Imagine if Catholics were required by law to do this…

A provocative scenario, from Ironic Catholic:

Washington, DC, April 19, 1847: The U.S. administration, after considering a conscientious objection exemption for religious institutions, decided that Catholics institutions must pay a “forced servanthood fee” for employees who wish to own slaves, up to $1,000 a slave per year.

“It is the law of many states that slavery is legal, and white men are free to own slaves. Indeed, most white men want to own slaves, seeing how abolitionists are treated like village idiots. So it seems natural and fully American that we should force Catholic institutions in slave states to facilitate owning others, and potentially killing them if they do not fit their needs. We won’t make parishes comply because we don’t think they own slaves anyway, but every other Church affiliated institution, you have a year to change your entire moral system to suit,” argued the Secretary of Health and Human Slavery, Mr. Charles Moore.

Catholic Bishops responded with outrage, arguing the mandate trespasses the freedom of religion clause in the constitution, by forcing them to act in opposition to their doctrine. However, many people on Twitter said “They just hate slave owners and the Southern way of life, grow up #freaks”, so that must be true.

At a press conference last week, a reporter asked why the Amish and Mennonite organizations were excluded from this mandate, and the press secretary, Henry White, said, “Candidly, because their numbers are so small they don’t matter.” The reporter asked what that had to do with the constitution, and White continued, “Plus, it’s not considered politically sporting in this day and age to crush pacifists fleeing religious persecution. We thought about it, and thought, not yet. Next question?”

Many Catholics were very happy about the government giving white men money to own slaves and determine their own destiny as landowners. On the other hand, administrators at Catholic institutions were deeply concerned that they could be indirectly facilitating an evil, and perhaps more so, losing their religious identity to that of the nation state. “Where would this stop?,” argued a hospital president who wished to remain nameless. “A requirement to hand out slave coupons on the campus plaza? Every Catholic hospital required to construct a slave block, in case an employed person not of the Catholic faith wanted to use it?”

Read the rest.


  1. Ah, you caught me in a Jonathan Swift moment.

  2. As repulsive as I find the HHS mandate to be I am not sure this is a fair analogy, witty though it is. Allow me to play Devil’s Advocate for a moment.

    1. Owning property is not analogous to health care. It would be more like ordering a business to pay for your car.
    2. In the United States during the first half of the 19th century the Roman Catholic Church and its hierarchy were generally ambivalent (and in some cases overtly sympathetic) on the subject of slavery and “property rights.”
    3. Most Catholics had ties to the Democratic Party for a variety of reasons, often relating to population demographics and immigration (free African’s competed with Catholic immigrants for cheap labor). The Democratic Party was generally the pro-slavery party.
    4. In the South, Catholic clergy typically supported the “peculiar institution,” affirming it as representative of the divinely ordained social order.

    Were there exceptions? Yes. I am painting with a wide brush here. But broadly speaking the Catholic Church and American Catholics in general were not big in the abolition movement. To the extent that Catholics did take sides they tended more often than not to land on the pro-slavery side of the great debate.

    Thus endeth my Devil’s Brief.

  3. Not to be argumentative, but there is an actual history of the Church in America and race and slavery. There is an international history of the Church and race and slavery. While there are parts with which to take pride, there are many parts that are quite scandalous to modern ears. The actual history of the Church is one that tolerates injustices and doesn’t force quixotic last stands. How applicable one wishes to make those to present circumstances is their own choice. Despite murmurs otherwise, there is no compulsion to action. We all are making our own choices, and those choices are ones we and are children we live under, at least until other choices are made.

  4. Count me a skeptic on both the HHS mandate and the cleverness of the analogy here. I think there’s a danger of overplaying our outrage to HHS, much like the way my home diocese in Missouri went ape over the stem cell initiative in 2006 and maybe overshot the mark.

    It’s time for the whining and wit to stop and for Catholic laity to step up with some alternatives. With the leadership of the bishops behind it. It will likely take more than a year to get it off the ground, but perhaps it’s time to harness the Catholic health care system into something we all can utilize, for both care and insurance. The Knights did it with life insurance over a century ago, and surely there’s enough expertise in American Catholicism to make this work.

    Catholic employees of secular business can just tell their boss, no thanks on insurance premiums but we’ll take the money you used to submit for us.

    We can even let in non-Catholics, with the understanding that in return for our doing health insurance better than the corporate profiteers, people will need to accept our moral limits on what we will do and what we will cover.

    I’m very tired of bishops complaining about this and threatening to cut off my family from health insurance. It’s time to stop acting like Republicans, and actually offer a clear plan to sidestep this moral and economic mess. Otherwise, I’m inclined to start tuning out the indignation, the cloned letters, and the outrage of the blogosphere. In the words of Bishop Zubik, to **** with that.

  5. The comparison is totally nonsensical. Catholic Bishops can’t act against Catholic Moral teaching, and to own slaves is against the basic commandment of loving your neighbour. That is why the Catholic Church was at fore front of anti-slavery movement. There are plenty examples.

  6. P.S. Oop! Sorry, having read the article in hasty. I draw back what I’ve written. But still, the analogy is not very good.

  7. Henry Karlson says:

    Catholics are forced to pay for unjust wars, intrinsic evils such as torture, and the unjust dividing up of families through our taxes. We already are called to pay for and accept all kinds of evil in our society. Many people find it curious that the line is drawn, not for the sake of the dignity of the human person, but on the distribution of condoms. Yes, the HHS is wrong, but it’s hard to say it is the first time or the worst situation in which the government hopes to have Catholics pay for a system which includes things Catholics do not approve. The way outsiders are reading it is similar to the way Muslims wanting to live by Sharia regulations in the US are viewed. It’s curious to note that many of the same people espousing religious liberty now were on the forefront of the discussion of why Muslims should never be allowed to practice Sharia in the US. Why is that? I doubt many people who are speaking up now really support religious liberty but rather they see a political objective and use religious liberty to try to get a rallying cry for their political objective. I wouldn’t be so cynical if I saw more consistency and more concern with remote material cooperation with other evils and claimed those were issues of religious liberty as well (they didn’t, they still don’t; how many are now on board with the US Bishops in promoting selective conscience objection for soldiers?).

  8. I’m with todd on this, although I’ve come out strongly against the mandate. I think we waste time trying to find clever analogies that might be better spent working harder on two fronts: (a) finding practical alternatives to the mandate, like those todd suggests, and (b) drawing more attention to the underlying assumptions on which the mandate is based, which should be part of a national conversation. We need more talking points like the ones the USCCB issued on the real wording of the mandate, only moved back a step to expose the anti-pregnancy assumptions of the 2011 Institute of Medicine report Clinical Preventive Services for Women: Closing the Gap (which can be accessed in full at The HHS mandate is based on the IOM’s recommendations, which in turn are based on research sponsored almost entirely by Planned Parenthood’s Guttmacher Institute and one of its leading researchers, James Trussell. Among these assumptions (which even people who disagree with the Church’s position find troubling): that all “unplanned” pregnancies are “unwanted” (the terms are used interchangeably) and result directly in depression, substance abuse, and child abuse and neglect; that every child (unless planned for and, as Alan Guttmacher once said, “gleefully wanted” at the time of conception–there’s the only time you’ll ever see the government/PP concede that it’s a child from the time of conception) is unwanted and will him/herself grow up to have health problems that burden society; that having too many children (a number undefined) is dangerous to children’s health; that at least 50% of pregnancies in the US are unplanned/unwanted; that unplanned pregnancy is a disease for which the risk factors are being female and having reproductive capability (nothing about the fact that a third “risk factor”–being voluntarily sexually active–is also operative in all but cases of sexual assault); that women who are young, poor, uneducated, and of certain ethnic groups are at “high risk” for the disease of pregnancy; that the only way to prevent this “disease” is to make sure all women are using contraceptives at all times–preferably the higher-cost hormonal implants and injectables that don’t require patient compliance for effectiveness (in other words, women shouldn’t have to think about it); and that since cost prohibits women from choosing these methods, the government should make them available free of charge so there’s no excuse for becoming pregnant. The assumptions in this report sound terrifyingly close to China’s one-child policy to me–and I’m a liberal, a progressive, and not someone who generally sees conspiracies hiding under beds. At the very least, we should be making this information better known, so that if Americans truly want a future in which the government tells us who may procreate and when and how often, we will at least have chosen that future consciously.

  9. Sorry for the long comment.

  10. Actually, this analogy is pretty close to the historical truth. In 1850 Congress enacted the Fugitive Slave Law which made failure or refusal to round up or return escaped slaves anywhere in the nation, including in free states, a federal offense. This act did more than any other to spark outrage among free state residents and abolitionists, because it was in every sense of the word, a mandate compelling them to do wrong. By that act the federal government crossed the line from simply allowing slavery to continue where it already existed, or where residents clearly wanted it, to FORCING persons opposed to slavery to cooperate in its evil. And I think that is an apt historical analogy for the HHS mandate.

  11. Nice.

  12. That was then; This is now.

  13. I know, I know. That’s why it is a pithy and not that worthy of respect five paragraph satire piece. It is supposed to make you think, not hold up to tight historical scrutiny. But … see Elaine’s comment below. Thanks all.

  14. “I doubt many people who are speaking up now really support religious liberty but rather they see a political objective and use religious liberty to try to get a rallying cry for their political objective. ”

    Henry, I’m a Catholic Worker and my firm political position is “why isn’t NO on the ballot. ” I have no political objective here other than to prick people’s consciences on valuing religious liberty in our country. FYI, I also support war resisters and am a burr in the side of my Republican AND Democratic reps–they hear from me all the time. Please don’t make assumptions.

  15. Henry Karlson says:


    Notice what I said, I said many people; if you want to attribute yourself as one of the many do so, if not, don’t do so. But if you can’t see the same people who have been screaming for years against Obama, calling him the devil incarnate, have taken this as a political tool, then you are quite blind indeed. It’s quite easy to see how “religious liberty” is being used by people who have shown no interest in it. Look to what they say about Muslims practicing their morality in the US, and you will see them denying religious liberty.

    The problem with your analogy is quite simple, and what is being ignored. The Church’s position already allows, for proportionate reasons, material cooperation with evil. It is better not to have such cooperation than not, but it recognizes the reality of life, the world we live in, it is impossible not to have cooperation with (and economically fund) evil in society even if the Church doesn’t want to support such evil. That again is the point. Religious liberty is being used for one question only. Not the whole realm of moral questions. Why? And why is traditional moral teaching with its nuances thrown outside the door for the simplistic political rhetoric?

  16. friscoeddie says:

    The San Francisco Chronicle reports that Catholic Universities in Ca. have been paying for health care plans that include empoyee contraception coverage since 2001. Waiting eleven years and then yelling ‘They are bombing Pearl Harbor’ is what many would call a dis-ingenuous overreach… Basta

  17. friscoeddie says:

    Abolutely correct.. As I posted above, Catholic Universities in Ca have funded BC ‘health care’ for 11 years. Hey… we all funded that immoral Iraq War for 10 years..

  18. Chris Sullivan says:

    The deeper irony here, from a historical perspective, is that in 1860 the U.S. Catholic Bishops were teaching that slavery was morally permissible and many U.S. Catholic Bishops and even some religious orders themselves owned slaves.

    An analogy with the HHS mandate would be if the 1860 state passed a law requiring Catholic Bishops and religious orders to free the slaves they owned, and the Bishops started screaming religious liberty and issuing letters to be read out at Mass insisting on their First Amendment rights to the religious freedom to own slaves in accord with what was then official Catholic teaching promulgated by the Holy Office.

    God Bless

  19. Your parody article forgot to mention the “Catholic” (in name only) lawmakers who declared, “While I am personally opposed to slavery, I do not wish to impose my beliefs on anyone else and believe that the Dred Scott decision should not be overturned; for better or worse, it is settled law.”

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