Not surprisingly, the GOP has taken up defending the right of the Catholic Church to infringe the rights of non-Catholics. But, also not surprisingly, they see all the moral and religious issues on the side of the Catholics. Let’s back off for a minute and think about this.
Can institutions run by the Catholic Church—hospitals, for instance—legally hire only Catholics? Generally speaking, yes—as long as they operate only on private money. They can also, under the same rules, choose to serve only Catholics.
But if, for whatever reasons, a Catholic institution chooses to accept money from all taxpayers, regardless of the latter’s religion or lack of it, or to employ or serve people of all faiths or none, then they are under the same legal restrictions as any other private employer or institution. Which is to say, they must refrain from infringing on the religious freedom of the non-Catholics they hire and serve.
For some reason, civil rights and reproductive freedom advocates have ignored this side of the issue. They have allowed the Catholic Church to imply that people who use contraception are interested merely in irresponsible lust or at any rate in mere convenience—in being able to play without paying.
Both the Catholic Church and the civil rights movement seem unwilling to acknowledge that there are religious people for whom the responsible use of contraception is not merely a convenience but a moral obligation. Many mainline Protestants and Jews, for instance, believe that it is not merely a bad idea, but a sin, to bring into the world a child for whom the parents cannot properly care. Like the majority of Americans of all faiths, we want to plan our families to fit within our ability to care for them, and not to have to live celibate within our marriages to do it. And many of us also believe that, while non-marital sex may be a bad idea, unprotected non-marital sex is a sin against the possible child. When a Catholic employer imposes difficulties upon non-Catholic employees who believe they are morally obliged to use contraception, it is a religious right they are infringing.
And let’s consider the financial side of the issue more carefully. It sounds as if the Catholic Church is taking the position that it will not contribute any money to anybody that might be used to defray the costs of birth control. If so, then they not only have to refuse to cover it in their employees’ health insurance policy, but logically they should refuse to hire non-Catholics at all, since heaven only knows what they will buy with their salaries! And presumably they should also advise all Catholics to refuse to pay taxes if there is any chance that those taxes might pay the salaries of local, state, or federal employees who might use the money to pay for birth control. In fact, they should be advising their members to withdraw from the money economy altogether, since any money they pay for goods and services may end up paying for somebody’s birth control. The Catholic church, which is probably the largest single denomination in the US, is putting itself on the path to ghettoization. Probably this is not what the bishops intend. Likely they do not want to join the Amish as exemplary but powerless elements within the American polity.
In fact, what the bishops seem to be trying to do is not to withdraw from the political world, but to throw their weight around within it, in ways that would horrify the Amish, St. Benedict, or, probably, Jesus Christ.
Finally, the Catholic establishment is surprisingly choosy about which of its values it chooses to impose on the rest of us. For instance, they are not willing to advise their members to withhold one thin dime from institutions that sponsor war and the death penalty, both also considered sinful by today’s Catholic establishment. Has it never occurred to the American Catholic Church that many of the civilian casualties of war are pregnant women? It also seems odd that the bishops have never even mentioned that the same health insurance plans they decry for covering birth control also cover the prescription of Viagra for unmarried men. Isn’t that at least as immoral as birth control, by their lights? Isn’t it interesting that the issues on which the Catholic Church chooses to exercise its political influence in the US, regardless of the Church’s own moral teaching, all directly and primarily affect women?
So let’s not allow the Catholic establishment to get away with monopolizing First Amendment high ground. What they are demanding is the right to infringe on the religious freedom of their non-Catholic employees. The government should not aid and abet them in doing it.