Tuesday, November 29, 2011
At the Commonweal web site, Eric Bugyis lodges what strikes me as a number of misplaced objections to the Catholic bishops' religious-freedom-grounded case for an exemption from the proposed contraception mandate. (I set out my own views about the religious-freedom problems with the mandate in USA Today yesterday.)
Mr. Bugyis writes: "First of all, the issue is not over how and to whom religiously affiliated institutions minister, but it is about who is doing the ministering." In fact, though, the proposed religious-employer exemption in the interim-final-rule mandate does make it relevant "how and to whom religiously affiliated institutions minister."
He writes: "If non-Catholics are being employed to teach or doctor in a religiously affiliated institution, why should they be denied coverage for services that have been deemed medically necessary by a board of medical experts for all citizens?" Let's put aside, for present purposes, the doubts one might well have about whether "preventative services," as defined in the interim rule, are actually "medically necessary" (notwithstanding their having been declared so by a "board of medical experts"); the definition of "preventative services", and the content of the mandate, are (at least) as much the product of ideology and politics as of medical expertise. Why should it be the case that a religious employer loses the right -- or just the ability -- to act in accord with religious teaching simply by virtue of hiring some non-co-religionsts (who, presumably, accept the position voluntarily and with knowledge of the employer's religious character)?
He then asks, "If the bishops are so scared of being defined out of their 'religion' by the state, maybe they should divest themselves of 'secular' ministry completely." I'm not sure if this is meant to be a serious point, or just a snarky one. Why shouldn't the bishops prefer resisting government efforts to impose religious-character-burdening conditions on their agencies "secular" ministries to abandoning those ministries?
Finally, he says, "It is the bishops who are asking for the right to walk by those in need, if they have deemed that their needs are not really needs at all. It is the bishops who are the 'bad' Samaritans in this parable by opting out of their obligations as members of a pluralistic society." This is also unfair (and, I think, a distortion of the "Good Samaritan" story). How is it that the bishops are asking to "walk by those in need"? And what exactly is the "obligation" of "members of a pluralistic society" that the bishops are seeking to evade?
I understand, of course, that reasonable people disagree over the question whether or not complying with the mandate as it stands would actually violate Church teaching or involve culpable cooperation with wrong (and also, obviously, that many people do not think that we are talking about a "wrong" here at all). Still, it strikes me that Mr. Bugyis's post is more in tension with "pluralistic society" than are the bishops' concerns.