Thursday, May 31, 2012
Commonweal is hosting a symposium on the current religious freedom / HHS mandate / lawsuits / Bishops' statement cluster of issues, here. Our own Michael Moreland will be contributing.
Peter Steinfels' opening statement is, as one would expect, thoughtful. The concerns he expresses are, I think, reasonable, even if I do not, in the end, share all of them. I think it is worth noting that, despite his judgment that the Bishops' "campaign is poorly conceived and runs a high risk of harming the very causes it would defend", he acknowledges several times that the "religious employer" exemption contained in the preventive-services mandate is troubling and that the Bishops were and are right to protest it. This exemption is, at present, the law, and there has been no indication that it is going to be changed. It remains as troubling as it was, when it -- for a time -- united "progressive" and "conservative" Catholics in opposition. This exemption is a key target of the recently filed lawsuits, and so I continue to not understand the criticisms -- especially when they come from Catholics and others who see, or at least saw, the objectionable nature of this narrow exemption -- of the recent lawsuits, which were -- as Fr. Jenkins made clear -- filed with regret and only after careful consideration.
I look forward to the other contributions. Given the authors, I expect that they will avoid what I regard as the mistake of presuming partisan aims on the part of those of us who oppose the mandate, agree with the Bishops that religious-freedom is vulnerable and in need of renewed defense at present, and who believe that (unfortunately) this administration's insensitivity to religious freedom has made political and legal responses necessary. I am confident that they, unlike some, will avoid the unhelpful and unfair charge that we are somehow unable to distinguish between real and imaginary threats, or that we fail to appreciate the important distinctions that exist between, say, requirements that one act immorally and requirements that one pay taxes. And, I believe they will resist any temptation to imagine that our concerns about religious liberty generally, or the HHS mandate in particular, reflect an unsophisticated or unthinking failure to appreciate the realities of political life in a pluralistic society.