Which is it?

Most critics of the HHS contraception mandate have said the controversy is about religious liberty, not contraception. Some of the same critics have said that the question is not whether Catholics could comply with the mandate in good conscience if they had to, but whether the government ought to force them to comply with it in the first place. But these two claims are logically incompatible with each other.

If the controversy is about contraception, then critics of the mandate will not be able to win the argument without first convincing a majority of Americans either that contraception is evil (good luck) or that, even if it isnt evil, there is some good nonsectarian reason not to require insurance to cover it, despite the medical and social benefits of preventing unwanted pregnancies. To make one of these arguments, in the hope that a majority of ones fellow citizens will be persuaded by it, is to make an argument that has nothing to do with protecting the religious liberty of those whose beliefs are at odds with those of the majority.But if the argument is about religious liberty, then critics must persuade those who aren't opposed to contraception or the coverage mandate that requiring Catholic employers to provide such coverageor facilitate it in any waywould force them to violate the teachings of their religious community. If it can be shown, therefore, that such requirements would not force Catholics to violate their churchs teachings, then no one can oppose the mandate on the grounds of religious liberty.This doesnt mean the critics of the mandate are wrong, of course. Those who say the government shouldn't make employers (of whatever belief) pay for contraception coverage could be right. As could those who argue that the mandate, with or without the accommodation, would force Catholic employers to violate church teaching. And one can make both of these arguments at the same time. But if one is going to claim that the mandate violates the religious liberty of Catholics, one really does have to demonstrate that the material cooperation with contraception it requires is illicit according to the church's own teaching.

Matthew Boudway is senior editor of Commonweal.

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