fails or obstructs “THE PUBLIC OPTION”. And you should be willing to step aside and support the strongest pro “PUBLIC OPTION” candidate if the need arises.

    ASSUME CONGRESS WILL FAIL and SELLOUT again. So start preparing now to CUT THEIR POLITICAL THROATS. You can always step aside if they succeed. But only if they succeed. We didn’t have much time to prepare before these past midterm elections. So the American people had to use a political shotgun approach. But by 2012 you will have a scalpel.

    Congress could have passed a robust government-run public option during it’s lame duck session. They knew what the American people wanted. They already had several bills on record. And the house had already passed a public option. Departing members could have left with a truly great accomplishment. And the rest of you could have solidified your job before the 2012 elections.

    President Obama, you promised the American people a strong public option available to everyone. And the American people overwhelmingly supported you for it. Maybe it just wasn’t possible before. But it is now.

    Knock heads. Threaten people. Or do whatever you have to. We will support you. But get us that robust public option CHOICE! available to everyone on day one before the end of 2011. Or We The People Of The United States will make the past midterm election look like a cake walk in 2012. And it will include you.

    We still have a healthcare crisis in America. With hundreds of thousands dieing needlessly every year in America. And a for profit medical industrial complex that threatens the security and health of the entire world. They have already attacked the world with H1N1 killing thousands, and injuring millions. And more attacks are planned for profit, and to feed their greed.

    Spread the word people.

    Progressives, prepare the American peoples scalpels. It’s time to remove some politically diseased tissues.

    God Bless You my fellow human beings. I’m proud to be one of you. You did good.

    See you on the battle field.


    jacksmith – WorkingClass :-)

    • http://www.nick-andrew.net/ elronxenu

      The American people may well want “real healthcare reform” as you said. Unfortunately I only saw wingnuts who were deathly afraid of any kind of reform in a system which is clearly very very broken.

  • baal

    But every Church activity is a private one insofar as the Church only dictates the values of its own religious institutions. It would be an “imposition” if the Church forced its views on an atheist organization. It’s imposing its religious views on its own institutions.

    Opportunity cost
    Let’s not forget that the ‘rights’ of the Church do not occur in a vacuum. One reason for inclusion of the birth control mandate is that there aren’t always available choices for folks to get birth control from other avenues other than employer health plans. Said the other way around, the Catholic Church (as the sole realistic option for employer/health insurance provider) demands the right to deny secular folks who are just doing a job (lawn care, janitorial, book keeping etc.) birth control. That’s not ok.

  • Anri

    I hate to sound snarky, but…

    News Flash: Iron Age morality as reimagined by the Middle Ages is largely incompatible with the realities of the modern world.

    A sector of the populace figured this out about 300 years ago, and we’re still waiting for everyone else to get the clue.

    Does anyone doubt that the world will be a better place when Catholics get over their obsession with other people’s genetalia?

    • http://www.nick-andrew.net/ elronxenu

      It’s certainly taking a long time. Bad ideas and perverse morality are passed from parent to child. Education will help good ideas to prevail, in the end. That’s why Republicans are so suspicious of it.