A blog by the magazine's editors and contributors


Religious liberty & the rights of conscience

To what extent is religious liberty reducible to the rights of conscience? That is one of the questions Brian Leiter's new book, Why Tolerate Religion?, tries to answer. It's a question that's been on my mind again since the Department of Health and Human Services announced its new proposal for accommodating nonprofit religious organizations, such as hospitals and universities, but not private employers, such as the Hobby Lobby.

The distinction makes sense to me, even if in this particular case it might not have been hard to accommodate any employer who didn't want to pay for contraceptives. As Eduardo Pealver suggested in his Friday post, if a health-insurance company actually saves money by covering contraceptive services for its policyholders, then the Obama administration may as well have required insurance companies to offer free contraceptive coverage to those employed by any business owner who objects to paying for it—and thereby avoided all the political problems that have arisen from the HHS mandate.

While the HHS's decision to distinguish between religious nonprofit employers and for-profit employers who happen to be religious makes sense to me, it seems perfectly arbitrary to many conservatives, including many Catholics. Why privilege the religious liberty of a hospital or university, they ask, and not that of a small-business owner who is also a devout Catholic? What does it matter whether the organization's primary mission is religious or secular? And why should the integrity of an institution count for more than the conscience of an individual?

I don't pretend to have perfect answers to all these questions. But the line taken by some champions of religious freedom, such as the Becket Fund, seems to me untenable. It would logically lead to a situation they couldn't possibly wish for. Should an overzealous Jehovah's Witness be able to get a group plan that excludes coverage for emergency blood transfusions, even if none of his employees are coreligionists?

But that is a hard case, you may say, and hard cases make bad law. How many other religious believers object to health services that most people consider morally unproblematic? Well, a few: there are the Scientologists, with their extreme skepticism of psychopharmacology; there are unreconstructed Christian Scientists—now in decline but once a very prominent sect—with their general suspicion of drugs. (I have a distant relative who died because of that suspicion.)

But why even restrict this to religious believers? What if someone believes, as a matter of conscience unrelated to any religious conviction, that it is immoral to avail oneself of a medical treatment that was ever tested on animals? Should such a person be able to line-item-veto insurance coverage for dozens of treatments in the health plan available to his employees? Where would this end?

(Perhaps you think that, while this problem is theoretically interesting, it's unlikely to present any practical difficulties, since an employer with such an idiosyncratic view of health care would in any event be unlikely to find a policy that answered to his requirements, the market for such a policy being prohibitively small. Maybe, maybe not. With lax enough regulation, it's possible to imagine an la carte market for health insurance, each plan or policy tailored to the whims of the customer and priced accordingly. I'm not an expert on the insurance market, but I think it's fair to say that, as a general rule, some insurance companies will sell any old crap if regulators let them get away with it.)

But now imagine a militant atheist who is convinced by the natural-law argument that contraception is gravely immoral. (I realize this example may appear to require rare powers of imagination, but bear with me.) He owns a business, too, and wants an exemption from the contraception-coverage mandate. Should the fact that his belief is not attributable to any faith matter? After all, he believes that contraception is wrong for precisely the same reason the Catholic Church teaches that it's wrong, even if he doesn't accept the Church's authority to teach anything. Someone might reply: I can just about imagine such a person, but he must be one of kind, or at most one of a few. But if you can imagine this small business owner, you can also imagine one who believes, for reasons moral but not religious, that prostheses of any kind are an affront to the dignity of the human body, and another who believes that neonatal intensive care units are a waste of precious medical resources on nonpersons and so refuses to pay for an insurance policy that would cover an employee's prematuraly born child.

Leiter believes claims of conscience should be accommodated if they do not threaten someone else's individual rights or an important public interest. But he also believes they should not be understood to have any extra force—or to warrant any special deference—just because they originate from religious faith. A conscientious objector, for example, should not need to prove he's a Quaker. Or, to take a recent case from Canada that Leiter mentions in his book, if you allow a student to carry a ceremonial dagger to school because he's a Sikh, you should allow another student to carry a knife because he sincerely believes, in accordance with his rural upbringing, that carrying a knife is a sign of honor and manhood.

I disagree with Leiter about some things, including his low esteem for religion and religious institutions in general, which he regards as seedbeds of irrationality. Unlike Leiter, and like many conservatives critics of the original HHS mandate, I think the federal government has good reason to give churches and other religious organizations broad latitude, and that this reason has something to do with the important and unique role religious institutions have played in our nation's history. But when it comes to individuals who object to neutral laws of general applicability, I'm not at all sure why the government should discriminate between sincere religious belief and any other kind of sincere conviction.  


Commenting Guidelines

Next Sunday, February 3, 2013, by instruction from our bishop, our parish will ask Mass-goers to sign postcards for the Life and Liberty campaign described in this USCCB brochure postcards will not be given out to be mailed, but rather to be collected from the pews or at the end of Mass. I wonder to what extent this is an attempt to collect names for a mailing list so that the coordinators (National Committee for a Human Life Amendment) can have addresses for solicitations.

Hobby Lobby not Hobby Bench.

Thanks, Bill.

Date of postcard campaign, not Feb. 3 but February 10, 2013.

Unless I am mistaken, some people who object to the HHS mandate claim that it violates a constitutional right that they have. That is a legal claim. Others claim a natural right, one that the laws ought to accommodate, whether they in fact do or not. Unless I am mistaken, Martin Luther King based his campaign for civil rights on both scores. In the HHS case, the adjudication of the legal claim belongs to the courts. The claim of natural right is one that has to do with policy and so falls under the purview of the legislative and/or the executive branches of government. If this is so, then to determine how to honor this right in public policy is a the task for the legislative and/or the executive branch.If all this is accurate, then if someone objects to the HHS policy on legal grounds, their avenue of redress runs through the courts. If otherwise, then it runs through the political processes, perhaps even leading to amending the constitution.So far as I can tell from Matthew's account, he, and perhaps Leiter, are asking about the prudence of the HHS mandate, a political matter. I take it that some legal scholars, on the other hand, think that it is a constitutional issue, and hence seek redress through the courts.Perhaps all I have done here is to display my ignorance.

Maybe the reason is because there are about 2 million small businesses in this country, and if all claimants to exemption (including fake ones) were actually exempt, then that could cost the federal government or the insurance companies a significant amount of money. The insurance companies might suffer such a financial burden that they wouldn't offer free coverage, and then the government would have to pay, which might throw off-balance the weighing of the religious liberty of the citizens versus the government's right to impose (what it considers) just taxes. In other words, the law as it stands doesn't cost anybody a great amount of money, but if it were extended to all, it woul.d Then the question would be: doesn't this discriminate against some claimnts? And the answer to that would be: yes, but to respect the rights of some than the rights of none.Maybe this is stretching it, but maybe not. Who knows what the actual number of Hobby Lobbys there would be and, thus, the cost of universal religious exemption..

Well, it seems to me the rights of conscience belong to individuals, so thinking about the problem in terms of institutions is starting in the wrong place. (When he listens to his conscience, the prudent man can hear God speaking). Further, as an employer, be that person a priest, bishop, or layman, they have conscience obligations appropriate to their station, which means they must include a just consideration of their employees. Even in the most dire of governmental conditions - war - we allow individuals their conscience rights, both individually as an employers (no business is required to supply war material to the government because they can sell, change or cease operations). In the case of the HHS mandate which is surely a less compelling governmental interest than war, neither employer nor employee is being allowed conscience rights. Its just a raw exercise of governmental power.

I wonder what it is that bothers the consciences of so many individual business owners about this mandate, given that almost all Catholics use contraception. Is the primacy of conscience valued above everything else, even the common good? And if it is, why in the church is conscientious dissent pubished?

Sorry - "punished"

Re: post card campaignI am sure this is carefully worded, but the spirit of it is questionable at best. Why don't the bishiops do something like for gu control? immigration reform diminishing nuclear aresenals?This "campaign" is as short-sighted (I want to say "hypocritical") as ever.

Matthew:"But that is a hard case, you may say, and hard cases make bad law."Exactly backwards. The Jehovah's Witnesses case would be easy. The tradeoff--protecting public health and safety versus the insane delusions of the adherent of a crazy religion--would be a no-brainer. Probably 90 to 95% public approval.It's the contraception mandate that's the hard case making bad law. That's why secular humanists like me thought Obama had already surrendered too much a year ago. But I'm also a practible man, so I realize challenging a big religion's not-so-obviously crazy delusions about women's reproductive health might not be feasible, so I think both that and this new "compromise" are tolerable.Ultimately, it's not about the "religious" belief of "employers" because in virtually all cases where the mandate would apply the "employer" is a CORPORATION and corporations can't hold relgious beliefs. If the person who owns the corporation wants to evade the responsibility of corporate ownership, the solution is simple: Surrender the privileges of incorporation.If they accept the Employer Exclusion for provision a group insurance, they have to accept the standards for group insurance. Not hard.

I think my conscientious objection to war has no chance in hades of excluding me from paying a portion of my taxes to fund America's manifest destiny fantasies. We all have to pay for some things to which we object, but which those we have elected to represent us have determined to be for the better good of the commonweal.The problem with this debacle is that the overwhelming opinion of Catholics appears to be that contraception is not wrong. This is borne out by the stats that tell us that Catholics contracept as much as any other religious/non-religious group.The more the bishops make a big deal out of this, the less their influence will be felt within the church and outside of it. Their people (the 99%) have simply ignored the 1% in their non-persuasive, non-compelling arguments against contraception.

"I wonder what it is that bothers the consciences of so many individual business owners about this mandate, given that almost all Catholics use contraception. "Presumably, "it" is the teaching of the Catholic church, or of some other Christian denomination that teaches traditional Christian teachings regarding contraception. One could as easily ask, "I wonder what it is that bothers the consciences of so many conscientious objectors to military service, given that almost all Catholics favor military service." Regarding "the common good" - that mantle can be wrapped around many policies, some of which are diametrically opposed to one another.

jfxgillis,"Exactly backwards. The Jehovahs Witnesses case would be easy."Easy for you. Harder, maybe, for the Catholic libertarian who thinks (or says he thinks) that religious believers ought to be exempt from generally applicable laws that conflict with their beliefs.

"the insane delusions of the adherent of a crazy religion"*cough!*

This discussion seems to be all about the consciences of employers. What about employes? Why doesn't an employer have to respect the consciences of his employees at least to the same extent that the government has to respect the consciences of employers? Are supporters of special treatment for the Hobby Lobby OK with making the Hobby Lobby provide similar accommodation for employees for religious holidays? Or is this another case where money rules?Good test cases coming up: Ash Wednesday falls on a traditional workday and involves an outward sign of faith. Will the people who have to work when ashes are being given or who are required to wash off the ashes before greeting customers get half of the anguished support the rugged individualists who employ them have been getting from Church if not State?

Ash Wednesday is not a holy day of obligation. Catholics are encouraged to go to church, but there is no obligation.

Jim,Given your example of conscientious objectors and military service, it would be like saying that one is a conscientious objector while at the same time having decided to serve in the military. If most Catholics are using contraception, how can those same people say that using it is against their consciences? They have described their consciences with their actions.

Probably it's helpful to recall that we are discussing two distinct religious protections, at least in the United States: free exercise, and the protection against establishment. The former asserts the believer's right to live privately as a believer and to step out into the public square as a believer but, as Matt alludes, there are limits that have broadly been categorized as neutral, valid laws of general applicability (i.e., made for some legitimate purpose, not singling out believers). The latter asserts a protection for the neutrality of the public square, that it truly might belong to all believers and non-believers. Both, in a sense, are conscience protections--though they are distinct. Free exercise grants a (reasonably limited) right to wave the freak flag of whatever creed one practices while the protection against establishment insulates the conscience against public pressure, maintains the accessibility of the commons to all regardless of creed. These protections wend around one another, naturally. They have a certain mutual dependence. But there are times when it becomes important to distinguish them.The HHS mandate imbroglio is an argument about free exercise--the liberty of believers, or groups of believing citizens gathered as religious organizations (churches, hospitals, schools, etc.) to live according to faith. That free exercise claim, like any, is bounded at least in part by the protection against establishment. Once government indulges the free exercise of some collection of believers excessively, inevitably it impinges on the claims of other believing and non-believing groups. It favors a faith group to a degree that verges on establishment. So, we might usefully ask here about the economic impact faced by every American if the diseases provably prevented by contraception must be treated because they would not have been prevented owing to religious exceptions to the mandate. All of the valid, reasonable limitations on free exercise begin where the public square, the common good, suffers unreasonably from some claim of free exercise. (Pause here and reflect on the individualistic terms in which arguments against the mandate have been made, how many times the USCCB has quoted Thomas Jefferson who was no communitarian nor any friend of our "Romish follies." The irony is compelling.) We ought not simply reduce religious liberty to dollars and cents and move on. The point is that there is a measurable cost to borne by the community when this claim of free exercise rights is made, a cost found in health insurance premiums that remain too high and which may frustrate the effectiveness of the ACA. Once the costs of a free exercise claim prejudice the state against the common good, we've crossed a line from free exercise to establishment. How we measure where that tipping point is remains a political question that really only can be answered by whatever consensus is achieved on the question.What this analysis exposes is that the protection of religious conscience really is not very different from the other protections of conscience. Speech has limits (shouting "Fire" in a crowded theater), assembly has limits (mob action), and press has limits (mostly on grounds of national security, but they exist). We balance the protection of conscience always against the good of the community. Individual conscience always wins when the community can bear it. Community wins when individual conscience asks too high a price. We're skeptical of conscientious objectors because the community could not bear universal conscientious objection. Schools filled with armed, hormone-fueled students asserting their honor are not safe educational environments. Important public purposes always have trumped conscience because, in the end, we all belong to the polis. That's not statism; it is communitarianism. We belong to each other. We have mutual duties that supersede individual goods, even in some cases the goods of conscience. Without the community to defend us, we have no liberty. Only the most radical libertarians believe otherwise, and they are in the grips of a fantasy. Our liberty of conscience bends to the needs of the community that asserts our liberty of conscience. The rightness of that proposition depends on the community's serious valuation of individual conscience in all but the most necessary cases. But in those cases, there is no reasonable alternative other than to privilege the polis.Is the HHS mandate such a case? Debatable. And that is why it is so interesting.

"We have mutual duties that supersede individual goods, even in some cases the goods of conscience. Without the community to defend us, we have no liberty. Only the most radical libertarians believe otherwise, and they are in the grips of a fantasy. Our liberty of conscience bends to the needs of the community that asserts our liberty of conscience."A Catholic addition to the above would be to add a word, and a concept, which, if I may say so, seems to be missing from your analysis. That word is "family". A Catholic account of community would note that the community is not simply the aggregation of unrelated individuals, but rather an aggregation of families, which are the protean communal arrangement and the basic units of larger-scale communal life, and in which all individuals are situated in some way.If, in response to this objection, it is pointed out that a larger percentage than ever before of Americans no longer live in traditional family arrangements, the Catholic reply, of course, is that this is not a neutral fact but rather a telling symptom of what ails the US, and a mighty contributor to the public costs which this enormous contraption known as the ACA will allegedly (but, in all likelihood, not really) alleviate.

Jehovah's Witnesses *blood transfusion confusion*.In 2013 God's will and scripture has little to do with the Jehovah's Witnesses position on use of blood products.The JW leadership is foremost concerned what will play out in a secular court of law as to the parent Watchtower being held liable for wrongful deaths.Most Jehovah's Witnesses rushed to the ER with massive blood loss will cry NO BLOOD right up to their last breath.The shocker is they can now have most of the blood components that will pull them through,but they are so indoctrinated that blood is forbidden that they can't comprehend the loopholes.The Watchtower has drilled and grilled us that our stand on blood is NON NEGOTIABLE. The loopholes that allow blood usage is to save the Watchtower corporation money from blood death liability suits.This is a truly evil organization that would sacrifice tens of thousands of men,women,children for the almighty dollar.The blood products ban has been in force since 1945 the buzz today about it being a *personal conscience matter* and the hope of new medical advances like artificial blood don't undo all those who have past perished.The New York city based Watchtower sect is concerned foremost with liability lawsuits for wrongful death.They know that if they repeal the ban on *whole* blood transfusion,that it will open the door for legal examination of all the thousands who have died since 1945. Cults do get people killed! 50-100 times as many men,women,children have been killed by the Watchtower society ban on *whole* blood transfusions than at Jonestown kool-aid mass murders. *tell the truth don't be afraid* --Danny Haszard

Jim P.: "the Catholic reply"I don't need to go beyond the pages of this blog to know that the Catholic reply to many things is rich, thoughtful, multifarious, andtry as some mayhard to put a bridle on.

Two points:Claire, Ash Wednesday may not be a holy day of obligation in the Catechism, and neither is Good Friday, but it is in the conscience of many Catholics. Otherwise, how come we have more people in our church on those days than on average Sundays? That noted, I was making my point about the consciences of individuals which seem, to me, to get different treatment depending on whether the individual is issuing a paycheck or receiving one.Jim P., I see you your point coming at the family from a "defense of..." tradition. But the family can also be viewed as the basis of the tribe, as it is in the more war-prone parts of the world at the moment. Then you get the "I kill you because you kill my nephew because my grandfather kill your... etc." mentality with which no one can have civilization. The only family that isn't hate-prone is the one headed by the original Father. When as we privilege individual employers or our families over that one we get in real trouble.

The Catholic approach to that Aristotelian argument from which I'm drawing certainly would prize the family as Aristotle did, beginning all social relationships from the generative relationship between husband and wife. That is to say, Aristotle prized it too. But I don't think that we should be very willing to say that the argument is null without the traditional family. The point is not to extol the goodness of the traditional family so much as it is to demonstrate how inevitably we all are a part of one another: "he who is unable to live in society, or who has no need because he is sufficient for himself, must be either a beast or a god."I don't wish to attribute this to Jim, and please don't let it be thought I'm trying to put words in his mouth. His remark merely is indicative of something else. But that line of argument he suggests is quite typical of what we hear today, it grows more prevalent, it leads down a path that ends in the strange Catholic libertarianism that has become too popular. It is, I think, an increasingly popular misreading of John Paul II's analysis of modernity and personhood that begins from saying that the modern world frustrates traditional institutions of family, personhood, etc. A polis cannot be built from such such building blocks as can be found (i.e., non-traditional families) in our world today. Therefore, we do not owe allegiance to the polis in the same way we did, say, under medieval kingship because the polis today lacks the traditional architecture that legitimates it. Our conscience rights secure our position to make these judgments and, strangely, our assertion of the traditional ethic of community transforms us into characteristically-modern, isolated individuals defending the distinctiveness of our identity and standing apart from the community. I've argued with eminent Catholic scholars about this, attended their meetings. There are smart people who defend this sort of thinking. Obviously, I disagree.The only real question that hangs over our public life today is--How can history and tradition guide us in a world where the familiar signposts of tradition and history no longer help us? More specific to this discussion--How can we build a polis from these building blocks when the most fundamental building block, the traditional family, is in decline? This is the challenge of pluralism, an important problem that the Council attempted quite boldly to address. There is no easy answer. But no good answer, it seems to me, begins from the presumption that our ethic of community hinges on living in a world where everyone agrees with us. The Catholic reply is to reply as Jesus replied to the Samaritan woman, to tax collectors and prostitutes. We take the world as we find it, we do our best to cultivate the garden, and we make the most of the world in the best way we can. That never will be possible unless it is that ethic of solidarity and mutual dependence which guides all we do. That also means that our consciences must bear, for the sake of our solidarity, some things we find objectionable. To live in community is to compromise and bear with one another. There is no (good) other way.

John Prior, I happen to find the topic of the family, its relationship to the individual, and its relationship to the community to be one that is rich, thought-provoking and multifarious. It was in that vein that I responded to Steven P Millies - to add another dimension to his comment. It is true that a constitutive element of Catholicism is that there are those who possess teaching authority, and so one can speak of a distinctively Catholic teaching - there are certain teachings that are properly and formally Catholic, by virtue of being taught by those who possess that teaching authority. Not everything that is thought or taught by members of the church qualifies as church teaching. Nevertheless, my observation of what properly is church teaching is that it is rich, thoughtful and multifarious.I suppose there is a point of view - a common one - that views the Catholic moral tradition as a bridle, and if one follows it, it does constrain some unbridled behavior. I'm convinced, though, that abiding by Catholic moral teaching, rooted as it is in our rich biblical patrimony, the revelation of God in Jesus, and developed by prayer, reflection and intellectual rigor over the centuries, is not a constraint on freedom, but the way to true freedom.Contraception almost certainly is a case in point. The unbridled so-called freedom unleashed by contraceptives, aka sexual license, has proven to be, among other things, the freedom for moms to be saddled with the care for children with little or no help or support from the fathers; the freedom for children to be reared in poverty and to attend dismally-performing schools that prepare the children for nothing but an adulthood of more poverty and dependency (not to mention crime); the freedom of our society to be burdened with sharply inceasing social and financial costs; and the freedom of people to be afflicted with deadly diseases spread through sex acts.Certainly, it could be noted in reply that, even if one grants that contraceptives contribute in some way to this cycle of failure and despair, contraceptives also are used in ways that are more positive and productive to society. Supposing that I grant that point for the sake of conversation, it still needs to be pointed out that the HHS contraception mandate makes no distinction between allegedly productive use and unproductive/counterproductive use. The morality promoted by the contraception mandate is that contraceptives are an unmixed social good, and therefore should always be free to anyone who wants them. That strikes me as profoundly wrongheaded.

Easy solution. Have the conscience objectors put their thoughts in the memo section of their check to the insurance co or IRS. Jim P you would have to tighten up your argument to fit in memo space.

The Catholic Taco Bell owner deserves our sympathy but we should also give thought to the plight of the Hasidic owner of a business employing fellow Jews for whom high fertility rates are the ideal and for whom business tasks are secondary to religious duties (including "Be fruitful and multiply"). "Hasidic Jews do not pursue occupational careers as is the norm in Western culture, but organize their livelihood so that it does not interfere with their religious obligations . . ." shouldn't such an employer be given an exemption from the contraception coverage mandate?

"The morality promoted by the contraception mandate is that contraceptives are an unmixed social good, and therefore should always be free to anyone who wants them. That strikes me as profoundly wrongheaded."Jim, there is absolutely nothing wrong with contraception. The only reason Paul VI went against his Birth Control Commission is that the Curia and others convinced him that this would go against the infallibility of the church since CASTI CONNUBII practically made the prohibition of contraceptives an article of faith. Rome has admitted many errors in the past. Its stand on contraceptives is another one. Infallibility is not that important to the living of the Christian life. Rome has been terrible on this question and it is time that reasonable Catholics have to let them know it.

Why should anybody have an exemption other than to avoid losing votes unnecessarily at the next election? There is a contraception requirement because the Supreme Court says everybody has a constitutional right to contraceive. The problem isn't Obamacare, which reflects the constitutional right, but the Supreme Court which found the constitutional right. That right belongs to an individual, not in his or her employer. Five votes decide a case on the Supreme Court. The current court has six Catholics, five of whom were put there by supposedly pro-life Republican presidents. Anyone who has a problem with the HHS respecting a constitutional right should take it up with the people who keep the right into the Constitution, not with HHS which is simply following it.

In Cathleen Kaveny's column in the 1/25 issue she, unconvincingly, in my opinion, argues that in the mandate controversy the government is not really "defining religion," then she goes on to say that, "The Catholic Health Association and others have suggested broadening the total exemption category to include religiously sponsored hospitals and universities, while providing contraceptives under another another government program." I make this citation so as to add it to to one Matthew makes in his piece above, "As Eduardo Penalver suggested in his Friday post, if a health-insurance company actually saves money by covering contraceptive service for its policyholders [note: proponents of "free" contraceptives contend it is a healthcare cost-savings because purportedly it prevents unwanted pregnancies and related problems that are far more costly than the very low cost of contraceptives free for all], then the Obama administration may as well have required insurance companies to offer free contraceptive coverage to those employed by any business owner who objects to paying for it -- and thereby avoided all the political problems that have arisen from the HHS mandate." Indeed, why not, to both the CHA suggestion and Penalver's point. The Obama administration seems to have, wittingly or not, created a problem that could have been so easily avoided; and, to what end? It seems the prime beneficiaries would be the health insurers, who will reap extra profits, and have religious institutions and religious conscientious objectors help pay for those profits.

"The only real question that hangs over our public life today isHow can history and tradition guide us in a world where the familiar signposts of tradition and history no longer help us? More specific to this discussionHow can we build a polis from these building blocks when the most fundamental building block, the traditional family, is in decline?"Steven - my excitement grew as I read these words, because I saw that I had another half-paragraph to go, and I hoped it would contain a decisive answer to those questions :-). Alas, you seem to have concluded, as I have, while no doubt approaching the question from a somewhat different angle: we try our best, we muddle through, we staunchly defend our rights while recognizing that compromise is necessary. You may be right that, in a world in which there is no good answer, that is the least bad.

Jim--I'm shaped by Augustine on these questions. My expectations are low. Muddle we must, at least on this side of the Eschaton.

"The Catholic Taco Bell owner deserves our sympathy ...."No, his employees and ... even worse the customers of such faux food ... do."Most Jehovahs Witnesses rushed to the ER with massive blood loss will cry NO BLOOD right up to their last breath." That's their call ... but not for their minor children.

There is a contraception requirement because the Supreme Court says everybody has a constitutional right to contraceiveTom,This is NOT what the court decided. Rather they decided it was unconstitutional for the government to prohibit and penalize contraception. Unconstitutional to prohibit and penalize is not identical to a constitutional right to contraception. Unconstitutional to prohibit and penalize allows a negative or neutral view of contraception while a constitutional right would necessarily imply encouragement of the practice.

This discussion seems to be all about the consciences of employers. What about employes?Employees have other ways to access contraceptives etc, so their rights are unaffected.

Bruce: You can't stop me because it's my right. Or you can't stop me because you have a negative or neutral view of contraception. What's the difference if no one can stop me?Now you want to come along and tell me my employer can stop me if he does have a negative view of contraception, but the government can't? Why can the idiot I work for do what the government can't do to me? Your friends at the NRA can explain to you that condoms don't contracieve, people contracieve.

Steven, One can argue quite well that contraception is pro family because it allows for more stable parents to take care of their existing children. Especially, when you cite Augustine who lived in the fourth century when bringing children to term was much more doubtful.

And as Jim McRea points out above; what a shame when a hierarchy which put the power and glory of clerics over the rights of children. And it can well be argued that they are doing the same here as they are denying Catholics the right to contraception when they have zero experience in raising children as a family.

Tom, your logic is completely faulty. Your employer cant tell the employee they cant use contraception. Not having the employer supply it through insurance is completely different than the employer prohibiting it. And making ridiculous statements about the NRA does not provide any support to your faulty argument.

" -- they (bishops) have zero experience in raising children as a family."Carefully parsed. Is there a hidden claim/accusation/thought there? I think a couple of Irish guys might give lie to that statement, but that's a quibble.