Why It’s Time for Jon O’Brien And Others to Drop the Conscience Canard (or Buy Me a Big Mac)

“Tolerance is not a Christian virtue.”

This is probably one of my favorite phrases of Arcbishop Chaput.

Here’s the phrase in its original context:

“We need to remember that tolerance is not a Christian virtue. Charity, justice, mercy, prudence, honesty — these are Christian virtues. And obviously, in a diverse community, tolerance is an important working principle. But it’s never an end itself. In fact, tolerating grave evil within a society is itself a form of serious evil.”

I’ve been thinking a lot about this point in the days since the Obama/HHS mandate was announced.

Tolerance, after all, has been used in our public discourse by liberals to argue first for a diversity of opinions, only to then remove the mask and argue for intolerance towards opinions that liberals disagree with.

Example 1: “We should be tolerant of those who think abortion is moral” turns into “People who believe abortion is immoral are intolerant!”

Example 2: “We should be tolerant of those who believe two men can make a marriage” turns into “People who believe marriage is between a man and a woman are intolerant!”

The same thing has happened to the so-called “primacy of conscience” arguments, a tactic used since the 1970’s to “justify” Catholics dissenting from the Church’s teaching on a host of issues while still attempting to claim they are in fact still good Catholics.

I’m not trying to get into a debate about conscience here. I’m trying to simply point out how absurdly warped the “tolerant” view of conscience has become in this Obama/HHS decision.

This leads me to Example 3: “We should be tolerant of those who think contraception is moral” has become “People who believe contraception is immoral are intolerant!”


It actually says: “People who believe contraception is immoral and refuse to pay for the contraception of others who believe it is moral …are intolerant!”

Now tell me, how on earth do you justify this extreme position of “tolerance” as a position that respects the rights of conscience? How does forcing some people to subsidize the viewpoints of others constitute tolerance?!

For the life of me I cannot get this “logic.” How anyone can say that the principle of forcing some people to violate their conscience is a respect for conscience is beyond me.

Furthermore, it’s not as if this particular expression of conscience (“Catholics ought not to subsidize contraception, sterilization, and abortifacient pills”) is a “fringe” definition (although we do accomodate in our laws even less common expressions of conscience as the Catholic one I’ve just described) — this definition of conscience is shared by significant number of people, including all believing Catholics, all Catholic institutions that remotely care about their Catholic identity, and the authoritative structure of the universal Catholic Church.

If this institution and these people do not have a right to their conscience, who does?

The simple answer is no one.

Let me re-state my challenge in simpler terms: someone who denies the right of this institution and these people to follow their conscience must turn in their “pro-conscience” card. You simply cannot claim you are “for” the rights of conscience.

I’m thinking in particular of Jon O’Brien, the President of Catholics for Choice, who has sanctimoniously prostituted the concept of “conscience” for over two decades. I recently forced myself through the nauseating experience of reading and watching him bloviate about how Catholic bishops are guilty of “violating” the rights of conscience of dissenting Catholics.

For O’Brien, Catholic bishops (and faithful employers of all Catholic institutions) are “violating” the rights of conscience because they refuse to subsidize contraception.

That’s like saying I’m refusing to respect the rights of people to eat Big Macs because I refuse to pay for their Big Macs and deliver them as many Big Macs as they desire.

But we’re not talking about Big Macs, are we?

Let’s flip this on it’s head. According to the Obama/HHS definition of conscience, whereby to not subsidize my right to act on my conscience makes them guilty of discrimination, Obama/HHS should be paying me to write this post! After all, how are they truly tolerant of my desire to write this unless they pay for my laptop, internet connection, web hosting fees, and bottled water I’m sipping as I write this?


Or, at the very least, the deepest hypocrisy.

So, please, Jon O’Brien and other self-appointed crusaders of conscience, explain to me why your view of conscience justifies forcing faithful Catholics to violate their conscience by paying for things they don’t believe in?

You can start by buying me a Big Mac. Because, if you don’t buy me a Bic Mac, you all clearly don’t respect my conscience.



  • Karen

    Thomas, I really appreciate a voice such as yours. As a gruaduate student of theology at a Catholic University in Southern CA that cares little about this outrageous issue as it unfolds, I can really look to you for poignant responses to this madness! Thank you for the work you do! It means a lot to people like me.

  • Sir Robert

    Heretics-plain and simple.

  • Pingback: ‘Primacy of the individual conscience’ canard revealed for what it is……. « A Blog for Dallas Area Catholics

  • deacondog

    This is a simple fix for the bishops. How many employees of the diocese whether it be teachers or employess at the chancery are actually going to get prescriptions for contraceptives or get sterilization ? People who work for the church are 99.9% faithful to the church.

    Sure there will be a small percentage that might take advantage of this mandate by Obama. In the end if this is not fixed, the bishops will use this issue to cancel insurance for their employees due to the conscince clause of their own minds.

    In the end, it will work both ways.


      Dear Deacondog~ FYI I know a number of Anglicans who are valuable employees of Catholic schools and organizations. At the Lambeth Conference in 1925, they delegated decisions about birth control to the conscience of couples. ~Pax tecum, Greg

    • Cris

      Canceling insurance isn’t a viable option under Obamacare as the financial penalties are oppressive.

    • toledo bill

      deacondog you miss the point. this is not about contraception or health care. this is about religious freedom. if the government con tell religious organizations what to do that is in direct opposition to their consciences (first amendment right) then the what is next, who is next. remember Henry VIII?

  • Walker

    I think that is very interesting to imagine this HHS mandate completely backwards. What if the mandate were that no employer insurance plan may cover contraceptives, abortifacients or sterilizations, and the only exception were if all of the people you employ and serve were of the “religion” that allowed such things. The cry from those such as Jon O’Brien would be deafening. Yet, they refuse to see it from the other perspective.

    It still amazes me that Kathleen Sebelius could stand in front of anyone and say that religious concerns were given “very careful consideration” and assert that the final rule “strikes the appropriate balance between respecting religious freedom and increasing access to important preventive services.” Whaaaat? Balance? Really?


  • Del Trotter

    To paraphrase the late great William F. Buckley Jr. (himself a devout Catholic): Liberals claim to give a hearing to differing opinions but then are shocked and offended that these views exist.

    And, Thomas, spot on as usual!



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