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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.

About the Author

Grant Gallicho is an associate editor of Commonweal. You can follow him on Facebook and Twitter.



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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.

Claire --The bishops are spending not only the government money but also the money that they raise for the hospitals and schools. That money is not the government's. And there is more than money that the bishop and their agents are contributing -- there is the added value of the work the bishops and others put into the programs.Again, the issue is not whether or not the bishops' view of contraception is reasonable. The issue is do they themselves as individuals have a right to practice their own religion without interference from others? It is an issue of religious freedom, not of religious/moral corrrectness of belief. It will always be possible, given the variety of religions that are possible that some beliefs will be unpopular and even unreasonable by most people's standards. Still that isn't the issue. The issue is not who is right or wrong, the issue is do the bishops have a right not to buy contraceptives when it is against their religion and when the rights of others to buy and use contraception is not being frustrated.Viewed from another angle, the issue is Nanny Government -- the notion that government has an automatic right to solve people's problems if it is capable of doing. (That's a whole other can of worms.)

Jeanne --The bishops are not denying any of the employee rights. The employees can still get contraceptives. The bishops are only refusing to pay for what the employees want and by their own lights even need. But an employer is not bound to satisfy every employee need. Employees need food. Employers are not obliged to pay for it -- they are only obliged to pay just wages.

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.Ann,This certainly can't stand as a principle applying to health care or just about anything else! One has the religious right not to buy just about anything for oneself. In an oft-repeated example, Jehovah's witnesses are religiously opposed to blood transfusions. Until fairly recently, they did not permit organ transplants. Some even today go so far as to oppose the use of clotting factor for hemophiliacs. The principle you state would give every individual employer the right to design its own insurance coverage without regard to medical needs and medical standards. In certain cases, we don't even allow parents to impose their own beliefs about medical care on their own children. Would you want a hospital to let a child die because his or her parents objected to certain medical procedures like blood transfusions, or (worse) because parents wanted to forego conventional medical treatment for faith healing?

Ann,Remember that organizations who feel they cannot, in good conscience, provide insurance that covers contraception do not have to provide insurance at all.

Grant, without denying the tension between free exercise and the establishment clauses, there is a big difference between this rule and tax-exemption, and it relates more or less to the broadness of the categories. Tax exemption is a broad category and it depends on whether an organization meets a list of factors having to do with mission (not for the profit of individuals), organizational governance, and how one raises funds (e.g., running a food business won't be non-taxable no matter how high a percentage of the profits are provided to charitable endeavors). Some religious organizations (Scientology) have a hard time qualifying, while most don't have a problem. Numerous other types of missions are also accommodated by the broad category called "tax-exempt status." It certain has nothing to do with the sectarian doctrine or beliefs of those claiming the exemption.In the case at hand, there is a general rule (minimum benefits) from which some are seeking an exemption based on explicitly sectarian beliefs. Not only does that mean that these organizations are seeking a preference (which is valuable beyond its conformance to their beliefs and advantages them financially vis a vis other organizations that cannot claim the exemption -- let's say, a non-profit but non-sectarian hospital or educational institution), but the exemption itself is very narrow and based on a sectarian position that is itself held by a narrow range of religious organizations: the notion that contraception is wrong and that covering it through insurance constitutes material non-remote cooperation with the behavior. Is it fair, for instance, to allow Catholic organizations not to fund contraception, when Jehovah's Witnesses have to fund blood transfusions, Scientologists have to meet mental health parity laws, and maybe some other organizations have to fund organ transplants? You underestimate what going down this road means.By the way, Hawaii is somewhat different in that employers are actually forced to provide insurance, a law which has been in place since around the early 70s (predates and is mostly exempt from ERISA preemption for the cognoscenti).

2004 - A California law requiring employers who provide prescription drug coverage to include birth control for women remained intact Monday when the U. S. Supreme Court denied review of Catholic Charities' claim that it shouldn't have to pay for practices it considers sinful.The justices, without comment, turned aside an appeal by Catholic Charities of Sacramento from a decision in March by the California Supreme Court. The state justices ruled that the 4-year-old law was a valid anti-discrimination measure that didn't interfere with religious beliefs or practices.The church-affiliated charity remains "free to express its disapproval of prescription contraceptives and to encourage its employees not to use them" as long as it treats male and female employees equally, the California court said at the time.Monday's decision was the first opportunity for the nation's high court to review any of the laws passed by 21 states that require employers to include contraceptives in health plans that cover prescription drugs. Another challenge is pending in New York state courts.

David N> --The child's right to life (another theme of the bishops) would trump the parents' right to not buy blood for it. This whole argument is a matter of competing rights and which rights should trump which other rights when circumstances are such that both cannot be honored.'Not buying contraceptives for employees is indeed analogous to not buying blood for one's child. And the solution is the same -- let the government act for the employee and child when the bishops and parents cannot in conscience act for the child.

The U.S. Suprem Court also declined to review a New York law. This is what led to Fordham providing coverage for contraceptives, etc in its health plans (but not providing those services in house - students have to go elsewhere to get them). "Like California, New Yorks Catholic Charities of Albany, et al v. Gregory V. Serio saw ten Catholic and Baptist organizations (including one Baptist church) challenging the states Womens Health and Wellness Act, which mandated insurance coverage for contraceptives in addition to other womens health services. According to the suit filed in 2002, the plaintiffs argued that the restrictive requirement infringed on their religious freedoms as enshrined by both the US Constitution and New York Constitution. In 2003, however, the New York Supreme Court dismissed the complaint, granting summary judgment in the defendants favor and upholding the act as constitutional. The groups then appealed, and in early 2006, a divided appellate division affirmed the original decision. Appealing once more, the New York Court of Appeals affirmed the decision once again later that year, preserving WHWA as constitutional as applied to the plaintiffs. The US Supreme Court decided not to consider the challenge in 2007."

David --True, the employers don't have to supply insurance, and that might be the solution. Or maybe the RCC could self-insure the universities and hospitals, etc. -- and make the policies available to all comers whether employees or not. They could provide health insurance without contraception coverage and make buying into it voluntary. There are enough Catholic institutions of that sort that the insurance company would be very large and thus able to provide insurance at a reasonable rate.I just don't see why this sort of thing should be necessary in the first place, and, worst of all, I think that the government is in this matter depriving the bishops et al of a freedom of religion right. I think both freedom of speech, freedom of religion and the other First Amendment rights need to be preserved scrupulously, guided by the principle "When in doubt, give the benefit of the doubt to the First Amendment".

John H, you are comparing state laws to this new, unconstitutional federal mandate.While neither congress nor the executive have the power to dictate healthcare policy, states certainly do.

Brett, What I was pointing out was that, in both cases, the U. S. Supreme Court refused to hear an appeal of the state Court decisions. That suggests to me that they are not champing at the bit to hear an appeal of a future Federal court decision on the same question. I don't understand your comment that "neither congress nor the executive have the power to dictate healthcare policy." It seems to me that they do that all the time with Medicare, Medicaid, and other programs. The Supreme Court has agreed to rule on some specific parts of the Affordable Care Act (mandate/penalty, Medicaid burden on States) but the issue of whether Congress had a right to pass such a law to begin with isn't on the table - nor is the question of the executive's right to issue regulations needed to implement the law

The question is if congress or the president can force individual mandates on citizens and private insurers, not state legislatures. Do they have the power to force individual citizens to purchase a specific product? Not via the power enumerated in the constitution...the same applies for the "contraception mandate."

It seems ironic that Republicans have become so vocal about the alleged unconstitutionality of mandated health insurance, considering the fact that it was a Republican (Heritage Fdn., Newt Gingrich, Mitt Romney)innovation, and one that Obama himself opposed during the 2008 campaign.But we digress. Hypothetically, it is hard not to agree that Catholic instutitions should be allowed to opt out of federal mandates for anything that in itself violates Catholic moral doctrine, BUT this is a complicated situation. As far as I know, Catholic moral doctrine does NOT object to the use of birth control pills for several common medical conditions (irregular menstrual cycles, endometriosis, cystic acne, etc.) How, then, can bishops object to mandated coverage under these circumstances? Is it therefore prudent to demand any insurance plans NOT cover these medications at all? Won't that automatically amount to discrimination against some women -- including Catholic women -- who suffer from certain medical conditions?

I would add that, given the complexity of the issue, it seems odd that many Catholic bishops, including Cardinal Mahoney, became so accusatory and quick to condemn the President himself for what may have been an oversight of a federal agency. Whatever happened to episcopal diplomacy...and, well, tact?

I suspect we're at the point where Mormons who believed in polygamy once were. The government outlawed it because it wanted to, because it knew the general population wouldn't object. Obama has apparently decided that the general population is behind him on this, that he's free to force the bishops to do what he says. (I imagine his Catholic "experts" must be telling him that they'll cave in - that their protest is just empty bluster.) He doesn't seem to give a damn about any damage that may be done to Catholic institutions. A rigidly progressive position - use the power while you've got it to bulldoze the people standing in the way of progress.

The Hawaii "compromise" is not acceptable under HHS's ruling. It is incorrect to suggest that there is still room left for negotiation and that compliance could happem under that scheme. It is even more incorrect to imply that if victims of this administration don't pursue the Hawaii compromise, they are the ones who haven't done all they can short of "war." HHS has said my way or the highway. There is nothing left open. In addition, forcing a religious organization to tell and facilitate their employees how to get embryo-killing drugs, contraception, and sterilization, is a violation of religious freedom and the freedom of speech as well. "You don't have to kill anyone--just refer people to a specific hitman and make sure they get there." That may be what you consider acceptable cooperation in evil--but it is irrelevant to what other people consider acceptable, Catholics and not Catholics. To make excuses for the federal government forcing people to do this because it's not really that bad in your view is disgusting. Man up and admit you were wrong about Obama and religious freedom.

Brett: This thread was not intended to debate the constitutionality of the ACA. Lots of people believe the commerce clause allows it. We'll see what this Supreme Court thinks soon enough.Barbara: Thanks for laying that out. I'm not familiar with the jurisprudence on such cases, but a more pronounced material benefit to a religious group be required in order to run afoul of the establishment clause? From an actuarial standpoint, it's hard to see how a religious institution would save a substantial amount of money by not providing contraception coverage. In fact, it might even be more expensive not to, given the fact that having babies is more expensive than not.Eric: You still don't need the conscience "hook." It doesn't matter whether the bishops are using it. I see your point about the problems entailed in ascribing a conscience to a group of people. But, as I've already pointed out, you don't need to claim a religious institution has a conscience in order to make the argument that the government is infringing on the organization's religious freedom by forcing it to pay for something it considers immoral on the basis of religious belief.Bonaventure: Thanks for your assertions. Down here in the States, I'm hearing quite the opposite about what's permissible under the law. I've warned you about your attitude before. If you can't make an argument without ascribing ugly motives to your interlocutors, get lost. If you can't do that on your own, I'll help.

To make excuses for the federal government forcing people to do this because its not really that bad in your view is disgusting. Bonaventure,The federal government is not forcing anyone to do anything. It is requiring coverage of contraception in insurance, but it is not requiring any religious organization to provide insurance. It can certainly be argued that it is a serious matter for the government to regulate insurance in such a way that religious groups feel they cannot in good conscience provide it. Still, no one is forcing religious groups to provide insurance that pays for contraception, morning-after pills, or sterilization, because no one is forcing them to provide insurance.

The Washington Post opines:"requiring a religiously affiliated employer to spend its own money in a way that violates its religious principles does not make an adequate accommodation for those deeply held views. Having recognized the principle of a religious exemption, the administration should have expanded it."

I understand and agree with the USCCB regarding conscience clauses for Obama-care, but I would make a wider argument. Why should any employer religion based or no be forced to provide BC pills or other contraceptives, or pay for abortions for that matter? If we are going that route, why not have the federal government mandate that all employers health plans pay for dental/orthodontic services?Look, as a union-man, I understand workers want decent benefit packages. With this in mind, and in line with the principle of subsidiarity by the way, those benefit packages should be negotiated by the local workers at the local level and not mandated by the federal government.If someone considers contraception and abortion important enough, they will find an employer who pays for them. On the other hand, many working folks do not have benefit packages at all. Why then, should these workers be paying for a federal government that spends time mandating free BC pills for other, better-off workers?

As an experiment, dive a bit deeper into contract/benefits details. Some bosses/owners are situated where all of their workers are men and his wife does the bookwork and tends the office. Why then, would any of this apply until he hired a woman? Insurance companies like to load up plans with bennys and then of course, the union and employer share the cost somehow (90/10, 70/30, or whatever percentage they settle on). Why would he or his workers want to pay for any of this sort of coverage?So if a boss has twenty guys working for him under a contract, why should he be forced to consider any of this? For all the high and mighty blather about BC pills and how important they are (a right to free BC pills?) what if, rather than wading through federal mandates regarding the insurance he provides and pays for, the boss simply decides to drop the coverage altogether? Then his guys have nothing thank you very much.It might surprise some, but that fact of the matter is there are more important things in the work-a-day world than free birth control pills and free IUDs. Follow this arc out to its logical end, and people will want the feds to mandate free condoms and free Viagra! :-)

"So, in the case you mentioned, the Bishops would be protected in a way that the administration of these institutions need not be."Eric, But what about a Catholic University's canonical status?Just for the record: Every Catholic University has both a cononical and civil status. Thus Catholic universities worry about their cononical status as a Catholic institution (as well as their civil status) when ther is a possible danger of losing it. Because the University of Notre Dame is listed in the KENNEDY DIRECTORY (the Bishops' book), it is formally recognized as a Catholic University. Notre Dame's mission statement also alludes to this fact (i.e., its "Catholic" identity) no fewer than 12 times (something all employees are familiar with, directly or indirectly). The university does not want to lose this canonical status.Thus when Fr. Jenkins, president (and a member of the Congregation of Holy Cross), noted that the Obama mandate "would compel Notre Dame to either pay for contraception and sterilization in violation of the church's moral teaching, or to discontinue our employee and student health care plans in violation of the church social teaching," he was intimating that such a violation would jeopardize Notre Dame's canonical status as a Catholic University, something that the Congregation of Holy Cross and the University's Trustees don't want to do.Possibly for you, canonical status is a minor thing. However, for Notre Dame (and other Catholic universities and colleges), losing its official Catholic status would be like a bank, albiet a well known bank, being removed from the Weiss financial rating agency for delinquency and major violations. It would be devastating. Actually, it would be far, for worse, as it would put the university (and the Congregation of Holy Cross) in antagonism with the soul and animating principle of their ecclesial and spiritual identity.

Ken --Thanks for the union view. Nothing like the pragmatic to put things in perspective.

I'm with Sebelius (and Barbara, above,) on this one. If "we don't pay for ___ because we think it's immoral," is allowable on religious freedom grounds, then EVERYBODY'S RELIGIOUS FREEDOM COUNTS, and soon we have a situation in which any number of medial procedures--blood transfusions, psychiatric care, medical care itself--may be denied to employees. Can you really say "if you want coverage for surgery then pay for it yourself, or don't work for a JW?" The alternative would be to say, "well that's silly," of some religiously held convictions, like those of the JW's, Scientologists, Christian Scientists, et al. Do you really want the federal government to be in the position of deciding which religiously held positions are theologically reasonable? And if the feds do that, then surely we cannot expect the magisterial aversion to birth control to meet that standard, since the overwhelming majority even of Catholics do not find the magisterial position compelling. So let's use public reason: there are clear public health benefits for providing contraceptive coverage. There are even demonstrable cost savings, as noted above. A tiny minority of Americans find contraception to be objectionable, a stance not amenable to public reason. Federal standards of health care coverage should reflect public reason, not the views of the tiny minority. (That way lies chaos-shall we not fluoridate public water supplies because of the unsubstantiated views of a tiny minority?)Catholic tradition ITSELF affirms that standards for civil law are different from the requisites of natural law. Civil law is about the common good--not about enforcing Catholic sexual ethics in all its detail.And if indeed the tiny minority are correct on this one, (or correct on fluoridation, for that matter,) the ball's in their court to make a compelling argument based on the common good (not a sectarian reading of natural law,) that will convince other people of good will.

@ Ken: sure, it's easy to say "then don't work for Catholics," or JWs, or any religious group, if you want adequate health coverage. But in this economy, walking away from a job is a very risky thing to do, especially if you have a family. Lots of folks will take any decent job they can get in order to put food on the table. Do you want the comprehensiveness of those people's medical care to hinge on the particular religious beliefs of their employers? Or should we establish a broad baseline reflecting good medical practice and the enhancement of public health, and let employees decide for themselves whether they will make use of a given medical benefit. Otherwise, the most vulnerable are the folks who don't have the money in the bank to walk away from a job.

Oh spare us the sob story Lisa; we all know times are tough and this issue is not that complicated. Besides, while people do change jobs for various reasons, few would as you say "walk away from a job", in this economy, all because the boss won't pay for birth control pills.Bear in mind you are talking about something you want your boss to give you for free. You want the federal government in Washington DC to tell your boss to give you something you want, again, for free.Nobody is saying you cannot have PC pills or other types of contraceptives. Some are simply trying to point out that the federal government should not operate like that at the local level, forcing bosses to buy BC pills for you. Times are tough after all, and in any case, what makes you think someone else should give you something like this for free?As such, it is a matter of personal priorities. Working people are adults; we do have brains and self-control. If someone thinks free contraceptives as part of a job benefits package is important enough, they will find job where the employer pays for that. If they still need the job, but the boss wont pay for birth control pills, then they can buy the pills themselves or do without them.

@ Ken, If religious liberty applies to MY religion, then in a pluralist democracy, it applies to ALL. As I said in the earlier post. EVERYBODY'S RELIGIOUS LIBERTY COUNTS. So sure, contraception isn't going to break the bank. But do working folks deserve to have their health care be construed by the vagaries of their bosses' religions? Surgery. Blood transfusions. Medical care at all. Psychiatic care. Still a "sob story"? This is a question of public policy, and the reach of the kind of argument that the bishops want Obama to make.

"Do you really want the federal government to be in the position of deciding which religiously held positions are theologically reasonable?"Lisa --Didn't the recent SCOTUS decision about the disabled worker explicitly say that it is up to the religion itself to say what its religious beliefs are? In other words, if Scientologists reject psychiatry on religious grounds, then whether or not that is a *reasonable* belief is irrelevant. This business of religious freedom has some weird legal ramifications, I grant you. But either we grant that one has a fundamental *right* to weird religious beliefs or everyone's religious beliefs go out the window. If my religion tells me to wear tiny little shoes on my ears, then I have an almost sacred American right to do so. The legal problems arise when there are conflicts of religious rights and other rights legally and how to prioritize those rights.

The logic of Lisa Fullam's argument, as with Eric Bugyis' substantially similar argument, requires Catholic employers to pay for their employees' abortions. Not coincidentally, it should be noted that President Obama, who wants to coerce Catholic employers to pay for their employees' contraception and sterlization, marked the 39th anniversary of Roe v Wade by issuing a statement praising that evil decision and vowing to defend it.

Lisa; You make me smile if only more bosses paid heed to what their pastors say on Sundays! I will admit that while religion is not foremost in most bosses minds, it naturally affects their decisions. In reality, they (again naturally) tend to focus more on the money end of things and yes, of course the benefits packages they offer will be affected by the vagaries of their bosses religions. The salary and working conditions they provide are also affected by the business owners world view.My point is that the details of a benefits package offered by a boss in a small South Dakota city for example, will naturally be different than one offered by a boss in Hollywood, or than that offered by an international conglomerate with an office in New York City, and that this is Ok, this is natural. If a group of employees in California can convince their boss that he or she should pay for contraceptives, fine. If on the other hand, a similar group of workers in South Dakota either does not care that much about it or cannot convince their boss to provide contraceptives, then that is their business. In neither case is it the business of the federal government. I once worked for a company that was purchased by an international conglomerate that was based in Paris. Accordingly, we were all informed that while the company did not like unions, they also explained how with certain practical adjustments, our contracts/benefits packages would be based on the arrangements that prevailed in France. It was not a bad deal I must admit.Because subsidiarity is so important, these sorts of things should be settled locally, certainly within the pertinent sector of the economy. If people find they cannot resolve it locally, the next step should be at county or state level. The federal government should be the last resort. People who work for a company in Alabama know what they want from their boss, and they should be allowed to convince him to provide it. The federal government should not nose into local affairs/details like this. If we continue down this road, the federal government will be nosing into all sorts of things that in fact are local issues. Once that happens, it is just a matter of who pulls the strings on the federal level and in that case, crony capitalists usually win out over working people. Politicians might be for sale, but they are not that cheap. Just look at how nicely GE is making out because of the influence it has purchased under this administration; in their defense, they are not the only ones playing that game nowadays.The crony capitalism and influence buying we have long had in the military sector is bad enough; we certainly do not want to allow that to seep through the entire federal government and out into society. That is something we should try to limit rather than allow to metastasize.

"Just look at how nicely GE is making out because of the influence it has purchased under this administration; in their defense, they are not the only ones playing that game nowadays."Congress is not "under" this administration.

"The question is if congress or the president can force individual mandates on citizens and private insurers, not state legislatures."Brett -- Is it your intention here to raise a constitutional issue as basic as, say, Marbury? Are you seriously asking whether or not Congress (and by extention the President as executive) can tell us what to do only in certain areas specified in the constitution? If so what are those areas, and where in the Constitution does it say that Congress can't mandate any other sorts of laws?

Ken,Many of those men probably have wives, which would make them likely to be interested in birth control coverage.

"So lets use public reason: there are clear public health benefits for providing contraceptive coverage."Yes, it rids us of the scourge of children."Federal standards of health care coverage should reflect public reason, not the views of the tiny minority."These regulations have nothing to do with public health. Contraception is almost never medically necessary. It is already widely available. Many women who want it can afford it without a subsidy. For those who want it and can't afford to pay list price, it is already available at reduced or no charge.These regulations solve a public health problem that doesn't exist. Their purpose is political - to reward Democratic interest groups: women's groups, Planned Parenthood, Big Pharma. This is the Democratic Party at work.These regulations are profoundly anti-Catholic. The Catholic Church teaches that sexual intimacy should exist in, and only in, marriage, which is between a man and a woman, is faithful, and is for life. It also correctly teaches that each and every sexual encounter within marriage must be ordered toward procreation. Millions of women fulfill this ideal over the course of an adult lifetime. Those who cannot or choose not to are called to continence. Millions of women fulfill this ideal, too.Couples who use contraception within marriage are committing a sin. Even a single use is sinful. A persistent use of contraception within marriage can have the effect of separating the couple from God, a fate which may be nearly as bad as pregnancy or motherhood. Sexual intimacy is always sinful for those who are unmarried. To the extent that contraception enables an unmarried couple's willingness to engage in non-marital sex, the contraception is also sinful.I know of two situations where the use of contraception isn't sinful prima facie. One is as part of post-rape treatment. The other is within marriage, when one of the partners is afflicted with a serious sexually transmitted disease. The former almost certainly isn't sinful. The latter is not a clear cut case. But both cases together account for a very tiny percentage of overall contraceptive use.In short, there is no generally applicable situation in marriage or outside of marriage when contraception is morally permissible. To require employers to subsidize contraception is to require them to cooperate in sinful activity. The degree of proximity or remoteness is an interesting question. But neither proximate nor remote cooperation with a sin should be chosen if both can be avoided. The church certainly is right to want its institutions to avoid both possibilities.

Philosopher Charles Taylor strongly rejects the bizarre and, in his words, tyrannical demand that public reason should monopolize civil discourse. It is of course true that often religious views will not win approval in a diverse society.But exactly the same is true of any plausible alternative, Rawls and Habermas, the two leading proponents of public reason, notwithstanding. The "two most widespread this-worldly philosophies in our contemporary world, utilitarianism and Kantianism, in their different versions, all have points at which they fail to convince honest and unconfused people..."So why handicap religious views on principle and not the many less-than-convincing secular offerings?

Jim: Thanks but no thanks for your little moral lesson. If you're really unable to come up with another scenario in which contraception would be licit, then you need to think harder. Try reading Paul Baumann's piece in our collection of short essays on church teaching on sex. Or try listening to women who almost die in child birth more than once. Or women who are suicidal and require a birth-defect-causing antidepressant to keep razor blades at bay.You're also not reasoning clearly when you call the HHS ruling "profoundly anti-Catholic." In fact, the coalition that opposes the decision includes people from several religious groups. The bishops are the loudest, but that doesn't make them the only interested party. What if HHS believes it is a public good to provide free preventive services like contraception? What if HHS leadership was persuaded that when half of the abortions in this country end unintended pregnancies, one way to reduce the total number of abortions was to make it easier to avoid such pregnancies (not to mention other outcomes improved by reducing the number of unplanned pregnancies). Of course, that sort of reasoning is not Catholic, but it's not anti-Catholic either -- not any more than civil laws permitting divorce are anti-Catholic. You write, "To require employers to subsidize contraception is to require them to cooperate in sinful activity. The degree of proximity or remoteness is an interesting question. But neither proximate nor remote cooperation with a sin should be chosen if both can be avoided." The degree of remoteness is not just an interesting question. When it comes to Catholic moral thought, it is the only one that matters. Because there is no such thing as avoiding sinful entanglement entirely. As I and others have argued, HHS should have expended the exemption because it should not force a religious institution to act against its religious beliefs. But those institutions lost the argument. And now they have to figure out how to go on functioning. Catholic groups are well within the limits of the tradition's moral reasoning to comply with the law, especially if they can work something out along the lines of the Hawaii compromise.

Per Cupcake; Many of those men probably have wives, which would make them likely to be interested in birth control coverage.Please, you have no way of knowing that. Sure they probably have wives, but what makes you think you just know the majority of them would be interested enough in BC pills to press their boss to pay for them? And what makes you think it is any of your concern in the first place? Bear in mind that when negotiating for benefits, while everyone likes to say the boss pays for it or its free, the fact of the matter is the boss has a certain amount of money he will put toward wages and benefits. When negotiating then, one must decide whether more of that pie will go (for that year anyway) toward raises for the workers, or toward benefits. If the majority of a group of workers want dental insurance (for example), they would first verify that they agree amongst themselves on that point, and then they press the boss for dental coverage in lieu of all or part of what otherwise would have been their pay raise for that year. In the example I cited, the point is not whether or not the men are interested in including BC pills in their benefits package; they may well be. My point was that the decision is theirs to make, not yours and not mine. It certainly is no business of a federal bureaucrats located a thousand miles away in Washington DC.I do not mean to sound harsh, but it is important to keep in mind, especially in discussions about this sort of thing (benefits packages and wages), that there is a big difference between logic and emoting. In dealing with money, wages, and benefit packages, logic works best and emoting usually is not helpful at all.As for public reason (Lisa), it is probably best to ask some older Germans, older Russians, or older Cambodians how that worked for them. We American arent perfect either; we need only look at Roe v Wade to see where public reason has taken us.

Cupcake - What if those men in the example understood that their wives wanted to use BC pills, but felt that overall, on balance, they were better off not including that in their work/benefits package and that they would just pay for them individually? Would that be OK? In any case, why would you think that you or I or anyone else outside that group should have a say in the matter?

Patrick, I think Charles Taylor is wrong to put "religious views" on the same footing with Rawls, Habermas, Kant, etc, and there are good theological reasons for insisting on a categorical difference here. "Religious views" entail some reference to specialrevelation and some tradition method for the cultivation of the virtues for its reception. It relies on a particular metaphysical picture of the world for its authority. At the most basic level, for Christianity, it involves some relevant and constitutive reference to God. Otherwise, if belief in God is not involved, the view is not "religious," at least if we're talking about Christianity. If I happen not to believe in God, I can't accept a basic premise of one's religious view and therefore will not be able to follow the argument. I will be excluded for the conversation because I don't recognize its fundamental premise. For someone like Kant, God simply isn't relevant to most public uses of reason. It's not even that one must assume God doesn't exist. It's simply that the question never arises. So, the "religious view" brings with it and extra, fundamental, and controversial premise that is not necessary for rational deliberation in most cases. If religious people want to insert themselves into public debates "religiously," then they will need to establish their first premise, e.g. "God exists," and go from there. For a Christin perspective, this is known as "evangelization." If you're not expecting people to consider religious premises, then the view you are defending is not religious, and we're back to Kant, Mill, and the public debate that continues about human ethics. Now, you may think there's no stable ethical system that does not include God, but that itself is a claim that must be defended aginst the nonbeliever or, in my case, believer who thinks that you can make stable ethical claims without reference to God. Interestingly enough, the Bishops are actually asking to be exempt from the public conversation. Since they were not able to convince people that the teaching of the Church was relevant to the healthcare debate, they now want to claim the priviledge to opt out of the results of that debate. So, they are being sore losers. You can't have it both ways: want to be heard in public and then be exempt from the results of that hearing.

Eric, should Marxists, utilitarians, libertarians, feminism, environmentalists et al., be excluded from public debate on the same grounds you want to exclude the religious views of Christians --"It relies on a particular metaphysical picture of the world for its authority." Forgive me, but I seriously doubt that you've found a secular system that doesn't rely on a particular metaphysics.In your utopia cost/benefit analyses would be welcomed but any mention of man created in the image of God would be avoided as not "publicly rational." Your utopia would silence a huge portion of the American electorate or force them to translate their concerns into Rawls/Habermas vocabulary, as certified by their local philosophy and theology faculties. Your utopia more closely resembles Sparta rather than Athens or Jerusalem. Again, as Taylor argues, it's tyrannical to those of us you consider insufficiently rational. You have a monumental task in front of you but I can't wish you good luck in explaining Habermas to the masses.

Patrick, there is a difference between excluding religious reasoning from the public square and disagreeing with its logic for purposes of public decision making. In this case, there is clearly an effort to respond to and accommodate religious organizations. That the compromise did not go further is not a rejection of the right of religion to join the conversation. You are also avoiding the central theme of Eric's point: if your reasoning arises out of a religious principle, or at least if the religion is Christianity, Judaism or Islam, your principles flow from divine revelation. Say what you want about Marx, he isn't asking you to believe him because God whispered the truth in his ear. I don't really think the difference is all that great, because most people are going to judge reasoning baased on whether it makes sense to them, whatever its source, but it does mean that someone who starts by saying, "God tells us . . ." is facing an uphill climb at persuading those whose underlying beliefs are different.

I don't need to explain Habermas. If you want to begin your discussion of healthcare with the claim that humans are created in the image of God, then you will need to establish that claim and its relevance to the discussion. In the same way, a certain kind of feminist might need to establish the truth and relevance of the claim that the rights of women deserve preferential treatment over those of men. These are not mutually exclusive thought systems deserving of equal consideration. Everyone's foundational premises must be proved and shown to be relevant. In this sense, we might say "religious views" are like any other, but once it has been decided that belief in God is not relevant to the issue at hand, we must move on to the other relevant considerations. If you would like to convert everyone to Christianity before we decide on healthcare minimums, you are more than welcome to preach it in the public sphere. But, you cannot expect you're religiously-informed opinions to receive public assent without establishing their fundamental premises.

Barbara and Eric; People can no more leave their convictions, their consciences, their world-view at home when they enter the public square than they can leave their notions of mathematics there.As for accepting things without strict proofs; since Jews, Christians, Muslims and Buddhists make up the majority of mankind, it is only natural that their world-views and assumptions are likely be accepted without taking time for a formal proof before each discussion than humanists or atheists views are.Marxist and fascist notions of utopia have both proven to be not only evil, but also disastrous; secularists and atheists have the burden of proof, not the rest of the world.

And Eric, it is only because man is created in the image of God, because He told us to love our neighbor as ourselves, that we are even discussing healthcare, how we can best take care of each other; how we can best tend to the common good.

Barbara, I think were in at least partial agreement since you seem to admit that religious discourse is not illegitimate in civil discourse. It may not be the prudent thing to do in certain circumstances or there may be other ways of arguing that are more persuasive to larger segments of the population. But it should not be ruled out in principle as the public reason advocates do. For myself, I tend to think that a lot of secular arguments fail even by their own standards and can be satisfactorily answered without resorting to fideist assumptions. But I would not rule out the arguments of a Martin Luther King or a Reinhold Niebuhr simply because they havent firmly established to the satisfaction of Eric Bugyis and other public reasoners the cogency of their first principles.In my view Marxist are equally free to make their arguments. Along with many others I happen not to be persuaded that history is dominated by class struggle or that the labor theory of value is valid. I think it imprudent of Marxists to advance those arguments but I would not claim that they should be silent until they have persuaded the nation that these are incontestabe premises from which political decisions should flow. To coin a phrase, I am laissez faire in regard to Marxists. Why cannot public reasoners grant the same leeway to those who derive their first principles from religious sources, whether its the Bible, some personal revelation, or an obscure passage in the Summa Theologica?As long as we have the first amendment much of this discussion is academic and people can argue however they want to. But its odd to find academics so little concerned about excluding religiously motivated citizens from expressing their most important beliefs in public while giving free rein to a multitude of bizarre theories. Odd, but not surprising.Eric, Of course I dont expect religious leaders to gain immediate assent to their premises, just as I dont expect the same of Marxists or utilitarians. Thats an impossible, utopian standard that no world view can ever meet. Yet those holding a variety of world views, religious and non-religious alike, have a perfect right to speak in public using whatever language they choose. if you are still maintainig the public reason argument that Taylor opposes, that as a matter of principle everyone [should] deliberate in a language of reason alone, leaving their religious views in the vestibule of the public sphere (cf. the Taylor link above) then you will have to use the arguments of someone like Habermas or Rawls (Damon Linker I suppose is another who makes this argument).Do you really want to exclude any future Reinhold Niebuhr, John Courtney Murray, Martin Luther King, Abraham Heschel, or indeed, Charles Taylor from public debate or are you merely giving them advice about the most effective rhetoric among the highly educated? Do you want to censor Commonweal when it makes arguments based on religious premises?

Ken,Focusing on the individual company and its employees is the wrong scale. The goal of the Affordable Care Act (ACA) was to ensure that every American has health insurance both for their well being and to ensure that when catastrophe strikes an individual, those who treat them will be compensated. Part of making sure everyone has health insurance is defining a minimum of what counts as health insurance. A policy with a $5000 deductible and a $1000 maximum lifetime payout that covers only shark attacks is only marginally better than no coverage. The ACA mandates that the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) come up with a minimum standard for what health insurance plans cover with a stipulation that all plans must cover preventative care with no copay. This is where the birth control coverage comes in.Personally, I would prefer just extending the Medicare system to the entire population. Health care tends to too many market failures for a private market to ever function well. My second choice would be for everyone to move from employer provided insurance to the individual insurance exchanges. It is ridiculous that our employers choose our health insurance plans for us and that health insurance is dependent on employment for most of us. Either of these options would avoid the problem here where employees and employers have conflicting moral beliefs.

Ken, Mathematics is available to everyone and doesn't involve any claims to special revelation. Why wouldn't the burden of proof be on everyone to provide an account of the truth and relevance of their foundational principles? Believers need to show that God both exists and is relevant to making decisions about healthcare, and evangelical atheists would have to show that the non-extistence of God is both true and relevant. For my part, I would say that, while God exists, recognition of that fact is not essential for making decisions with regard to healthcare minimums. Lastly, I have a little more faith in humanity. I think we are actually concerned about one another's flourishing because we actually care about our fellow human beings and because there is a basic human solidarity that is not just based on an awareness that God made us and told us to be nice to each other, even if God did and we should.

Grant, I will admit that you've fully doubled, to four, the number of highly unusual scenarios in which the use of contraception is not prima facie sinful. A thing, like an unjust regulation, can be anti-Catholic and gore other oxen, too. But given the prominent objections raised, not only by Catholic bishops but also by the Catholic Health Association and various Catholic universities, it would be difficult for HHS to maintain (even if its Secretary weren't Catholic) that it wasn't aware that its new regulation would violate the religious freedom of Catholic institutions. HHS is certainly free to believe whatever it wishes about what is good for women, but its actual policies should be in the American tradition of a generous respect for the free exercise of religion.There may be situations in which impinging on religious freedom is the lesser evil. Blood transfusions may violate a tenet of Jehovah's Witnesses, but the death of a patient would be even worse. But I can't think of any such situation in the US in which the word "contraception" would appear. The convenience of filling contraception prescriptions at a local pharmacy shouldn't override the pharmacist's objection to contraception; contraception is easily obtained elsewhere, so the patient must live with the minor inconvenience of driving a little farther or ordering over the Internet. And there is no marginal social gain that justifies the diminishment of religious freedom when religious exceptions to forced contraception subsidies are so narrow as to be almost meaningless.HHS has issued a regulation that is sharply divergent from American tradition and values. I'd think that an American citizen wouldn't need to accept church teaching on contraception to be extremely concerned about this development.

I think the main problem is that Secretary Sibelius is mad because the hierarchy won't let her be a bishop like them so she could boss people around on Sundays as well as on week-days :-)

Patrick, I am not advocating that we censor anyone. You can say anthing you want in public, using any language, with reference to any picture of the world no matter how grounded in reality. The public sphere is the cacophony of the marketplace of ideas. I am making a philosophical point of sorts about the "religiousness" of an idea. I think that what someone like Habermas is concerned with are those who might claim, "We should do 'x,' and my reason for saying we should do 'x' is that the Bible says so and is the inspired Word of the creator." What should not be allowed is the expectation that people will follow your recommendation of doing 'x' without a prior assent to its religious reasons. If that religious "reason" is indeed the necessary condition for establishing the validity of doing 'x,' then you will have to convince people of that reason in order to get them to assent to 'x.' If the religious "reason" is not necessary for establishing the validity of 'x,' then 'x' can be established without reference to any religious premises. But, in that case 'x' is no longer a religious matter, and one can expect assent from believers and non-believers alike. But if 'x' really is a "religious view," then it will not be accepted until everyone accepts the religious premise on which it is grounded.So, it is strange to me that one would say "religious views" should be heeded just like "secular" ones, because the point is either completely trivial, i.e. we should listen to everyone's reasons for coming to conclusion 'x,' or it is an attempt to bully people into allowing the believer certain foundational premises without having to argue for them. For example, I imagine (and have participated in) conversations that go something like this:"I think we should do 'x.'""Okay, why is that?""Because as a Christian I believe that we were created in the image of God.""Ok, so how is it that you have come to the conclusion that we were created in the image of God?""The Bible, which is the Word of God, tells us in Genesis that 'In his image he created them.'""How do you know that the Bible is the Word of God?""Well, I told you that I'm a Christian and that's what I believe.""Ok, well, I don't believe that. So, I don't think we should do 'x.'""But, you don't understand, I'm a Christian and I KNOW that this is what God would want us to do.""How do you know God exists, and how would you know His will if he did?""(insert your favorite argument for the existence of God and special revelation)""I'm not sure I accept (...), because (insert your favorite refutation of the existence of God and special revelation.)"...the debate continues for a while..."Ok, so what do you think about us doing 'x'?""Yeah, I don't think we should do it, because I don't accept these "religious" reasons.""Well, I don't accept your atheist reasons!""You're the one who brought it up! I don't have any atheist reasons, I'm just saying that you haven't established the existence of God, which you said was essential for proving that we should do 'x.' So, since I don't believe in God, I don't think we should do 'x'.""So, just because you don't believe in God, you don't agree with me?" "Yes.""Why are you prejudiced against Christians!""I'm not. I just think they're wrong.""How do you know that?""I think we've already covered it. But, if we must (go back to the beginning of the conversation and repeat as needed until you get the Christian to believe that you actually disagree with him because he's wrong)."Now imagine if every policy discussion went this way...

Jim: How about the cancer patient who must not get pregnant while taking chemotherapy? There are a lot of situations like this. Think harder. Do you also believe that couples who practice so-called natural family planning are violating the will of God? By the way, whether you accept Catholic teaching against so-called artificial contraception is irrelevant to your consideration of the religious-freedom question raised by the HHS ruling.A thing is only anti-X if it targets only X. Just because Catholic institutions are adversely affected does not mean that they have been discriminated against because they are Catholic. Jewish religious leaders have objected to this regulation too. Do you also think it's anti-Semitic?You ascribe purely political motives to the HHS ruling. I'm sure politics played a role in the decision-making process, but, as I noted in my post, Obama ran on reducing unintended pregnancies, a policy position he holds in part because half of abortions end unintended pregnancies.

Cupcake You point is well taken and I tend to agree that a single-payer basic plan is better than the ACA monstrosity we have now. However when talking about national insurance, everyone should really, really understand that it needs to be a very bare-bones affair; it should only cover the minimum. A national healthcare plan should be so designed that it is minimal, that most people would want more deluxe policies and accordingly, workers and self-employed folks would either press their employers to include a rider to the national plan or they would buy into HMOs (Kaiser Permanente in CA; other states have their own HMOs) or buy into other types of health insurance plans.That way everyone would have the floor; the same minimum policy. Poor folks of course would benefit the most because they have no health insurance now. They would make due either with the minimal national plan or with some combination of the national policy and their local states Medicaid plan. Middle class folks would benefit from a national policy because the national plan would help control the cost of middle class folks healthcare plans because it something upon which they would build the rest of their healthcare plans. Richer folks also would pay for and have the minimum national plan and would buy their own policies as well; they will be Ok in any case.Everyone would benefit because as it is now, folks who do not have health insurance show up at emergency rooms, the meter starts running - we all know how fast that gets pricey - and those with insurance and the taxpayer in general pays for it all.This sort of minimal national health care plan would cover our basic social responsibility (our Christian duty if you will) of tending to the poor, and to the common good. Also, since anything over and above the basic national plan would either be in the form of Medicaid (which is controlled by the local state) or by private insurance, it would also fill the bill as far as subsidiarity/local control is concerned.Ah but now, we did not do any of this did we? Now some are beginning to realize the devil is in the details, that ACA as it currently stands, in all its 2000 page glory is full of 'devils', is not palatable to most reasonable Americans, and as a practical matter is most probably not workable. As such, expect real efforts by Republicans to scrap it. And then we can start all over again.

Mr. Gallicho,Of course, Obama is committed to ending "unintended pregnanies." There's an organization that has ending such pregnancies as its raison d'etre, and Obama agrees with that organization 100%. That organization, of course, is Planned Parenthood. Obama has never wavered in his fealty to Planned Parenthood, and he just marked the anniversary of Roe v. Wade by issuing a statement praising Roe v. Wade and vowing to defend that evil decision. At least there's none of this "I'm personally opposed to abortion" hypocrisy from Obama. As he said during the campaign about his daughters, "if they make a mistake, I don't want to see them punished with a baby." Babies as punishment: Margaret Sanger couldn't have said it better herself.

It seems to me that "health insurance" should cover those goods and services that physicians recognize as supported by scientific evidence as safe, effective, and, increasingly, that offer value appropriate to their cost. I can't see why religious institutions should attempt to deny coverage for indicated services because of their moral qualms. Money is fungible; once a salary or benefit is allocated to an employee it is his choice how he uses it.The church of Jehovah's Witnesses proscribes blood transfusions, citing Biblical verses. I wonder if that church feels compelled to offer its employees, of any faith tradition, only health insurance policies that deny coverage for infusion of blood or blood products. I do not know the answer, but perhaps some contributor to this discussion does. If they are permitted to make such an exclusion, then so should Catholic employers. If not, then neither should the Catholics.

Eric,I believe that almost all adults have moral views based upon their own intuitions, simple or complex. These can derive from many sources. An example is the one you stated above: "I think we are actually concerned about one anothers flourishing because we actually care about our fellow human beings and because there is a basic human solidarity that is not just based on an awareness that God made us and told us to be nice to each other..." That may satisfy you and serve as one of your fundamental premises. But it obviously doesn't satisfy others who are not so fortunate as to share your laudable sense of benevolence or humanitarianism, Nietzsche, for example, or Vladimir the Impaler, or numerous twentieth century tyrants. You may have worked out a completely rational defense of your intuition but I wouldn't be surprised if your formal and explicit defense of that intuition has only a few adherents and, moreover, is beyond the grasp of less educated folks, members of storefront churches, for just one example, or me, for another example. If Kantians cannot persuade utilitarians I would not be shocked if your views also met widespread incredulity if they could be understood at all. Disinterested observers might well conclude that your views rest upon firmly held intuitions rather than a rigorous and communicable philosophical system a la Rawls, Kant et al. It shouldn't be too hard to see that there's always a significant danger of morally disenfranchising the large segment of the population without graduate degrees when you adopt the public reason criteria.Just as people tolerated (at least in the pre-public reason era) and admired Jefferson's bold claim that "We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights..." even though it was proclaimed without first providing a proof for the existence of a Creator,so we should grant contemporary religious citizens the same pedestal as Jefferson. When they make their claims, IMHO (but not in yours?), they occupy as legitimate a position as Peter Singer when he waxes eloquent upon his intuitions about infanticide. Again, why reject Niebuhr because of his intuitions if you don't reject Singer because of his intuitions? Why privilege your not easily communicated secular intuitions about benevolence when Genesis serves perfectly well and, if I may say so, in a superior way. And it's not a matter of Scripture for the masses serving the same function as Rawls for the educated elite. The latter might need a healthy dose of Biblical morality much more than the unwashed.Taylor has summarized the public reason position in this way (which seems to be in accord with your statements): "So religious reason either comes to the same conclusions as secular reason, but then it is superfluous; or it comes to contrary conclusions, and then it is dangerous and disruptive. This is why it needs to be sidelined." I won't repeat his arguments against this position here though I will say I don't think you have engaged them (either in the link above or in numerous other articles) with anything like the thoroughness they deserve. I've had my say -- In the meantime, as our Niebuhrian* president will no doubt urge tonight, May God bless America!!!*(proofs for the existence of God on request; proofs for the Niebuhrian quality of Obama's policies will require additional funding).

I agree with Dr. Mulrooney. Everybody's religious liberty counts. Public reason does not silence religious voices. In Catholic tradition, we actually have a theological advantage in this regard, thanks to my boy Thomas Aquinas. All truth participates in one Truth, ie., the Eternal Law, loosely defined as whatever God is thinking. What this means here is that good reason does not take us away from God. So what is conducive to human flourishing (socially, overall) is God's will. Some religious people of good will believe that eating meat violates the will of God, which they base on theological principles that make sense only to them. Yet the US Gov't subsidizes and regulates meat production in the name of the common good. Even if we carnivores all go to hell, we regulate society on the basis of arguments that make sense outside religious communities as well as inside them. MLK was especially deft at using both the rhetoric of American ideals and the rhetoric of Christian values to make his points. You didn't have to be Christian to agree with him, but Christians should have been first in line to help him out. If religious vegetarians can convince the rest of us that they are correct, without resorting to principles that do not make sense absent divine revelation, well, then we'll change things, I suspect.

Ken-One important consideration with respect to contraceptives is that covering them may have a net negative cost due to preventing pregnancies which are expensive. That is one of the reasons for the ban on copays for preventative measures.

Lisa, I agree that the divide between secular and religious reason is a false one, and Thomas helps us see that. The problem is that you have both secularists and religionists wanting to claim that belief in God (for example) is some kind of inscrutable foundational claim preventing any dialogue. This, of course, is something that the best thinkers on both sides, including Thomas and Kant, would reject.

Patrick, If disagreements are based on mutually exclusive personal intuitions, then rational argument is hopeless and all we are left with is violence and coercion. I wouldn't say that religious reasons are dangerous and need to be excluded if and when they do not agree with the status quo, I would just say they will be afforded the same attention and patience in making their case as any other view. If religious adherents demand more than that due to the enthusiasm they have for the veracity of their convictions, then they're no longer playing by the rules. So, religious reasons are not inherently dangerous, but if religious people take the view that you seem to support that their belief in God is a priviledged claim, which should be uncritically granted to them so that they can debate "Christianly" in the public sphere, then they themselves are already claiming that no dialogue with non-believers is possible. Where conversation stops, violence (or divorce) is usually not far behind. As for needing a graduate degree to understand all of this, you're the one who keeps dropping names from a first year philosophy syllabus and suggesting that I read and reference the relevant literature before responding to you.

One reason for keeping religious talk in the public square is that some people guide their lives entirely by their interpretation of the Bible or Koran. Some of their reasoning and interpretations are pretty bad, even crazy at times. It is good, therefore, for other believers with different interpretations to present their interpretations and to argue with the irrational believers. Like it or not, people vote their theology, and it needs to be argued.Also, many non-believers do respect religion as having good influence on believers, and some view religious sages, e.g., Jesus, as wise wise even though the non-believers do not believe the sages are gods.. So they are open to hearing what the religious sages say about one or another proposals. Consider, for instance, what Ghandi and MLK had to say about non-violent change. Their influence has been huge on non-believers.

Cupcake: "One important consideration with respect to contraceptives is that covering them may have a net negative cost due to preventing pregnancies which are expensive."This is the exact "secular reasoning" that the Church rightly opposes - it is this mechanistic and utilitarian view of human sexuality and human life that the Church stands against. While there are plenty of sophists and would be "professors" (dime a dozen on any campus) on here trying to explain away this totalitarian action by the state, the fact remains that it is not the Catholics forcing its views on society, but the state forcing its pseudo morality and reductive science on the us.

" - the fact remains that it is not the Catholics forcing its views on society, but the state forcing its pseudo morality and reductive science on the us."It is the church's trying to force society to allow it to impose its views on some employees who do not agree with that point of view - and take a tax writeoff for it.

After all the blather and high rhetoric, the fact remains that if the government sticks to its guns on this issue, the Catholic Church will need to get out of healthcare, social services, and education.

Barbara & Lisa: Thank you for the clear & reasoned contributions you have made on this thread.

This is a clever column but one thing I don't read here is an acknowledgement that the duty of the president is to protect and defend the constitution, even from politicians, and even from his own good intentions. The Hawaii "compromise" that Mr. Gallicho here recommends is one that will simply slow the slope, but we'll still end up descending down it. The Supreme Court recently (and correctly) ruled that this administration overreached on Hosanna-Tabor. They should eventually rule that this is an overreach, too, and an exceedingly disappointing one, especially for a president who taught constitutional law. Basic First Amendment stuff: the government, whether it likes a church's practice or not, has no business telling a private church-related institution that it must offer something that goes against its conscience. That's elementary and fundamental. Sometimes I think we are so over-educated that we forget very simple ideas like that one. We do so at our own peril. This very long column (too long) wondered about political motivations and paths to compromise, but missed this key truth: the president and his HHS had no business going where they have gone. And the proof of it is this: no one in the mainstream press is talking about it. The president did not bring it up in his SOTU address. They know it's bad penny, and they don't want to see it constantly coming up.

Doomed? Yes. Quixotic? Yes. Destined to fail? Probably. Fun? Definitely! Sign the petition to rescind the mandate.

Ugh; sometimes it seems the goal is to make abortionists of all of us.

Why pro-choicers feel it is within their "rights" to get so down and dirty, digging babies out of the womb and tossing them into the trash, I have no idea. Personally, I do wish they would leave me out of it; that they would do constantly try to not drag me down into such a grubby existence.

Wow - my typing is off today! should have been:"Personally, I do wish they would leave me out of it; that they would not constantly try to drag me down into such a grubby existence."

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