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Jan/14

4

A Bitter Pill?

birth-control-pillThis piece is from the Guardian and it comes with some of the paper’s usual irritating baggage, but it is still worth reading as an examination of the factual background to the Little Sisters HHS case:

The ACA has a series of outs for religious employers who say medication like contraception violates their moral beliefs. It’s essentially three-tied: for-profit organizations have to cover contraception in their health plans; explicitly religious organizations like churches don’t have to provide contraception if they believe birth control is morally wrong; and religiously-affiliated non-profits that are neither owned nor controlled by religious groups do not have to provide contraception either, but they have to fill out a form certifying that they are religiously-affiliated, and then a third party administrator makes sure that employees can get contraception if they need it. The third-party administrator, and not the employer, pays for contraception coverage.

In the case that led Sotomayor to issue the injunction, an organization called the Little Sisters of the Poor Home for the Aged objected to the ACA’s contraception requirement. All the Little Sisters have to do is fill out a form and the organization will be under no obligation to pay for birth control for its many employees – which include home health aides, nurses, administrators and a variety of women who may not be Catholic or, like 98% of sexually active Catholic women, may choose to use a birth control method other than natural family planning – but apparently a form is too great an intrusion on their religious liberty….

The Becket Fund [a fund I note named after a priest ‘martyred’ for his belief in religious legal privilege], a conservative organization representing the Little Sisters, claims that the ACA restricts the religious freedom of the Sisters because the Sisters rely on a Catholic insurance company, the Christian Brothers Trust, for their company health insurance. The Christian Brothers Trust doesn’t provide coverage for hormonal birth control, IUDs or sterilization.

According to the Becket Fund, the Sisters are stuck between a rock and a hard place: they could continue to participate in the Christian Brothers Trust insurance coverage and refuse to designate the Christian Brothers as a contraception provider, which the Becket Fund says would result in ACA-related fines, or they could designate the Christian Brothers Trust to provide contraception coverage, violating both groups’ deeply-held religious beliefs. Alternately, they could drop health coverage all together, which would also put them at risk for fines. Or, they could ditch the Christian Brothers Trust and designate new group insurance coverage, which would cover contraception for employees without making the Sisters pay for or negotiate a single thing, but would again require them to fill out a form that supposedly violates their belief that employees shouldn’t be allowed to get contraception.

The Little Sisters aren’t paying for contraception even through a third-party-secured insurance plan; they certainly aren’t being asked to distribute it, and Catholic nuns aren’t being force-fed birth control pills. They simply have to sign a piece of paper saying they’re a religious group, and then turn to a third party to negotiate all the details….

[A]s it turns out, the Christian Brothers Trust insurance group can refuse to provide contraception and will face no fines or consequences. That’s because the Trust is a self-insured “church plan”, which means that the Little Sisters can designate the Christian Brothers as the third-party administrators, and if the Brothers still refuse to provide contraception coverage, the government can’t fine them. In other words: the Little Sisters can continue operating exactly as before, and nothing will happen….

Food for thought.

The court will decide what it decides and (not being too familiar with the constitutional case law) I have no opinion on how that could—or should—spin out, but, as a matter of commonsense and of basic equity (none of which, of course, need be particularly relevant where the law courts are concerned) it remains hard for me to see these rules as an assault on religious freedom. That the Roman Catholic Church has also long been a supporter of universal healthcare only adds irony—and a degree of insult—to the mix.

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Dec/13

7

Santorum, Again

Santorum (Well, Savanarola)Politico:

As condolences and reflections followed the passing of Nelson Mandela, Rick Santorum linked the injustices the former South African president fought and Obamacare.

“He was fighting against some great injustice, and I would make the argument that we have a great injustice going on right now in this country with an ever-increasing size of government that is taking over and controlling people’s lives — and Obamacare is front and center in that,” Santorum said Thursday on Fox News’s “The O’Reilly Factor.”

Not quite the same, I feel.

Andrew Sullivan notes that Santorum, a politician who misses few opportunities to stress his piety, is “a Catholic fighting against universal healthcare”.

Sullivan’s point, of course, is that the Roman Catholic church supports the principle of universal healthcare (while reserving the right to opt out of the bits of which it disapproves). That doesn’t mean that devout Catholics cannot disagree with Obamacare, but it does makes the force of the language used by Santorum come acriss as, well, striking….

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Dec/13

5

For Thee, But Not For Me (Again)

U.S. President Obama and Cardinal Dolan pictured during 2012 Alfred E. Smith Dinner in New YorkFox News:

Cardinal Timothy Dolan, the archbishop of New York, said Sunday the Catholic church remains opposed to ObamaCare in large part because it requires businesses to offer health-insurance plans that include no-cost contraception.

Dolan, the former president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, said the church’s position is a difficult one, considering it has supported universal, affordable and comprehensive health care since the early 1990s.
“We bishops have really been in kind of a tough place,” Dolan said on NBC’s “Meet the Press.” “That’s how far we go in this battle. We’re not Johnny-come-latelies.”

He also warned President Obama that the contraception mandate in his signature health care law might “push aside” some of his biggest supporters.

“We want to be with you. We want to be strong, and if you keep doing this, we’re not going to be able to be one of your cheerleaders,” said Dolan, several days after the Supreme Court agreed to hear a challenge to the mandate by the Christian-owned retail chain Hobby Lobby.

So the Roman Catholic Church wants universal healthcare, paid for by taxpayers. That’s a debatable point of view, but far from outlandish. But then the church wants to opt out of those parts of this supposedly universal healthcare that it does not like. Everyone else, of course, has to lump it.

That’s religious privilege, not “religious freedom”.

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Oct/13

31

‘Religious Freedom’ (Again)

Thomas MoreThe fact that the current clutch of campaigners for ‘religious freedom’ (brought together by their opposition to Obamacare’s contraception mandate) has adopted Thomas More, a less than admirable proto-Dzerzhinsky, as a symbol of freedom of conscience, a principle for which More showed not the slightest sympathy, should tell you all you know about their protest. It is based, not on the idea of religious freedom, but of religious privilege, an idea that is not only unlikable in its own right, but also (in an increasingly multicultural nation) can only help reinforce the drift to the Balkanization that is a very real menace to a shared American future.

Writing in the (leftish) National Catholic Reporter, David DeCosse takes a critical look at what the Cardinal Dolan crowd is now arguing:

Archbishop Charles Chaput of Philadelphia articulated the problematic logic behind the bishops’ religious liberty campaign. “The purpose of religious liberty is to create the context for true freedom,” he said in his 2012 homily at a “Fortnight of Freedom” Mass organized in support of the campaign. “Religious liberty is a foundational right. It’s necessary for a good society. But it can never be sufficient for human happiness. It’s not an end in itself. In the end, we defend religious liberty in order to live the deeper freedom that is discipleship in Jesus Christ.”
Here we can see a subtle but significant shift from the logic of the Declaration on Religious Freedom. In the conciliar document, the respect for human dignity that is the basis of the right is an end in itself. The right so understood belongs to all people — Catholic, lapsed Catholic, Muslim, Jew, atheist and more. But, in Chaput’s homily, the right is not an end in itself; he says so explicitly. Instead, the right is instrumental: Its real value lies not so much in the freedom to believe but in the “deeper freedom that is discipleship in Jesus Christ.”

Here Chaput has introduced a tiered, imbalanced justification of religious liberty in civil society. The devoutly religious are more entitled to it than anyone else.

Quite: It’s about privilege, not freedom.

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Sep/13

29

Own Goal

The PillWhatever you think about the rights or wrongs of this move, its politics will do the GOP no favors:

Washington (CNN) – House Republicans have added a measure aimed at limiting contraceptive coverage to the spending bill coming up for a vote Saturday night, a spokesman for Rep. Tim Huelskamp, R-Kansas, told CNN.

A senior House leadership aide confirmed that development.

The so-called “conscience clause” would allow employers and insurers to opt out of preventative care for women which they find objectionable on moral or religious grounds. That prominently includes birth control, which most insurers are required to provide for free under current Obamacare rules.

With this move, House Republican leaders would give any employer or group health plan the ability to opt out of contraception coverage for the next year. That time frame syncs up with the larger measure in which this is included: a one-year delay of Obamacare provisions not yet in effect.

“This is a big deal for the congressman,” Huelskamp’s spokesman, Paul Nelson, told CNN. “He has been pushing for (the conscience clause) since he entered Congress.”

Democrats say the measure is unnecessary because the administration has granted exemptions to contraceptive coverage to religious nonprofit institutions. But advocates, such as Huelskamp, insist that all institutions should be able to opt out of any preventative coverage for women that they find objectionable.

The addition of the “conscience clause” ties a heated social issue to the already sharp shutdown debate.

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May/13

3

About That First Amendment Thing

ZubikCBS Pittsburgh:

PITTSBURGH (KDKA) – Students at Carnegie Mellon say it’s freedom of expression, but the Catholic Diocese of Pittsburgh calls it inappropriate and disrespectful. At an annual art school parade, a female student dressed up as the pope, and was naked from the waist down while she passed out condoms. Even more, witnesses say the woman had shaved her pubic hair in the shape of a cross….

“I think we all know that when we’re growing up we do stupid things but to cross over the line in this instance shouldn’t happen with anybody,” Bishop David Zubik said.

Bishop Zubik says the incident must be addressed. “What I do want to have happen is for this person to learn an important lesson,” Zubik said. The University encourages individual thought and artistic expression but the Diocese believes this student not only crossed the line, but trampled all over it.

They are demanding some action…..

Interesting.

I don’t know whether such a childish display is of a nature to warrant First Amendment protection, but it is somewhat tactless of a Bishop who has recently been doing plenty of complaining about what he sees as a threat to his First Amendment rights, to be quite so insistent that this student be punished for exercising what might be hers.

The decision over what (if anything) should be done about this incident is for the university and—if it came to it—the courts. The bishop was well within his rights to criticize what this lady did—and I don’t blame him for doing just that—but when he calls for disciplinary action he—how shall I put it—not only crossed a line, but trampled all over it.

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Dec/12

28

Liberty, Not So Much

birth-control-pillWe’ve heard a lot from the Roman Catholic church of late about how its “religious liberty” is supposedly infringed by the Obamacare “contraception mandate”. It’s a dodgy and unconvincing argument for any number of reasons (and hypocritical too, given the church’s earlier support for universal healthcare), to which one can now add this (via the National Catholic Register):

BATON ROUGE, La. — Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal has voiced his support for over-the-counter access to birth control, a position that Church representatives say goes against Catholic teaching on contraception.

“The Archdiocese of New Orleans disagrees with Governor Jindal’s stance on this issue, as the use of birth control and contraceptives are against Catholic Church teaching,” Sarah Comiskey McDonald, communications director for the Archdiocese of New Orleans, told EWTN News Dec. 14. Robert Tasman, associate director of the Louisiana Conference of Catholic Bishops, also echoed the archdiocese’s statement.

Making the pill available OTC is a generally excellent idea, but Jindal is approaching it from the perspective of a (very) devout Roman Catholic. His cannily pragmatic argument is based on the idea that making the pill available OTC will remove much (all?) of the rationale for including it under the HHS rules, but even this still is not, apparently, good enough for the Archdiocese. Note that these clerics’ objection to Gov. Jindal’s proposal is based on religious, not medical grounds. That their opposition to contraception is not shared by many of their coreligionists, let alone by most Americans of other faiths—and none—is, apparently, an irrelevance. Their ideology must be imposed on everyone, and that’s it.

Remind me again why should we pay attention when this church starts talking about “religious liberty”. I must be missing something.

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Aug/12

20

Biter Bit

Anthony Davies and Kristina Antolin, writing in the WSJ:

The bishops dance with the devil when they invite government to use its coercive power on their behalf, and there’s no clearer example than the Affordable Care Act. They happily joined their moral authority to the government’s legal authority by supporting mandatory health insurance. They should not have been surprised when the government used its reinforced power to require Catholic institutions to pay for insurance plans that cover abortions and birth control.

No they should not.

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Aug/12

11

John Fisher: Biter Bit

Writing in the (British) Catholic Herald, Francis Phillips claims that she “feels a shiver when I see the parallels between our world and that of St John Fisher”.

The context, inevitably, is of officialdom’s supposed attack on religious freedom in the UK. Fisher (1469-1535) is allegedly relevant because this English cardinal was eventually executed for refusing to go along with Henry VIII’s attempt to ensure that England should determine its own laws.

To Phillips, Fisher is a example to be praised, martyred because he would not go against his conscience. Oddly, she doesn’t mention another aspect of this sinister fanatic’s career, his role in the trial and execution of Thomas Hitton, the man often described as England’s first protestant martyr.

Thanks to Wikipedia (in this case, why not), we learn that George Joye (1495-1553) was not so reticent:

“And [Thomas] More amonge his other blasphemies in his Dialoge sayth that none of vs dare abyde by our fayth vnto deeth: but shortlye therafter/ god to proue More/ that he hath euer bene/ euen a false lyare/ gaue strength vnto his servaunte syr Thomas Hitton/ to confesse and that vnto the deeth the fayth of his holie sonne Iesus/ whiche Tomas the bishopes of Caunterburye & Rochester [Fisher]/ after they had dieted and tormented him secretlye murthered at Maydstone most cruellye.

Fisher was no defender of freedom of conscience. What he was defender of his conscience. And, indeed, enforcer of it on others. As for his fate, well, biter bit.

As I noted the other day, Fisher, and another of those responsible for Hitton’s execution, Thomas More, were recently drafted by New York’s Cardinal Dolan into the fight against the Obamacare contraception mandate in the name of religious freedom.

They were not, perhaps, the best of choices.

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Aug/12

5

Kelly, No Hero

Via CBS:

Rep. Mike Kelly, R-Pa., an ardent opponent of the contraception mandate that went into effect Wednesday, is comparing the beginning of the mandate to the attacks on Pearl Harbor and the September 11 terrorist attacks.

“I know in your mind you can think of the times that America was attacked,” Rep. Mike Kelly, R-Pa., said during a news conference.

“One is December 7th, that’s Pearl Harbor Day; the other is September 11th and that’s the day of a terrorist attack. I want you to remember August the first 2012 the attack on our religious freedom. That is the date that will live in infamy along with those other dates.”

Somehow I doubt it.

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