Being prohibited our religion and the free exercise thereof

The very first right this thing discusses reads, "Congress shall make no law respecting the establishment of religion, or the free exercise thereof."

“How is this different from Catholics participating in the health care plans at their non-Catholic employer that do cover contraception?!!? Aren’t they violating the same Catholic principle you’re saying the HHS Mandate will force you to violate?!!?”

That’s supposed to be a “gotcha, you hypocrites” series of questions. At least that’s how they’ve been used by some in the comments boxes.

They are valid questions, but that’s about where the “gotcha” ends.

The answer is two-fold:

First, those plans are voluntary. Anyone’s participation in them is therefore also voluntary. They could choose to get that extra money in their paycheck instead. Actions that are voluntary are different from actions that a government decides to compel through law and punishments. So even if the Catholics who buy into health plans that cover morally problematic services and items were, in fact, doing something immoral, they would be doing it voluntarily, rather than under threat of massive fines.

Sometimes the government even agrees that an action anyone *could* do is not the sort of thing anyone *should* do and passes laws against said action. Like murder. Still happens, despite laws against it. But here the government has decided to order, compel, force, require millions of Catholics and thousands of private entities run by the Catholic Church to do something that the Catholic faith tells them is horribly immoral.

Ergo, we Catholics have been told that we may not enjoy the “right” to our religion; we have been “prohibit[ed] the free exercise thereof.”

Make sense? Simple enough? Apparently not for some.

Second, …   nah, I’ll post the second part, how the Catholic who buys into the office health care plan that covers contraceptives, etc., is not thereby doing anything immoral, in a day or two…

Flame away.



  • Jack

    Tom, in what way has the church been prohibited the free exercise thereof;”?

    Are they still not freely allowed to teach and practice their belief that sex is for procreating and promoting the union of husband and wife. And are they not still freely allowed to teach that contraception is intrinsically evil?

    To me this is similar to a Priest paying income taxes and part of those taxes being used to subsidize contraception. I’m sure the Priest does not like or condone such subsidizes but they certainly do not prohibit which beliefs he chooses to teach and practice.

  • Franner

    You understand that the law only requires that the employer offer a choice in healthcare plans right? One of those plans can cover contraception, while one can exclude it. The employee is therefore free to choose the one that meets their needs or religious ideals. I find this solution to allow tons of conscience protections. I brought it up to my HR department and they said that do to the changes, they were going to start offering a plan that does not include contraception or abortion and at a reduced rate! I previously had no choice. I really think this “mandate” is a good development. It allows more choice, and that’s really what this is all about!

    • Tom Crowe

      Franner— Which means the employer is still forced to cover the morally objectionable items/services in one or more offered plans, right? Saying “yeah, but only if one of the employees opts for that plan” really isn’t a defense. The choices made by employees is not the question here, it is the choices denied the employer. Even if every offered plan had to cover these things and not a single employee ever took advantage of the coverage, this would still be gravely objectionable.

      • Jason

        Federal law requires insurance benefits of a worker to cover his spouse, children, etc. Can you explain how it is not a violation of religious freedom to deny coverage to the (potential) multiple wives of a Mormon man (which certainly do exist in Utah, Nevada, etc.)? I’m confused as how the government can force a Mormon employer to NOT offer insurance in this instance. Because if you argue that the government has an interest to promote marriage in the essence of the general welfare clause (the betterment of society), you would be claiming that government law CAN trump religious beliefs in the face of the good of society as a whole. That’s not to say the HHS mandate is correct, but I’m curious why the discussion in this case is about these absolute rights, rather than debating the merits of the good for society.

        • Tom Crowe

          Jason— Good question. But it’s a bit of a tangent. If I have time I’ll work on a major post about it.

      • Karen

        Franner brings up a good point. All those employers, like mine, who ONLY offered plans with contraception and abortion coverage now MUST offer plans without. It’s an amazing and perhaps unintended conclusion, but I think there has to be some acknowledgement of this.

        • Tom Crowe

          Karen— Of course, but that could have been done without forcing all to cover contraceptives.

          • Karen

            Here’s what’s troubling me. I agree it could be done without forcing the coverage. However, it seems the argument comes down to absolute rights vs. the larger public good, as Jason mentioned above. For example, Rick Santorum says he voted for Title X funding for Planned Parenthood even though he’s against PP funding, because it would be for the greater good to pass the appropriations bill. Why do the moral absolutes not apply in that case? Can I argue in this instance that there is greater societal good of forcing companies to guarantee coverage for non-contraception, non-abortion plans, and we should accept the losses to achieve that good? I’m confused why the moral absolute applies here but not elsewhere.

          • Tom Crowe

            Karen— And this is what I was alluding to in my response to Jason, I would argue that contraception is contrary to the public good (in fact, I pretty much have in these most recent posts). So no, I don’t think one can make the case that the “good of society” that some imagine comes from greater access to contraceptives can in any way mitigate the very obvious evil of forcing many to violate their consciences. Further, you stated something along the lines of “greater freedom of choice” being a good thing with regard to the plans available through your employer. Why do you think it okay to deny the employer the freedom to choose not to cover contraceptives, etc.? Why is your freedom to choose more important than the organization’s freedom to choose? ——— As for Santorum’s vote, don’t make it a paradigmatic case of my moral reasoning or something that I have defended. I haven’t. Not that there isn’t a legitimate defense of it, but I haven’t looked into it enough.

          • Karen

            Hi Tom: You’re right, I shouldn’t have implied you defended the Santorum vote. I guess I’m referring to general sentiment I’ve found on this site. I agree with you that promoting contraception doesn’t create additional “good of society,” but I don’t think I’ve seen that argument on this site. All writers say this is illegal and unconstitutional. If you want to argue it’s not the right course of action, I’m right behind you. But there seems to be a double standard here…let’s not forget, this site endorsed Santorum for President. There’s a logical disconnect when the endorsee’s logic on decisions of life don’t match up with the logic of the writers here.

          • Tom Crowe

            Karen— An endorsement does not equal canonization, it means the decision makers decided that among the available options “this guy” is not only the most preferred, but positively good for us in some ways. But that also does not mean the guy has no baggage and no downsides. Santorum’s support of Specter is one area where I think it was the wrong decision, and I thought so at the time, but I will not hold it against him now. I have not endorsed anyone and my preferred candidate proved a terrible debater and bowed out. (Tragedy that debates controlled by the likes of CNN and NPR should matter so much while actual record and success-as-a-governor recedes into the background, but them’s the breaks.) I’m alarmed by the comments Santorum made on Greta’s show recently, but his support of the approps bill you reference does not necessarily mean damning moral complicity in supporting contraceptive coverage. In the end, while he’s not perfect, he may still be the best option. I am not completely sold as yet, but he hasn’t disqualified himself in my opinion.

          • Karen

            I guess I have a hard time reconciling that President Obama is, in the words of Matt Bowman, “tyrannical” for authorizing this mandate, yet Rick Santorum “has [some] baggage” for voting to fund free contraception through Planned Parenthood. I see comparisons like that as more of a political agenda than a religious one.

          • Tom Crowe

            Karen — Perhaps I can help. It is a couple of distinctions you are not making. First, Rick Santorum’s vote that in some way helped funnel federal dollars to programs was his vote to allow federal dollars to be given to a private organization carrying out its private function according to its private rules and regulations. Whether or not that vote was morally licit is a valid question, but immaterial to the discussion because his vote was a free act of his will to fund the free acts of will of those who run Planned Parenthood. No one’s freedom to do as they see fit is being crushed here. On the other hand, President Obama’s mandate is a mandate, an order, a requirement, a directive that private organizations do something that is contrary to their private desires and deeply held convictions. Note that difference: Obama is trying to force people, through the power of government, to violate their consciences and do what is contrary to what they will; while the vote by Santorum merely helped fund the actions of a given group that was acting according to their conscience. The former is tyrannical; the latter is possibly bad judgment. Please tell me you see the difference.

          • Tom Crowe

            And, Karen, you’re right that I haven’t written specifically about the use of contraceptives as a bad thing for society, but the prophetic nature of Humanae Vitae vis-a-vis what would happen if contraception and abortion became more widespread has been mentioned. Paul VI was spot-on, and I’m pretty sure that’s been mentioned.

          • tranx

            I think this is a difference of opinion as to whose money it is. In my opinion, it’s the employee’s money and it should be the employee’s choice what healthcare to buy with it. The employee is the one that is working and receiving their wages and benefits. I don’t see this as the business being “forced” to fund reproductive services. The employee gets to make the choice as to what they want covered in their healthcare benefit. The business isn’t responsible for what the employee chooses anymore than they are responsible if the employee chooses to go and buy crack on the street corner.

          • Tom Crowe

            Tranx— The company pays the majority of the health care premium, after negotiating and choosing the plans. If every dollar that the company spent per employee were simply put into the employees paychecks and the employees were forced to seek their own insurance, none of the employees would be able to get the same quality coverage that they are able to get through the chosen, negotiated plans offered by the employer. So the employer is paying the bulk of the insurance premium after taking the responsibility of choosing the plan. Do you see how it’s not the same thing now?

          • Pauline

            The company pays for ever bit of my salary after negotiating with me and hiring me. That doesn’t mean that they have a right to tell me what I can and can’t do with my wages.

          • Tom Crowe

            Pauline— I’m not quite sure your meaning, because I can’t tell if you’re agreeing with me or trying to say I disagree with what you say. But I’ll assume that you still don’t get the distinction between wages and benefits like health insurance. Your wages are the money you get paid in your check, a portion of which gets withheld for various taxes, pension funds, corporate perks like gym fee or cafeteria fee (if applicable), and health insurance premium. You take home the net wage after all deductions. I doubt there’s any confusion on that part. But what you seem to miss (forgive me if I’m assuming too much about what you’re really saying) is that the money withheld for your health insurance premium doesn’t pay a very large portion of the total cost of your health insurance. The bulk of that cost is picked up by your employer after they have negotiated with the health insurance company. So while yes, you have complete control over your wages, and no one is disputing that, we are here talking about the health insurance plan that your employer provides and pays the bulk of, after deciding which items/services the plan will cover. If you were to take the money your employer spends on your insurance and try to find your own coverage you would be incapable of finding a plan as good as the one your employer offers and provides, simply because of the economies of scale: you would be negotiating for yourself (and your family) while your employer is able to negotiate on behalf of the entire lot of employees—a much larger risk pool and therefore a better position to negotiate for a lower rate per person covered. ——— Then you have the cases of employers who do not buy into an existing health plan but who craft their own plan, using the services of health insurance providers to administer the plan. These companies (like my employer, Franciscan University of Steubenville) self-insure. Which means the decision of what to cover and what not to cover is made entirely by the University, and the payments to the health care providers come directly from the organization, without a “health insurance company” paying anything “for us.” Which further puts the lie to the “accommodation” offered a couple Fridays ago since Franciscan has no “insurance company” to pass off the payments too—we are the insurance company in this scenario. Does that help you see better?



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