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An illiberal mandate.

In our January 13 editorial, we criticized a ruling from the Department of Health and Human Services that would require all employers to include "contraception and sterilization coverage in their health-insurance plans, including those provided to employees of religious institutions." Only religious organizations that primarily employ and serve co-religionists, and whose mission is to inculcate its values, according to the "interim final rule," could be exempt from the mandate. The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, we wrote,

argues that compelling the church to pay for plans that cover services the church has long held to be immoral violates the religious-freedom guarantee of the First Amendment. Catholic hospitals, universities, and social-service agencies see their mission as caring for people of all faiths or none, and they employ many non-Catholics. Given this understanding of mission, inevitably there will be a degree of entanglement between any large religious institution and the modern state. That should not be an excuse, however, for imposing secular values on more traditional religious communities.

So, we concluded, President Obama ought to expand the religious exemption to include organizations like universities and hospitals. Apparently he was not persuaded. (Bear with me, this is going to be a long post.)

Friday, HHS announced that the rule would stand, but that religious institutions would have until August 2013 to figure out how to comply. In the meantime, secretary of HHS Kathleen Sebelius explained, organizations that do not currently offer contraception coverage will have to provide notice to employees that will include information about where they can obtain contraceptive services. Noting that the rule will have no effect on existing conscience-protection laws covering health-care providers -- meaning, for example, that a Catholic hospital won't be made to perform sterilizations -- Sebelius promised "to work closely with religious groups during this transitional period to discuss their concerns."

Obviously, the decision provides little comfort to religious groups that objected to the interim rule. Within hours of the announcement, the USCCB fired off a press release vowing "to fight [the] HHS edict." Archbishop Timothy Dolan of New York put out a brief video protesting the decision. In effect, the president is saying we have a year to figure out how to violate our consciences, Dolan said. And Sr. Carol Keehan, president of the Catholic Health Association -- and a key ally in the Obama administration's effort to pass the Affordable Care Act -- also expressed disappointment with the ruling. While noting that it was "important to have clarified by the president and the secretary of HHS that this decision will not undermine the current conscience protections in law and so very necessary for our ministries," she called the final ruling "a missed opportunity to be clear on appropriate conscience protection."

Keehan is right. The Obama administration blew a chance to correct far too narrow an exemption. Doing so would have avoided the specter of government forcing religious groups to act against their moral convictions. What's more, expanding the exemption would have maintained the status quo. That is, if HHS had expended the exemption, women who work for Catholic institutions that do not cover contraception would not lose anything they already had.But is Dolan correct? Is HHS just kicking the can down the road to make it impossible for the Supreme Court to rule on this before Election Day? Or could something be worked out that might satisfy the demands of Catholic moral teaching? One idea that's been proposed is the so-called Hawaii compromise.

Hawaii requires all employers in the state to include contraception services in their health-insurance coverage. As Wake Forest University's Melissa Rogers explains:

Under Hawaii law, religious employers that decline to cover contraceptives must provide written notification to enrollees disclosing that fact and describing alternate ways for enrollees to access coverage for contraceptive services. Hawaii law also requires health insurers to allow enrollees in a health plan of an objecting religious employer to purchase coverage of contraceptive services directly and to do so at a cost that does not exceed the enrollees pro rata share of the price the group purchaser would have paid for such coverage had the group plan not invoked a religious exemption.

Under Hawaii law, a religious organization that objects to providing contraception coverage to its employees can invoke a refusal clause that would allow the institution to exclude such services from employee health plans. Religious groups that invoke the refusal clause must -- as required by the HHS ruling -- provide written notice to employees informing them that contraception is not included in their health plans, and they must tell employees where such services can be obtained. A refusal clause only pertains to contraception services intended to avoid pregnancy. An employer must provide coverage for contraception prescribed to treat, for example, the symptoms of menopause. According to the law, an employee is entitled to buy contraception coverage from her insurer at a cost that is no higher than the enrollee's pro-rata share of the price the employer would have paid had it not exercised the religious exemption. So religious institutions do not have to subsidize insurance coverage including contraceptive services, and employees who want such coverage can purchase a separate rider with their own money.

Would that satisfy Catholic moral teaching? It seems so. According to the Catholic moral tradition, cooperation with "evil" (in this case, the use of contraception) is permitted in some circumstances. The USCCB objects to forcing Catholic institutions to fund contraception coverage for employees because it believes doing so would involve them in unacceptably proximate cooperation with evil. Catholic institution pays insurance premium. Insurance company pays for contraception. Employee uses contraception. (We'll get to whether that's a sound analysis in a moment.) But if HHS and religious employers can come to an agreement like the one reached in Hawaii, religious employers would not be directly contributing to the use of contraceptive services. It's true that, as a group purchaser, a religious institution's buying power would be used to set the price an employee would have to pay for a contraception rider, but that cooperation is too remote to be illicit because the good of providing health coverage to employees justifies the act.

But what if such a compromise cannot be reached? What if religious institutions outside the narrow exemption are made to cover contraceptive services that an employee may or may not use? In the USCCB's response to Friday's decision, Archbishop Dolan is quoted saying, "To force American citizens to choose between violating their consciences and forgoing their healthcare is literally unconscionable. It is as much an attack on access to health care as on religious freedom." Is he implying that if the religious exemption is not broadened, Catholic institutions will stop providing health care to employees? He wouldn't be the first. Late last year, Bishop Robert Lynch of St. Petersburg threatened to stop providing health coverage to diocesan employees if HHS refused to expand the exemption. Instead, he would offer employees a lump sum they could use to purchase coverage on the open market. How many bishops would follow Lynch's lead? And is that the only course of action permitted by Catholic moral teaching? I don't think so.

(Here I'm cribbing from comments I left on another thread.) In the United States, benefits are part of an employees compensation package. Thats why Bishop Lynch said he would offer diocesan workers more money on top of their base salary, which they could use to buy insurance on the open market. Those plans will likely be more expensive and less comprehensive than those offered by the diocese, and they might include contraception and abortion coverage. What happens when a diocesan employee buys coverage that includes abortion and contraception with money provided by the diocese? What happens when an employee can't get good coverage because he lacks the diocese's purchasing power, and ends up with a pile of medical bills he can't pay? Or forgoes treatment because it could bankrupt him?

To what extent is the institutional church cooperating with evil when its employees purchase contraceptives with their salaries? What is the difference between a diocese giving employees money they can spend freely and giving an insurance company money for coverage that may or may not include procedures and drugs the institutional church deems gravely immoral, or necessary to a gravely evil act? What does it mean morally for a diocese to pay, say, Aetna for a plan excluding the pill and abortions, when other Aetna plans include such services? Does the bishop believe Aetna is not using diocesan funds to cover other plans that do include contraception? By Lynch's logic, are bishops already cooperating with evil by paying insurance companies at all? If so, how remotely? More remotely than they would be if they paid for coverage that could lead to a Catholic employee violating church teaching against contraception? How might a bishop justify such a thing? Perhaps by weighing it against the good of health coverage for his employees -- coverage individuals could not get for themselves on the open market.

Paying for health-insurance that includes contraception coverage does not amount to formal material cooperation with evil because an employee may or may not take advantage of the benefit -- and the act of using artificial contraception is something an employee could engage in with or without health insurance. Rather, when a Catholic institution pays for health insurance that includes birth control, it is remotely cooperating with evil. Remote material cooperation is permissible, according to Catholic tradition, when there are proportionate reasons. Providing health care for someone who could not get comparable coverage as an individual on the open market (and at this point an individual could not) is sufficient reason to freely and remotely cooperate with evil.

So much for the moral-theological analysis (and, moral theologians, I'm happy to be corrected). What about the politics of Obama's decision?

My initial response to the decision was, "This is politically daft and philosophically illiberal." Why risk the Catholic vote Obama worked so hard to win in 2008? I still think the HHS rule is profoundly wrong-headed, but I'm not so sure it's politically foolish, especially not when Obama has been so strongly criticized from the left. Michael Sean Winters has announced that Obama lost his vote over this. Is he typical of most Catholic voters? Obama knows most Catholics disagree with church teaching against contraception, and that they want contraception coverage. He also knows Catholics don't respond well when they think bishops are telling them how to vote. By shoring up his base on this issue -- and reducing unintended pregnancies is something he ran on -- Obama is risking the portion of the Catholic vote that is sensitive into the argument that even if you think contraceptive services should be provided as a matter of basic health care, it's wrong to force religious institutions to violate their moral precepts by paying to cover them. How many voters are keyed in to that question? How many are paying attention to their bishops' statements on election-year issues? Not many, it seems. And it's not as though the bishops have made much noise about the fact that twenty-eight states already require religious institutions to cover contraception, and eight of them lack a religious exemption. So perhaps Obama figured that he couldn't win with the USCCB -- not when its former president feels free to call his "the most secularist administration in history" -- and decided that expanding contraception coverage was worth the criticism.

We'll know in eight months.



Commenting Guidelines

Let me try to suggest a few relevant considerations. 1. A fundamental duty of an elected official, especially a high one such as the president, is to promote cooperation among all citizens. The normal presumption, of course subject to refutation, is that the laws will promote this cooperation. Enforcement of the laws, deciding on priorities, exemptions, use of resources, etc. is always a matter for prudence. For example, too many exceptions or too much expenditure on the enforcement of some particular law may cause disharmony rather than harmony. hence the need for practical wisdom on the part of the officials in making these determinations.2. Granting or denying requests for exemptions from observing a law almost always will produce disagreement concerning whatever decision is made. Part of the prudence required of officials is to keep this disagreement within "habitable bounds," not asking any particular group to bear too many burdens.3. There are some things that some people cannot in good conscience agree to for the sake of mutual cooperation. Some of these things they may find it possible not to actively oppose because there are other good things that they can promote by putting up with these bad things. John Locke talks about such cases in his "Second Treatise of Government."3. In today's complex societies, it is nearly practically impossible for a normal adult to avoid some "material cooperation in evil." What counts as "remote cooperation" as opposed to "proximate cooperation" is hardly self-evident. Some conclusions re the issue at hand:1. It is not unreasonable for the USCCB to seek by political means the conscience exemptions they deem appropriate. 2. The public officials have every reason to respond in the way they deem best suited to the overall objective of promoting community harmony. 3. It is not surprising that there is disagreement between the USCCB and the Obama administration about this matter. But it does not follow that one or the other party is failing to exercise due prudence or practical wisdom. This may be a matter where the parties have to "agree to disagree without being disagreeable." The disagreement can rightly be vocal and protracted, but neither party can rightly deny that the other party has legitimate interests.4. It serves no useful purpose for either party to impute bad motives to its opponent. To do so in matters of public policy is almost always destructive rather than constructive.For those so inclined, recall Max Weber's distinction between "an ethics of responsibility" and "an ethics of ultimate ends." That's the conceptual background that i draw upon for my comments.

I am growing increasingly frustrated with claims of persecution based on abstractions that are accompanied with demands for changes that have concrete negative effects on others. Catholic bishops are complaining that a small fraction of the money that Catholic employers take out of their employee's compensation to pay for health insurance may go toward things they consider immoral. They demand to be able to meddle in how their employees use their compensation with no regard with the beliefs and consciences of their employees. The majority of Americans want birth control. Even the majority of Catholics do. This is something that should be left between an individual and their doctor. Their employer should stay out.If they can't bear this, they should advocate for an end to our employer based health insurance system and advocate either an individual system like Switzerland or a public insurance system like Canada.

Grant: Toward the end of your piece, you raise the issue of political fallout for President Obama among Catholic voters in the 2012 election. But certain Catholic voters do not agree that artificial contraception is "evil" (to use the term that you use). For such Catholics, the regulations will probably not drive them away from Obama in the 2012 election.

Yes, Thomas, that's why I pointed out that Obama is well aware of the fact that most Catholics disagree with the church's teaching against contraception. If I had to bet, I'd put a very small amount of money on Obama losing the Catholic vote by roughly the same margin Kerry did in '04. But it's not hard to see how it could go the other way too.

The Hawaii compromise seems sensible. Bishop Lynch's solution seems morally sound, but the large price gap between group coverage and individual coverage may make it impractical. I wonder if the Affordable Care Act will do anything to shrink the price discrepancy?

Fair enough, Grant. I'm not a betting man myself, so I won't bet with you about your prediction.

Before attempting to enforce the Church's rules against contraception on non-Catholics, bishops and priests should enforce them on Catholics.Begin at the parish level. Let pastors or their assistants visit the home of all married couples in the parish. In the visitation/investigation, let them ascertain the number of children in the family and the number of years the couple has been married. If it appears that contraception is being practiced, take the necessary steps.

Gerelyn: Surely you jest.

Hi, Helen:The nuns were subjected to visitations last year. This year, let it be married couples. If the bishops and pastors are too busy to do it themselves, let them appoint prudent older couples to investigate younger couples, just as nuns were sent to investigate other nuns.

Grant, the central and unexamined issue in the quote you offer from Commonweal's original editorial has to do with the definition of a "traditional religious community." As I understand that phrase, a traditional religious community is one made up of individuals professing a common faith, otherwise why call it "religious?" Notre Dame is not the Congregation of Holy Cross. No one takes a vow to be a part of it, and it is not even expected that everyone served or employed will be a professing Catholic. In fact, it is one of the goals of the university to foster a diverse conversation among its faculty and student body. This strikes me as a very non-traditional religious community, and if you asked a number of students or faculty they would describe it as a scholarly and/or educational community before saying it was a religious community. So, as far as I understand it, "religious communities" are already exempt from the mandate. Just because a university or hospital is run by religious people, one cannot immediately assume that it is a religious community. Otherwise, the United States would be considered a "religious community" every time we had a certain critical mass of Christians in the government. I think that this is precisely the sort of situation that the First Amendment is meant to guard against. People cannot be expected to submit to religious obligations or prohibitions to which they have not freely and explicitly assented, and they cannot be duly penalized for not obeying such precepts. In effect, the bishop's are asking for permission to penalize their non-Catholic employees and customers by not providing them with services to which they are entitled and which they have not otherwise freely renounced. If the bishops would like their employees to renounce these as a condition of their employment, then they should have the courage to tell them directly and not hide behind some spurious government protection or the ridiculous convolutions that you describe as the "Hawaii compromise."

Cardinal Roger Mahony, who no one can deny has been one of the more "progressive" bishops in the U.S., responds --"This decision from the Department of Health and Human Services [HHS] is from the highest level of Federal government, and I cannot imagine that this decision was released without the explicit knowledge and approval of President Barack Obama."And I cannot imagine a more direct and frontal attack on freedom of conscience than this ruling today. This decision must be fought against with all the energies the Catholic Community can muster. . . ."For me there is no other fundamental issue as important as this one as we enter into the Presidential and Congressional campaigns. Every candidate must be pressed to declare his/her position on all of the fundamental life issues, especially the role of government to determine what conscience decision must be followed: either the person's own moral and conscience decision, or that dictated/enforced by the Federal government. For me the answer is clear: we stand with our moral principles and heritage over the centuries, not what a particular Federal government agency determines."As Bishops we do not recommend candidates for any elected office. My vote on November 6 will be for the candidate for President of the United States and members of Congress who intend to recognize the full spectrum of rights under the many conscience clauses of morality and public policy. If any candidate refuses to acknowledge and to promote those rights, then that candidate will not receive my vote."This is a sad moment in the life of our country where religious freedom and freedom of conscience led to the formation of this new Nation under God."Let us all pray that the power of the Holy Spirit will come upon all elected officials of our country, and that all will make decisions based upon God's revealed truth."Posted by Cardinal Roger M. Mahony: at 6:29 PM

I must say that I'm surprised that Cdl Mahony really thinks that:And I cannot imagine a more direct and frontal attack on freedom of conscience than this ruling today. ... For me there is no other fundamental issue as important as this one as we enter into the Presidential and Congressional campaigns."Such exagerated and clearly incorrect language does not seem calculated to persuade many of the prudence of the Bishops' position on this.Surely the issue of, say abortion, is far more fundamental and important and more of an attack on conscience than this issue.God Bless

In addition to the unaddressed confusion with regard to the definition of a "traditional religious community," as I say in my own post on this issue, I think there is a serious problem with the way the Bishops are deploying "religious liberty" and "freedom of conscience." I think that by both of these terms the Bishops are actually asking for a kind of "religious establishment," understood as the "freedom" to expect compliance with specific religious dictates from those who do not consider themselves members of that confession, which is precisely what the Constitution forbids the government to support.These issues are, of course, linked. In order to index "religious liberty" and "freedom of conscience" to a group rather then an individual, one must assign some kind of common identity and agency to that group. Groups can only claim rights insofar as the individuals within them have agreed to some relevant homogeneity. So, if a group is going to claim the right to protect "religious liberty" and "freedom of conscience" from some government mandate, then all of the members of that group must show that they are of one religion and of one conscience. Otherwise, you have some leaders of the group claiming to speak for the consciences of all of the members without their consent, and that is precisely a violation of conscience protection and religious freedom. So, either you have a homogeneous group claiming "freedom of conscience" in the name of a collective identity to which all of the individuals have assented, or you have a heterogeneous collection of individuals with separate consciences and freedoms that must be defended from the tyranny of the majority (or minority). Thus, the conclusion that exemption on the grounds of "religious liberty" would only be extended to groups comprised of confessing co-religionists makes perfect sense. In the absence of freely-embraced uniformity, plurality must be protected.

Given Cardinal Mahoney's behavior in the sex scandal (his handling of the cases in his archdiocese was one of the very worst, on a par with C. Law's), he has lost all credibility in matters moral. He should resign and let a credible moral leader take the helm.

Grant Gallicho wrote: "The USCCB objects to forcing Catholic institutions to fund contraception coverage for employees because it believes doing so would involve them in unacceptably proximate cooperation with evil."I haven't heard the USCCB say that it " objects to forcing a Catholic owner of a metal-stamping firm in Cleveland to fund contraception coverage for employees because it believes doing so would involve [her or him] in unacceptably proximate cooperation with evil.If it's immoral for a Catholic hospital to do, it must be immoral for any Catholic to do. But they haven't made the argument that that Catholic business owner in Cleveland will have to stop providing health insurance to employeesSo, is the USCCB's concern the morality of the insurance or or is it the Church's right to publicize its views by saying "we believe contraception is wrong and to publicize that fact we will exclude contraception from the health insurance our Catholic institutions provide to employees" I live in Massachusetts where the state has a program where individuals and small businesses can buy health insurance at economical prices and wih subsidies for low-income people. The state requires that all policies sold through that program include coverage for abortion. I have not heard anything from he Church saying tht individuals or small businesses should not buy those policies.

Gerelyn: You are still pulling my leg.

Gerelyn: And I am still smarting from the "visitation" of nuns who are members of my family and with whom I have collaborated in ministry.

GerelynThere is an old Irish ditty that your visitators might use:Oh Mary Jane you've got to stop Your dirty sinful tricksYou've been married seven years And you've only got the six!

LOL Great one, Brian. Thanks. (I was just looking at an ancestor on who came from Castle Island, Co., Kerry, the poorest place in Ireland, in 1861. She had 13 children. Ten lived to adulthood. She lived to be 65. Tough woman.)

The tragic irony here seems to be that it is the Obama administration which is upholding Catholic teaching on the right to religious liberty and the right of conscience and the US Catholic Bishops which appear to be wanting to violate the right to religious liberty and conscience of their employees to plan their family sizes (as Humanae Vitae says is their duty, right, and responsibility) using those methods which appear proper to them in good conscience.If we apply the Catholic principle of "preferential option for the poor" it seems to follow that a preference ought to be given to the poor families of employees of religious organisations over the right of their much more wealthy employers to impose their consciences on their employees. After all, the real suffering and difficulties faced by poor families in providing for their families is substantially more that any suffering the religious organisations may face.God Bless

To follow on from Chris Sullivan's post:I believe that this whole controversy is less, as the hierarchs would frame it, a matter of the right to "religious liberty," thus a First Amendment issue, but rather much more a matter of the right to privacy and "equal protection of the law," thus a Fourteenth Amendment issue.Catholic hierarchs have yet to embrace the concept that women have equal rights in a democracy. President Obama is where he is because he has to safeguard those rights.As recent history sadly has demonstrated [especially as evidenced in the child sexual abuse and exploitation scandal] , there is nothing compelling the hierarchs to observe the moral or legal rights of any individuals, be it in the civil or canonical world. Catholic hierarchs who operate in an all-male feudal oligarchy are used to twisting moral imperatives to suit their political needs. That is the real "moral relativism," Joseph. I guess President Obama is just being responsive to the demands of millions of American women, and men, many of whom vote, and who insist on preventive reproductive health care coverage in their health insurance programs.Looking at the politics, Obama seems to be better at political math than the hierarchs. I'm sure that President Obama didn't go out of his way looking for this fight. He just knows how to count. Besides, I'm sure that many of the Catholics who advise the president have told him that the vast majority of Catholics, those who are probably more inclined to vote for the president, find their Catholic hierarchs alienated from and irrelevant to their every day lives. As my teenagers would text, NBD!It sad to see hierarchs like Mahony and Dolan expressing over-the-top outrage and consternation at this human rights decision by the president. If they think they can bully and intimidate Barack Obama, they should check out what happened in Pakistan with OBL?!? Catholics, as mentioned in the posting at the beginning of the blog, who self-righteously announced that President Obama has lost their vote over this decision need to get a grip. Most of them were not going to support the president in the election anyway. Now they will just get to jump up on their high horses, spouting righteous indignation, feeling better about their prejudices. They should vote for their fellow Catholic and paragon of Gospel values, Newt Gingrich. Knock yourselves out!The vast, vast majority of American don't care what the hierarchs think about birth control. Most Americans just want reliable, affordable, quality health care for themselves and their children.P.S. No one cares what Mahony thinks. I have NEVER heard over many, many years one California Catholic ever mention they needed to consider Roger Mahony's opinion about anything before they made up their own mind.

Eric raises a substantial issue: the degree to which it is appropriate to exempt religiously affiliated employers from employment rules that apply to a wide range of employees, who are most definitely not selected based on their adherence to the tenets of that specific religion. You might ask for the following test, in light of the recent Supreme Court decision related to this very subject: if you could not -- or even would not -- discriminate against a class of employees based on their religious affiliation (let's say: nurses in hospitals, or support staff at a university) then obtaining an exemption from an otherwise neutral employment rule based on your religious dogma starts to look an awful lot like government recognition and backing (i.e., establishment) of that religion. It would not surprise me if that isn't the real reason this rule was not changed, even if that doesn't seem to have been debated all that much in a forum like this one.

JimJ: "If they think they can bully and intimidate Barack Obama, they should check out what happened in Pakistan with OBL?!?"Some one needs to get a grip, alright...In any case, there are many, many issues that are going against this repressive policy decision - namely the unconstitutional nature of this mandate from the federal government and the infringement on free exercise of religion.An illiberal mandate, for sure-- but at least the administration is showing its totalitarian tendencies before the election.

Hasn't anyone noticed the the bishops have lost all their CLOUT. So don't play hardball without a mitt and don't play on the political field without clout.

I doubt if many Catholics really think that contraceptives and sterilization are "evil".

Hawaii law also requires health insurers to allow enrollees in a health plan of an objecting religious employer to purchase coverage of contraceptive services directly and to do so at a cost that does not exceed the enrollees pro rata share of the price the group purchaser would have paid for such coverage had the group plan not invoked a religious exemption.

Seems fair. You might have thought.... But the President apparently didn't feel obliged to think it through that far. That's not who he is. At one time, many of us hoped he was very much that sort of person. Blind faith, I suppose.The issue is, as always, a struggle between the modern, centralized, secular state and the individual conscience, much as it has been, in the not too distant past, between the individual conscience and the monarchy.I wonder whether the President might not, after "thinking it through", decide that the bishops have a good point, after all, and declare that Hawaii's model is a compromise that the whole country should take. That way, he'd come off appearing thoughtful, a good listener, and concerned for the individual conscience. At least, that would be the political intent. That seems maybe a bit excessively Machiavellian, but I suspect it's something a clever politician wouldn't overlook.

If President Obama thinks about the Catholic church in the US as the body of the faithful, then he knows that the vast majority are in favor of contraception. Why should he pay attention to bishops who claim to represent US Catholics but who are unelected and who, on the matter of contraception, are dictatorially trying to impose views that do not represent those of US Catholics? Why should bishops play a role in shaping US policy? They're just channeling the Vatican, not the Catholic people, and so they have no legitimate claim to playing a political role.

That is, I do think that bishops have a role to play in politics, but only in an indirect way: by talking to the faithful and, in their proper role of teachers, by convincing them that, say, contraception is sinful. Then Catholics will take action against contraception. I do not think it is right for US bishops to bypass US Catholics.

How about abortifacients, Claire?

Eric: The only "unaddressed confusion" here is your own. Obviously our editorial is concerned with the Catholic institutions that are affected by this mandate, institutions created and sponsored and run by religious leaders (be they women religious, religious priests, or bishops).Barbara: By that reasoning, something more direct, such as an institution's tax-exempt status, would also qualify as establishment, no?

Grant: Some people have raised the objection about certain institutions being tax-exempt. For example, I knew one Jesuit priest who argued that churches should not be tax-exempt.

Paying for health-insurance that includes contraception coverage does not amount to formal material cooperation with evil because an employee may or may not take advantage of the benefit and the act of using artificial contraception is something an employee could engage in with or without health insurance.---------------Are 98% of Catholics "evil"? Those who insist they will not vote for Barack Obama would not have voted for him anyway. Newt's their man.

Grant, you haven't addressed the issue. What counts as a religious community? What must be true of such a community, if we are to recognize it as having a univocal conscience that trumps the rights of its individual members? I don't think that being religious in origin and administration is sufficient. Otherwise, those seeking proof of the Christian conviction of the Founding Fathers and demanding that our political leaders show Christian allegiance would be on to something when they call America a "Christian nation." I presume that we would agree that such people are confused.

Eric: Of course I have. You're barking up the wrong tree. Why are you hung up on the term "religious community." We are talking about institutions like universities and hospitals, ones that were created, sponsored, and run by religious groups like the Sisters of Mercy and the Congregation of the Holy Cross. You need not ascribe conscience to a group in order to see that the sponsoring body has a right not to be told to spend its money on actions it deems morally wrong on the basis of its religious beliefs. Univocity is irrelevant, and unhelpful. What happens when a Catholic takes his bishop to court to sue him for employment discrimination because he won't ordain women?

If this were truly a matter of individuals' rights to contraceptives then a decision in favor of the bishops would deprive those individuals access to the contraceptives. But not paying for the individuals' contraceptives does not deny them access to contraceptives. So their right to access them is not being violated. The real issue here is whether or not the rights of one person can, for the sake of convenience, over-ride the rights of another.

Grant, then if my factory owner in Cleveland is a Jehovah's Witness instead of a Catholic, he can provide health insurance that doesn't cover transfusions of whole blood?

The real issue here is whether or not the rights of one person can, for the sake of convenience, over-ride the rights of another.Ann,What are the "rights" we are talking about here?

Perhaps the solution is the one that Fordhan University has adopted - provide health insurance that will pay for contraception and other family planning services but not provide those services through your own medical facilities.

The ultimate question is this controversy is why contraception is considered "evil" in the first place. If the hierarchy would think this through in an open and honest way, listening to its people, having an actual conversation, and then applying natural law in an understandable way (as opposed to merely using its vocabulary), the whole mess could be avoided.

Grant, the essential differences between your last example and the issue in question are: (1) Being an ordained minister in a church is an explicitly religious position, and thus would be protected by the current exemption policy. (2) The person bringing the suit is a confessing Catholic who recognizes the authority of "his Bishop." In the case of providing health insurance to employees of hospitals and universities, we are talking about professions that are not explicitly religious (e.g. doctors and professors) as well as individuals who are not necessarily confessing believers, unless they have been required as a condition of their employment to sign a credo, which would stipulate that religious adherence is part of their job responsibilities. So, in the case you mention, the Bishop would be protected in a way that the administrations of these institutions need not be. Now, of course, no one is forcing them to provide health insurance, but if they want to get in the business of medicine, which is not religious (unless you count faith-healing), then they need to submit to the relevant authority, i.e. medical experts. As long as they restrict their purview to explicitly religious matters, they are free to make decisions as they wish. I only bring up the soundness of applying "conscience" to a group, because this seems to be the hook on which the Bishops are hanging their case. It is they who are raising "irrelevant and unhelpful" issues.

From a political perspective, it appears to be a low risk and high reward move by the administration. I simply cannot see many progressive religious voters abandoning Obama over this. The reward of course will come in the campaign contributions from the "reproductive rights" groups which must recognize this as a great victory.

Adeodatus,Are you ruling out the possibility that Obama, Sebelius, and others in change of these policies actually believe that insurance coverage of contraception is to the benefit of American women?

David, I do not rule it out one bit. In fact I think that President Obama is entirely convinced by that argument. It's part of the reason I wouldn't vote for the man. But I also think that in any potentially controversial decision a politician will weigh the risks and rewards, no matter how fervently he believes himself to be in the right.

I know more than a few people who are a bit sour on Obama, but who are giving him high marks for this move. Count me in the number.

" So dont play hardball without a (M)itt ---"It is starting to look as if the Gross Objectionable Party is looking to do exactly that. Can anyone actually imagine Sts. Newt and Callista as POTUS and First "Lady?"

David N. --The rights we're talking of here are the right of someone to have contraceptives and the right of someone else to be free to choose not to buy contraceptives for themselves or others. If one has the religious right not to buy contraceptives for oneself, then surely one has the right not to buy them for other people.

A couple of questions:1. Do those who are asking for the exemption in this issue claim that they have a Constitutional right to the exemption? So far as I know, that is not part of their claim.2. How does the official charged with enforcing the laws deal with requests for exemptions? Is it not his or her responsibility to consider the effects of granting exemptions on the equitable administration of both the law in question and the cluster of related laws? If so, this is a prudential matter about which reasonable can and often do disagree. 3. For my part, it is generally preferable for officials to give as many exemptions from burdensome laws as they reasonably can without giving the impression that the binding force of the laws is not lightly to be set aside.4. Application: There is nothing unreasonable about vigorous and sustained calls for exemptions about matters of importance or of religious principle. But neither is it unreasonable for an official to deny that request. Neither their request nor its disposition by the official (giving or refusing the request) is unquestionably unreasonable. questioning motives, either of the requester or of the official, in the absence of clear evidence, is not warranted.

Jeannae --I agree that the bishops' argument against contraception doesn't hold water. But that isn't the legal issue. The legal issue is whether or not the bishops or their agents can be forced to support other people's rights when that violates their own religious right. Granted, the general culture does not agree with the bishops' position. But that is irrelevent to the question of whether or not the bishops' religious rights must also be respected. Those who want contraceptives have not been deprivied of their right to them.I feel very strongly that this matter really is threat to religious freedom. The unpopularity of the bishops' position is irrelevent. Just as suppression of anyone's freedom of (unpopular) speech is a threat to everyone's freedom of speech, so a threat to the bishops' religious freedom a threat to everyone's religious freedom. If the government can do it to them, it can do it to you and me..

But Ann, the bishop is not spending his own money but the money that we US Catholics are contributing to our church, our community. Our country, our laws, our money, our Catholic community, his opinion (channeling Rome's). Does that opinion, unsupported by our community, warrant an exception?

Ann, are you saying a Catholic university or hospital has the right to deny their employees (many of whom may be non-Catholic) access to what the government has determined to be a certain standard of preventative care? I'm not convinced such a right is legitimate (even though I agree including contraception at all in preventative care is questionable - but that's a separate question). What if it weren't contraception? What if it was some other form of health care?Here's a Christian Science college's benefit page. They offer their employees a variety of health care options above and beyond Christian Science practice, including an HMO and a Flexible Spending Account.