Sunday, February 26, 2012

American Roman Catholics and "Religious Liberty"

There's a major kerfluffle going on in the United States. It's exacerbated by the year-and-a-half long campaign for President.

Most outsiders are puzzled by the complaint of the American Roman Catholic churches so here's a bit of background as I understand it. In most civilized countries, universal health care provides all services to all citizens regardless of their personal beliefs. Thus, everyone can get "free" blood transfusions paid for by your taxes. Jehovah's Witnesses are under no obligation to get a blood transfusion if they prefer to die instead.

Similarly, birth control pills are covered by basic health insurance in most (all?) civilized states, as are abortions under a variety of circumstances. Nobody is forced to use contraceptives and nobody is forced to have an abortion but your taxes support these options, as they should.

Things are different in America because the cost of health insurance has to be paid, in part, by employers. This creates a conflict. Let's consider the hypothetical case of a group of employees working for the Jehovah's Witnesses. The church wants to remove blood transfusions from the coverage because blood transfusions are against their religious beliefs. Apparently, forcing the Jehovah's Witnesses to fund blood transfusions for their atheist, Catholic, and Muslim employees is a violation of religious freedom!

That's a hypothetical case. The real case involves funding contraception and abortion coverage for employees of Roman Catholic churches. Here's a copy of the letter that was read in many Roman Catholic churches last Sunday. This sort of convoluted logic could only make sense in America.

The solution is obvious: universal single-payer health care is the best way to enforce tolerance. You can't count on tolerance from the Roman Catholic Church. (The irony is that a majority Roman Catholic employees would make use of health care coverage that included abortion and contraception, in spite of what the church says.)
Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ:

I write to you concerning an alarming and serious matter that negatively impacts the Church in the United States directly, and that strikes at the fundamental right to religious liberty for all citizens of any faith. The federal government, which claims to be "of, by, and for the people," has just been dealt a heavy blow to almost a quarter of those people -- the Catholic population -- and to the millions more who are served by the Catholic faithful.

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services announced last week that almost all employers, including Catholic employers, will be forced to offer their employees' health coverage that includes sterilization, abortion-inducing drugs, and contraception. Almost all health insurers will be forced to include those "services" in the health policies they write. And almost all individuals will be forced to buy that coverage as a part of their policies.

In so ruling, the Obama Administration has cast aside the First Amendment to the Constitution of the United States, denying to Catholics our Nation's first and most fundamental freedom, that of religious liberty. And as a result, unless the rule is overturned, we Catholics will be compelled to either violate our consciences, or to drop health coverage for our employees (and suffer the penalties for doing so). The Obama Administration's sole concession was to give our institutions one year to comply.

We cannot--we will not--comply with this unjust law. People of faith cannot be made second class citizens. We are already joined by our brothers and sisters of all faiths and many others of good will in this important effort to regain our religious freedom. Our parents and grandparents did not come to these shores to help build America's cities and towns, its infrastructure and institutions, its enterprise and culture, only to have their posterity stripped of their God given rights. In generations past, the Church has always been able to count on the faithful to stand up and protect her sacred rights and duties. I hope and trust she can count on this generation of Catholics to do the same. Our children and grandchildren deserve nothing less.

And therefore, I would ask of you two things. First, as a community of faith we must commit ourselves to prayer and fasting that wisdom and justice may prevail, and religious liberty may be restored. Without God, we can do nothing; with God, nothing is impossible. Second, I would also recommend visiting, to learn more about this severe assault on religious liberty, and how to contact Congress in support of legislation that would reverse the Obama Administration's decision.

Sincerely yours in Christ,

+Alexander K. Sample
Most Reverend Alexander K. Sample
Bishop of Marquette

[Hat Tip: Catholics hear anti-Obama letter in church]


  1. I realize that complaints against universal health care are almost uniquely American, and that you wouldn't find such resistance in other developed nations, but I'd be interested to know how you would respond to someone who said that it was wrong to force them to pay money towards something they thought was unethical. You say above that "your taxes support these options, as they should." But why should they?

    Tim Martin

    1. Well-functioning societies make all kinds of decisions for the common good. The citizens recognize that there will always be some people who disagree with some of the things that government supports. I don't like the idea that a great deal of my taxes goes to buying military hardware, for example, and I don't like the idea that some of my taxes go to supporting Roman Catholic schools.

      The basic concept is that we decide collectively what things our government supports and then, because we live in a democracy, you must accept the decisions of the majority. If you think that something is unethical then you should never be forced to actually do something unethical but you do not have the right to pick and choose what percentage of your tax money (or health insurance money) you will pay based on your own personal preferences.

      The case for the Roman Catholic church is particularly ironic because it's really only a handful of priests who think their religious liberty is threatened. Polls show that the average Roman Catholic is perfectly okay with sex for fun .... contraception. What we have here is a small group of men who are trying to impose their personal views on the rest of the flock. And they're doing it in the name of religious freedom!

    2. You mean religious freedom isn't about leaving the religious free to impose their stated beliefs (though not necessarily personal practices) on everyone else?

  2. Although the political situation is different, the RCs in the UK are also complaining that 'other' people getting contraception and abortions is against their morals. When you argue against them on the basis that women are free to take control of their own bodies, apparently you are intolerant. [eyes roll]

  3. Among other things that make USA "special" with regard to health care contributions a primary factor is that nearly half (47%) of all tax filers pay no federal taxes. So unless this changes somehow, making the other half to pay drastically more is not going to be popular among those who bear the costs.

    1. "nearly half (47%) of all tax filers pay no federal taxes"

      This is not true. Those members of the 47% who have jobs pay federal social security and medicare taxes.

    2. Okay, for you, nitpickers :-). "Federal Income Taxes". Sheesh...

  4. This is just a particular example of that overt conservative tendency to view human history through rose-coloured glasses. Many think that universal government-mandated social services are merely the product of pinkos with too much time on their hands. A shocking number believe that mandated programs are constructs invented by secularists/communists/socialists/facsists for no other purpose than to bring about their goal of destroying America. They do not accept these are programs that only exist as a response to problems in our society, and collectively have made our society much better than it was. The conservative does not remember the high child mortality and burgeoning orphanges that come with poverty, lack of health care, and lack of reliable contraception. They do not recall women dying in back-alley abortion clinics or the sexual and physical abuse of women and children who had no recourse to the law. They do not accept that homosexuality existed before the 1960s, and remember fondly the days when a non-gay person married the opposite sex and lived quite perfect lives without a hint of quiet desperation. They do not remember the problems that arise from lack of regulations whether they pertain to gun ownership and carrying, or water treatment, or food and drug inspection, or industrial emmisions, or the exploitation of workers by profiteers who could always count on finding someone sufficiently starving to do an incredibly dangerous job for 5 cents an hour. Just as many conservatives learn all they need to know about the universe from reading the bible, they learn all they need to know about the history of human society from watching re-runs of "Leave it to Beaver".

  5. You mean they pay no social security or medicare taxes (which are regressive taxes)? No tax on gasoline? On alcohol? Other excise taxes? Think if we include all types of federal taxes (and DK you did say "pay no federal taxes") that percentage drops pretty rapidly.

    Or did you mean federal income tax? Isn't that really an indication of how poor most Americans really are? Part of the problem is health care and it exploding cost in the US compared to other countries. That explosion has contributed to the relative stagnation of wages for most working class Americans. My contributions to my health plan are currently before taxes, lowering my taxable income. We are already contributing to the health care indirectly at least. In addition, the cost of treating the un-& under-insured is takes onto the premium for my insurance (not to mention the cost of medicare). We pay N dollars as a society for health care for result Y. If we can be more efficient and pay N-B and get result Y plus X, isn't that better?

    It should also be pointed out in the US, we do live in a federal system thus many of the duties of government are carried out at the state, county, city, special district levels. Taxes there include sales taxes, property taxes, income taxes, user fees, tolls, etc. The chances an American adult is paying no taxes is pretty slim if they are actually engaged with the society.

  6. I don't care how much gold they wrap around that guy. To me he will always look a half second away from growling "Join the dark side, young Skywalker."

  7. Am I the only one to notice the obvious error in the following sentence?

    The federal government, which claims to be "of, by, and for the people," has just been dealt a heavy blow to almost a quarter of those people -- the Catholic population -- and to the millions more who are served by the Catholic faithful.

    It seems that the bishop of each diocese was allowed to personalize the letter. It is obvious that the Bishop of Marquette inserted "been" between "just" and "dealt," so it appears that they federal government has just been dealt a heavy blow.

    The sentence should read, "The federal government, which claims to be "of, by, and for the people, has just dealt a heavy blow to almost a quarter of those people -- the Catholic population -- and to the millions more who are served by the Catholic faithful."

  8. According to Sample the First Amendment to the Constitution of the United States is a right given to Catholics by god:

    "Our parents and grandparents did not come to these shores to help build America's cities and towns, its infrastructure and institutions, its enterprise and culture, only to have their posterity stripped of their God given rights."