Religious Liberty For Me But Not For Thee

Well Cratchit, since I have no conscience claim against unjust mandates, I must have no conscience duty to treat you with dignity.

At the NCReporter, Michael Sean Winters has posted a response to my criticisms of his statements attacking the U.S. Bishops for defending the conscience of lay Catholics.

Putting his name-calling aside, Winters proposes respectful dialogue that avoids histrionics. So I offer this reply in that spirit.

Winters fails to square up to the central issue at hand. He wants to talk about the general distinction that exists between the Church and the laity. And of course such a distinction exists. But that is not the question. The question is, does that distinction mean that the laity do not have a claim to religious conscience, and do not have it against this specific Obamacare mandate that they violate Catholic principles?

Again, the question is not, are Church- and lay-run efforts distinct–the question is, does that distinction mean in this case that Christian laity have no claim to a defense from a government mandate that they violate Christian principles.

On this question it is simply impossible from a Catholic perspective to answer that the laity have no conscience claim. I am glad that Winters seems to have backed down from his own previous histrionics wherein he claimed that because the Bishops are defending the laity from this attack on their religious beliefs, the Bishops are advancing a “libertarian,” “neo-con,” “anti-authoritarian,” “uber-individualistic,” “dualism,” “prop for Americanism.”

Instead Winters now concedes that the distinction between Church and laity does not mean that the latter have no religious freedom. Unfortunately, he continues to insist on his own dualism, which denies the laity’s religious freedom from this government mandate against Christian principle. Winters doesn’t explain from Catholic teaching how it is that merely because the laity are operating in the “secular” world it is wrong to defend them from this attack.

He does not because he cannot. It is simply impossible from the Catholic position to justify or accept this attack on the laity. Vatican II teaches that the laity, while distinct from the magisterium, are the People of God, they have religious freedom to obey the truth, the government must respect the same, and the laity have consciences and even duties in business.

Thus Winters continues to dodge the even more ironic fact that he cannot reconcile his denial of lay conscience rights in business to any coherent view that Catholics in business have ethical duties. Winters fails, if not refuses, to explain why he rejects the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace’s teaching in this situation, that business leaders must be “guided by ethical social principles,” that the adherence of a business’s practice according to Christian ethics “is a genuine human and Christian calling,” that the “most significant” obstacle to the common good in economic justice is the “split between faith and daily business practice,” that lay business leaders must “integrate the gifts of the spiritual life, the virtues and ethical social principles into their life and work,” and that business leaders must be “guided by ethical social principles.”

It is literally nonsensical to believe that Catholics in business have moral duties to their workers, the poor or the environment, but to attack Catholic Bishops simply for insisting that those same business women and men have consciences that may not be forced to violate Christian principle.

Winters’ only response is to say that sometimes the government can restrict religious objections. But again he is avoiding the main point: the question is not whether that is true in general, it is whether that is true in this particular case of compelled violation of Christian principle. The question has another level too: Winters implies that if you’re not in a Church-run institution, you really have no defense against government mandates unless you can convince society not to impose them in the first place. By taking this position Winters is denying the very concept of religious freedom to the laity, because religious freedom doesn’t mean anything if it must be victorious on the substantive policy level. Instead the Church teaches that lay Catholics are not to be left to majority dictates.

Winters appears to fall back to a “conservative” position, that government should recognize Church prerogatives. But if that were really his view, he would not object to protecting lay Catholic conscience–he would propose instead that exemptions to the HHS Mandate be given only to laity who get a Catholic imprimatur. If that is Winters’ position he should say so. I don’t think he really believes that. But it is again not possible from the Catholic perspective to say that since the government will not recognize Catholic imprimaturs for lay religious objections, it is better not to recognize any religious objections to an HHS Mandate at all, and the Bishops should be subject to a full court press by the Catholic left for calling for conscience clauses that would protect the Catholic laity in addition to others.

Winters seems to force Catholics to choose between being monarchists and adopting the position of the Freedom From Religion Foundation. That implausible view sounds like a politically convenient posture to let liberal Catholics oppose the Bishops and support their party’s president even though Catholic teaching demands otherwise. Winters’ opposition to the Bishops on protecting their own flock will continue to appear to be political until he explains a principled and coherent basis for rejecting Catholic business ethics on this question.



  • skypilot777

    @Mike: As others have said here, according to Church teaching access to adequate health care is a universal right. What you, and most of those on the left do not (or will not) understand is that government (the state), according to Church teaching is NOT to be the primary provider and guarantor of that right. In fact, the statement of popes and Fathers of the Church throughout history have unequivocally condemned efforts of the state to usurp the provision of this right from its real guarantor the FAMILY. The state has no right to interfere with the family’s responsibility to provide for its own health care.
    Interesting observation #2 to consider:
    Mike, you seem very quick to quote a recent statement by Pope Benedict XVI to back up your claim for your own version of universal health care (provided by the state) and yet you very clearly disagree with 2000 years of Church teaching on contraception. So in so doing, you obviously ignore another very definitive papal statement of 1968 by Pope Paul VI, the encyclical Humanae Vitae, in which contraception was condemned as intrinsically evil (something which can never be categorized as a “right” or health care.)
    Mike, I’m assuming you are Catholic. I invite you to re-examine your position and ask yourself why you’re so selective in accepting Church teachings. No amount of “dialogue” or debate is going to change or move the teachings of Our Lord and His Church one bit.
    “It is hard for thee to kick against the goad.” Acts 9:5

  • Djohn

    Well to be fair, Monarchy is the most consistent with Church teaching.

    • Robert

      I laughed at your comment, then realized how ridiculous it was…How in the name of Bugs Bunny did you come up with that conclusion?!? I am still smiling when I think about that. And even if you could somehow prove it, I would rather live under a virtous, good king than in a corrupt and sinister republic.

      • Djohn

        Well I don’t know if this is a good place for an eduction on the historical framework of the Church’s relation to the State and the concept of Authority vs Power, the condemnation of the separation of Church and State, the forbiddence of rebellion against Catholic princes, etc. I would be happy to discuss it with you in a more suitable forum if you have one in mind.

        I too would rather live under a virtuous king than a corrupt republic.

  • Esther

    Michael Sean Winters is a not-too-smart, homosexual, left-wing hate monger who’s only goal seems to be to confuse Catholics into voting Democrat. I don’t know why a man like this is engaged in a debate this, it serves to elevate him, and make it appear as though his anti-Catholic beliefs have a place in the Church.

    “Winters proposes respectful dialogue that avoids histrionics.” – Considering the source this is an amazing statement. Kind of like the new black panthers calling for a respectful dialogue on race.

  • Randall

    Thank you Matt. I am relieved that now that all the Easter stuff is out of the way, we can get back to focusing on what’s really important: exposing Obama and his liberal cohorts as the evil anti-religious extremists they are.

  • Mike

    Ok, so you are against the contraception mandate…. but I have yet to see looking at the bigger picture.

    Health care for all is a god given right, regardless of ability to pay or social status. This right should be guaranteed by government. That is the official Catholic point of view. But you’d never know it based on sites like From a Catholic perspective, there appears to be nothing wrong with a mandate as such, only with one that includes contraception. In fact “Obamacare” seems far too timid to match the pope’s statement that “healthcare is an inalienable right of man”.

    Where are your proposals that fullfil the Catholic Church’s promise? Sounds like the pope is referring to “single payer” without contraception or abortion coverage. It would be nice to see some advocacy from American Catholics in line with Catholic doctrine- not just bickering over details of the closest proposal to universal health coverage the US has ever seen.

    It also strikes me as odd the inherent contradictions. In the US, the vast majority of Catholics do already use birth control. In most Catholic majority countries (at least in the first world) universal health care and contraception are the norm and have been for decades. Why all the fuss? Do we just like pretending in public, then going and doing what you criticize in private?

    • Kevin

      Hello Mike,

      Thank you for highlighting the Church’s stance that healthcare is a basic need. The unfortunate thing in this situation is that Health and Human Services (HHS) is forcing Catholic institutions to cooperate in actions (contraception to prevent pregnancy, sterilization to prevent pregnancy, and drugs that induce chemical abortions) that the Church has clearly and consistently stated are harmful to right relationship with God. The number of Catholics who use birth control has limited relevance. Most Catholics have told a lie at some point in their life. The right response is repentance not providing classes on how to lie.

      HHS could provide government insurance that provides basic needs if the concern is for basic needs. HHS could provide comprehensive coverage that also includes free pre-natal and delivery care if comprehensive health insurance was the goal. The government could expand Titlt X funding if the concern is contraceptive access to the poor. The “so-called” good of expanding contraceptive services even from the perspective of those who think this would be a good idea does not outweigh the basic good articulated in the first amendment protecting the free excercise of religion. While the free excercise of religion is not an unlimited legal right, it is a significant right that protects many goods of society. The Church is not sacrificing humans or demanding that all insurance companies fund, free of charge, natural family planning classes. Faithful Catholics do not want to be forced to closely cooperate in grave moral evil. For this, they should be supported, not mocked and criticized.

      • Mike

        @Kevin: Thanks for your thoughtful response. I understand that the sex related issues are thorny when it comes to the church. I guess my point is, all I’ve heard here is kvetching about the 0.5% where the church and “Obamacare” collide. What I’d love to hear is the “we stand with the pope, health care is an inalienable right of man, we only disagree on a couple of minor points.” Is there any reason why Catholics shouldn’t try and emphasize the areas of agreement with others?

    • Mary

      @Mike–The Catholic Church advocates for healthcare for all, but the “official Catholic point of view” doesn’t suggest that the government is the only entitiy (or even any of the entitites) that should provide it. In fact, Catholic institutions have provided health care to all comers for decades. Additionally, what exactly about contraceptives allow them to be listed as “health care”, anyway? It does not prevent any disease or illness.
      Neither does contraception promote any healthy function, but rather cripples a perfectly healthy reproductive system, as well as in the case of hormonal contraceptives, puts the rest of the body’s healthy systems at increased risk. That is “why all the fuss”,sir. Health care should provide for HEALTH, not destroy it. A universal plan that is truly preventive and therapeutic is acceptable. Preventive in the sense of providing for screening for cancer such as mammograms and providing immunizations that prevent illnesses like polio or menigitis, therapeutic in the sense of treating illnesses like pneumonia, diabetes, etc. Individuals could then separately purchase the “bells and whistles” as it were, be they cosmetic surgery or contraceptives, neither of which constitutes “health care.” And just because some people do things does not make it right or healthy. Many people smoke, but it’s not healthy. Many people in the 19th century had slaves, but it was not right. The argument that “many Catholics use birth control” is nonsensical, because it has nothing to do with whether or not birth control is either healthy or moral.

      • Mike

        @Mary: We disagree on birth control- fine. But again we (the church and other advocates of universal coverage) agree on almost everything else. There are opinion pieces on every right wing blog about “Obamacare” and contraception. Aside from being evil or divisive, why not also include the core areas where everybody agrees?

        And do you really think it fair to equate the slavery and birth control? I’m not saying you have to use birth control. But in terms of health, it seems pretty obvious that there can be some benefit to health by choosing when and how many children to have.

        Actually, if you take a look fertility and life expectancy around the globe- you’ll notice a trend. Countries with high fertility are poor and have a short life expectancy, the opposite is true of nations with a low fertility rate. Seems more than coincidence. I have a really hard time understanding how birth control is not moral to start with, but it seems to reduce poverty and increase life expectancy.

        • Mary

          @Mike–my comment said exactly that there should be a core of health care that is truly health care, so I do not know what you are getting at. You imply that I am against true health care, which is not true. The “core areas where everyone agrees” I clearly defined already–ture preventive care, therapeutic care, etc., and yes, THESE should be available to everyone. So let me ask you this–why in the world should something like birth control even be included, when it is NOT health care and will have a huge price tag. Since we have limited resources, it is obvious that if something that is NOT part of these “core areas” is paid for across the board, such as birth control, there will be less money for TRUE HEALTH CARE and people will suffer and some will die. Yes, I think it is fair to equate slavery and birth control–I know you don’t agree that birth control is morally wrong like slavery is, so how about looking at it this way, from a perspective of harm to females–women ingest Class 1 carcinogens on a daily basis in order to be sexually available at all times to men who wish not to be responsible for potential offspring. Besides, your reasoning about fertility and health is faulty. As you note, it is the fact that countries are POOR that their life expectancy is low. Birth control does NOT improve life expectancy–good nutrition, infectious disease control and other things do. To say that higher birth rates by themselves are the cause of early death and to ignore poor sanitation, falsely equates fertility as the cause of morbidity when infection, malnutrition, and other causes are the true culprits and is biologically faulty. (I am a physician). This has been shown by multiple studies in developed countries where maternity is the factor studied and the other issues are controlled for–see the American Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology January 2002 for one such study, as well as Southern Medical Journal 2004 for another–(also go to the site of the Breast Cancer Prevention Institute for even more birth control/health risk information.) These and other data reveal that contrary to your belief, an objective look at health shows that women of child bearing age who actually bear children have less risk of dying than those that did not, and the difference is especially noticeable if the women had abortions–MANY TIMES the risk of death than if they gave birth. And as noted, this is in countries where confounding factors such as the poverty you mention is not an issue–so the “benefit to health ” of artificial birth control is dubious. If we are going to pay for health care, why on earth pay for something that doesn’t improve health? In regards to other health conditions that birth control is used for, all of these except acne are off label uses of birth control–ie, while not illegal, they are NOT FDA approved for the use. There are many safer treatments for all of the conditions that the birth control pills are used for. Even birth control pills for acne treatment are specifically noted in the prescribing literature to be used only if birth control is also desired. In other words, again, birth control is NOT health care, so let’s provide true universal health care and not this garbage.

    • Joe M

      Mike. “Universal access” does not equate to a single payer system. Alternative plans that would provide what the Church teaches, “universal access”, have been proposed consistently by the right at least as far back as Nixon. It’s a false narrative to suggest that the left is for universal access and the right is against it. Democrats on the left have been obstructing plans for health care vouchers or health savings accounts for over 30 years. — The truth is, the left doesn’t care as much about universal access to health care as they do about applying their special interest agendas onto people. If they can’t have a health care system that gives them universal access into citizens lives, then they aren’t interested in that plan.

      • mike

        @Joe: True universal access isn’t necessarily single payer. But I’ve never heard of a universal system that is built on vouchers- and I have an HSA and it’s a huge pain- I’m not sure what good that does anybody aside from getting even more confusing paperwork and a few tax breaks at the end of the year.

        Maybe the Catholic News Service has misquoted or mistranslated the pope’s words (report pasted below)? If not he seems to put a lot of stock in government.

        Does “moral responsibility of nations to guarantee access to health care for all of their citizens, regardless of social and economic status or their ability to pay.” sound like something from the Republican party? This site backs Santorum as the “Catholic choice,” can you imagine him repeating this line?

        POPE-HEALTH Nov-18-2010 (640 words) xxxi

        Pope, church leaders call for guaranteed health care for all people

        (CNS/Paul Haring)

        By Sarah Delaney
        Catholic News Service

        VATICAN CITY (CNS) — Pope Benedict XVI and other church leaders said it was the moral responsibility of nations to guarantee access to health care for all of their citizens, regardless of social and economic status or their ability to pay.

        Access to adequate medical attention, the pope said in a written message Nov. 18, was one of the “inalienable rights” of man.

        The pope’s message was read by Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, Vatican secretary of state, to participants at the 25th International Conference of the Pontifical Council for Health Care Ministry at the Vatican Nov. 18-19.

        The theme of this year’s meeting was “Caritas in Veritate – toward an equitable and human health care.”

        The pope lamented the great inequalities in health care around the globe. While people in many parts of the world aren’t able to receive essential medications or even the most basic care, in industrialized countries there is a risk of “pharmacological, medical and surgical consumerism” that leads to “a cult of the body,” the pope said.

        “The care of man, his transcendent dignity and his inalienable rights” are issues that should concern Christians, the pope said.

        Because an individual’s health is a “precious asset” to society as well as to himself, governments and other agencies should seek to protect it by “dedicating the equipment, resources and energy so that the greatest number of people can have access.”

        “Justice in health care should be a priority of governments and international institutions,” he said, cautioning that protecting human health does not include euthanasia or promoting artificial reproductive techniques that include the destruction of embryos.

        Care for human life from conception to its natural end must be a guiding light in determining health care policy, the pope said.

        In his own written statement, Cardinal Bertone had strong words in support of the need for governments to take care of all citizens, especially children, the elderly, the poor and immigrants.

        “Justice requires guaranteed universal access to health care,” he said, adding that the provision of minimal levels of medical attention to all is “commonly accepted as a fundamental human right.”

        Governments are obligated, therefore, to adopt the proper legislative, administrative and financial measures to provide such care along with other basic conditions that promote good health, such as food security, water and housing, the cardinal said.

        Private health insurance companies, he said, should conform to human rights legislation and see to it that “privatization not become a threat to the accessibility, availability and quality of health care goods and services.”

        Cardinal Bertone recommended that government leaders in poor countries use their limited resources wisely and for the good of their citizens.

        The governments of richer nations with good health care available should practice more solidarity with their own disadvantaged citizens and help developing countries promote health care while trying to avoid a “paternalistic or humiliating” way of assisting, the cardinal said.

        Cardinal Bertone warned of the “war of interests” between pharmaceutical companies and developing nations who have little access to medicines because they can’t pay for them. He said that those manufacturers should not be driven by “profit as the only objective” in the creation and distribution of medicines.

        Archbishop Zygmunt Zimowski, president of the Pontifical Council for Health Care Ministry, said in opening remarks that to have good health “is a natural right” recognized by international institutions.

        Despite such recognition, he said, great imbalances persist and developing nations find themselves with inadequate structures and without the ability to provide basic medicines to their people. Wealthier countries, on the other hand, have a “technical” approach to the sick, which ignores “the sick person in his entirety and dignity,” Archbishop Zimowski said.

        The council, created by Pope John Paul II 25 years ago, will continue the church’s mission to serve the sick and promote health for all, the archbishop said.


        • Joe M

          Mike. McCain’s 2008 platform included giving a universal tax credit (it was commonly referred to as a voucher at the time) that could be spent on health care. Is that not a Republican idea that addresses the Pope’s call without a single payer system? — Obama mandates that Catholics pay for contraception. Can you imagine the Pope supporting that?

  • Joe M

    Winter’s argument is like saying that the Bill of Rights can only be applied if no other law exists that violates it. Short of a constitutional amendment, it’s the other way around.



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