Wednesday, February 15, 2012
Garnett: "HHS Mandate Still Undermines Religious Freedom"
Here is a short piece of mine, up at USA Today, on the HHS mandate and Friday's announcement of planned modifications to it. A bit:
. . . It is true that not all those who object in good faith to the community's laws can or should be accommodated. It is also true that, in a pluralistic society, everyone sees his or her tax dollars used by governments for some programs and purposes they oppose. At the same time, a free society like ours will regard it as often both wise and just to accommodate religious believers and institutions by exempting them from requirements that would require them to compromise their integrity. This is such a case.A crucial thing to remember, both about the mandate and the promised adjustments-to-come, is that it is deeply un-American in its hostility to diversity and pluralism in civil society.
The mandate's religious-employer exemption is limited only to inward-looking entities that hire and engage only their own. It embodies the view that religious institutions may be distinctive only insofar as they stay in their place — in the pews, in the pulpit, at the altar. It reflects a troubling tendency to impose ideological sameness and conformity in the public sphere, to insist that all groups and associations act like the government, in the service of the government's goals.
The mandate prompted an impressively united reaction by those who cherish America's tradition of religious freedom and accommodation. On the left and on the right, among Republicans and Democrats, there was an appreciation for the fact that this was an overreach. It was, and still is.
Here's the unchanged rule published today, with unclear promise of future action:
Posted by: A reader | Feb 15, 2012 1:54:48 PM
A very good summary of the situation.
Disclaimer regarding my infallibility. When USA Today started up thirty years ago (1982), I said, "What a bad idea. It will never succeed."
Posted by: David Nickol | Feb 15, 2012 2:40:25 PM
Why is this "such a case" any more than other strongly held religious views that are not accommodated? The Quakers oppose war, but their tax protestors go to prison; their view is not accommodated. More analogously, Jehovah's Witnesses oppose blood transfusions, but in an earlier thread on this website it was taken for granted and as self-evident that this belief should not be accommodated and that JW employers could be prevented from excluding funding for blood transfusions from their employees' insurance policies.
The question remains: why is the Catholic Church's view about birth control entitled to accommodation but the Jehovah's Witness view about blood transfusions is not? What if a Christian Science employer refused to provide any health insurance at all for its employees? Should that be accommodated, based on the Christian Science view of medical care? If not, why is it different from the Catholic Church's view of covering birth control?
Posted by: Ellen Wertheimer | Feb 15, 2012 3:38:48 PM
Ellen: You raise a good question, but the government has already conceded that the cases are different, since it does presently accommodate some religious organizations, i.e., those that the government defines as engaging in "religious activity." This indicates that the government concedes that the question over which contraception is debated--what the proper use of our sexual powers--is one over which there is reasonable disagreement. If not, then it would not give any exemption.
Remember, that in Griswold v. Connecticut the Supreme Court grounded the right to contraceptive use in the newly found "right to privacy," a right that implied that on certain matters of intimacy the government was not fully competent to issue coercive judgments. To extend that right to allowing businesses and individuals not to pay for it, on the basis of a conscience exemption, makes perfect sense given the nature of the activity in question. After all, if you say that contraception is as medically essential as a blood transfusion, then it means that some citizens, like the minor children of Jehovah's Witnesses, may be fitted for contraception by the state against their will and the will of their parents. So, the analogy cuts both ways.
Posted by: Francis J. Beckwith | Feb 15, 2012 3:58:46 PM
There's a factual claim in your piece (and in Girgis and George's piece) that seems to be in dispute. I don't know which side is correct, but it does seem to be a critical part of the debate.
Namely, that requiring insurance companies to cover contraception is a net expense to the insurer (an expense that gets passed on to the company paying for the policies). You've no doubt heard the arguments to the contrary -- that lack of coverage for birth control may lead to more pregnancies ... which the insurance company is then on the hook for in terms of delivery costs and potentially expensive complications. How much does it cost the insurer to deal with a pre-term baby?
I don't know how those costs "net out". There are two studies cited here, in a piece that obviously opposes your view:
One of the two says the insurer saves money by offering contraception. The other says it costs roughly $40 more dollars per year, which is a tiny piece of the thousands it takes to cover a person for a year.
I wonder, if you consider all aspects of the compromise arrangement suggested by Obama, if this might be an example of a relatively minor accommodation for certain religious institutions. There are a bunch of these compromises involved in most of our everyday lives -- for example, I go around carrying government-issued money with the phrase "In God We Trust" emblazoned on it. But I'm not a believer in monotheistic religion as would be suggested by these tokens I'm handing to people.
I make this compromise without complaint. It doesn't bother me. If folks with similar concerns or inconsistencies with public policy don't make similar compromises, it will be very hard for us all to get along.
Posted by: Centrist | Feb 15, 2012 4:08:54 PM
I guess I find this part confusing, Francis:
"This indicates that the government concedes that the question over which contraception is debated--what the proper use of our sexual powers--is one over which there is reasonable disagreement. If not, then it would not give any exemption."
I don't know that the government is deciding that this issue of particular concern to conservative Catholics involves "reasonable disagreement", while, say blood transfusions for Jehovas do not. The distinction is between religious institutions and religiously affiliated institutions that are not primarily membership institutions. The fact that birth control is selected for compromise probably has something to do with the fact that there are a lot of Catholics and not so many Jehovas.
That's difficult to accept, on some levels -- that smaller religious groups have their concerns less well represented in terms of our laws and regulations. But it's also something most of us deal with in some way.
Posted by: Centrist | Feb 15, 2012 4:33:44 PM
"It embodies the view that religious institutions may be distinctive only insofar as they stay in their place — in the pews, in the pulpit, at the altar. It reflects a troubling tendency to impose ideological sameness and conformity in the public sphere, to insist that all groups and associations act like the government, in the service of the government's goals."
Bravo, and thanks for sticking up for the rest of us who naturally cannot compartmentalize our lives between the pews and the rest of the world which we are exorted to go out into the world to love and serve the Lord.
Posted by: CK | Feb 15, 2012 7:13:15 PM
The part you excerpt has an odd mix of reasonable-sounding argument ("It is true that not all those who object in good faith to the community's laws can or should be accommodated. It is also true that, in a pluralistic society, everyone sees his or her tax dollars used by governments for some programs and purposes they oppose") and overly heated rhetoric ("A crucial thing to remember, both about the mandate and the promised adjustments-to-come, is that it is deeply un-American in its hostility to diversity and pluralism in civil society").
Posted by: Andrew MacKie-Mason | Feb 15, 2012 9:29:29 PM
"A crucial thing to remember, both about the mandate and the promised adjustments-to-come, is that it is un-American in its hostility to diversity and pluralism in civil society"
Would that be adequately heated rhetoric?
Posted by: Mike | Feb 15, 2012 9:34:23 PM
Andrew, actually, both parts you quote are both entirely reasonable and just the right temperature.
Posted by: Rick Garnett | Feb 15, 2012 11:13:05 PM
A question: to the best of my knowledge and belief, the health insurance policies provided by Catholic institutions cover vasectomies even if they do not cover (or seek not to cover) contraceptive pills. I have not seen many explicit references to this aspect of birth control (none, actually)in the conversations about birth control that have centered around the HHS mandates. Is my presumption correct that a Catholic employer would and should take the same position about coverage of vasectomies as it takes about coverage for contraceptive pills? This does not seem to have been the case up until now, although I am certainly subject to correction on this.
Posted by: Ellen Wertheimer | Feb 16, 2012 2:06:17 PM
Surely you mean "the health insurance policies provided by *some* Catholic institutions cover vasectomies". Notre Dame's, for example, does not cover "elective sterilization" which would presumably include vasectomies. If nothing else, this is probably an area where it is difficult (or at least not productive) to generalize.
Posted by: Mike | Feb 16, 2012 2:26:12 PM
I stand corrected. My question, put perhaps less generally is this: do those Catholic employers whose insurance does not cover contraception such as The Pill likewise exclude vasectomies from coverage?
If the answer for a given institution is that vasectomies are covered, while medical contraception is not, then the question becomes one of why the policy differs.
Posted by: Ellen Wertheimer | Feb 16, 2012 5:18:45 PM
"both parts you quote are both entirely reasonable and just the right temperature."
I would think that coming down on the other side of what you seem to acknowledge is a difficult balancing test wouldn't qualify as "deeply un-American." But I realize some people see that rhetoric as something to be tossed around at the slightest provocation.
Posted by: Andrew MacKie-Mason | Feb 16, 2012 6:49:41 PM
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