By JAMES K. FITZPATRICK
I don’t know why the supporters of Obamacare’s mandate requiring Catholic institutions to provide insurance coverage for contraception and abortifacients have not been forced in public to defend the stark inconsistency of their position. You would think the liberals who support Obamacare would be scrambling to explain their double standard. It is, after all, the American left that has been defined for nearly a half-century now by their stand for dissent and the rights of the individual.
They were the ones who told us that opponents of America’s military campaigns around the world should not be forced to serve in those wars; who told us that Jim Crow laws need not be obeyed by those who objected to them for moral reasons, and that censorship laws were a violation of the freedom of conscience of individuals whose moral codes clashed with those in authority.
High in the pantheon of the American left are Martin Luther King Jr., Dorothy Day, the LSD guru Timothy Leary, the leaders of the anti-Vietnam War movement, liberal theologians who defy the administration at Catholic colleges, and topless feminists on Main Street.
The right to dissent is inviolable, they told us, as American as apple pie. The freedom of conscience is non-negotiable; a healthy society protects dissent in its laws and public policies. Except for Catholic colleges and hospitals that do not want to comply with Obamacare. I have not heard a backer of Obamacare explain this inconsistency in a way that does not rise above the sound-bites about the need for institutions to “protect a woman’s reproductive rights.” It is as if there are no other rights to be considered in the equation.
But there are some signs that the left is feeling the pressure to make their defense in a more thorough and reflective manner. I offer as evidence a column entitled “What the Christian Right Gets Wrong About Sin” by Micah J. Murray on the web site Huffington Post on February 5. I submit that Murray’s argument will be popping up all over the place in this debate over the Obamacare mandate and Catholic institutions.
Murray does not buy the argument that Catholic institutions will have their freedom of religion violated if they are forced to “enable or aid another in doing what the Christian believes to be a sin,” regarding the Obamacare mandate. He thinks this concern of Catholic institutions is rooted in an understanding of sin “primarily concerned with sexual activity — homosexuality, premarital sex, pornography/indecency, and sexual health/contraception.”
It is an understanding, Murray continues, that overlooks behavior that “breaks the peace because it interferes with the way things are supposed to be” and which “disrupts love between neighbor and neighbor, between Creator and created.” He charges Christian institutions with overlooking the ways in which Christians may “enable” sins of that nature; that “if we understand that sin is so much more than sexual rules” we “can see how impossible it is to consistently avoid ‘enabling sin’” as vigilantly as Catholics concerned about Obamacare “do in this one area.” What does he mean by that?
In a nutshell, that Catholic institutions routinely and without protest “enable” what they think is sinful behavior of all sorts, as long as it is not of a sexual nature. He argues that Catholic institutions do not teach members of their congregations about the moral dangers of a car dealer selling a “shiny car to someone who will brag about it from an arrogant heart.” Or those who would “build a house for someone who will live in ‘excess comfort’ while ignoring the less fortunate in it its shadow. And what about the food industry?” Shouldn’t Christians who work in that industry feel troubled about how “we waste over 40 percent of our food supply every day while our neighbors go hungry? Is it ‘enabling the sin of excess’ to shop at grocers that will throw away good food to ensure that ours is perfectly fresh?”
There is more: What about “Christian hotel owners” who do not “refuse rooms to any couple that wasn’t married?” Aren’t they as complicit as a Catholic institution that provides insurance coverage for birth control? Similarly, shouldn’t Christian investors “refuse to do business with anyone whose desire for gain was motivated by greed?” Shouldn’t Christians “shun any politician or entertainer or athlete who lives a lifestyle of pride, arrogance, or excess?”
Murray contends our preoccupation with sexual matters leads us to brush aside what should be our equal concern with enabling those who commit the sins of “pride and arrogance, excess of food and comfort, and neglect of the poor.” His endgame, of course, is to apply pressure to Catholic institutions who do not mount the barricades over these sins; to persuade them to get over it and learn to live with giving insurance coverage to their employees with access to birth control in the same manner that they look the other way over the possibility that a financial adviser they deal with is likely to be greedy and materialistic.
No cigar. It’s sophistry. Come on: There is no reason for a car dealer to assume that one of his customers is motivated by an “arrogant heart” when he or she buys a new car. Or for a contractor to assume that the family buying a home from him is driven by a desire to life a life of “excess luxury,” with no regard for those less fortunate. Or for the hotel owner not to assume that the unmarried couple renting a room from him is living chaste lives. For all the contractor knows, the man or woman buying a mansion from him may be a leading philanthropist. Should a builder require a copy of his customer’s tax returns to see how much they donate to charity before building him a home? Likewise, our local grocer may be an active participant in programs that give the food he does not sell to local charities.
Let’s not beat this to death: There is no inherent evil involved in the examples Murray offers; no reason to believe that anyone in his scenarios is “enabling” immoral behavior. But the same cannot be said about enabling one’s employees to buy contraceptives or abortifacients. There is only one reason to buy those products: to engage in actions that Catholics, as well as many evangelical Protestants and orthodox Jews, are convinced is sinful.
(There is a story told in Unlimited Access, former FBI agent Gary Aldrich’s book about his years in the Clinton White House, describing how Clinton aides used condoms to decorate the White House Christmas tree. I don’t think we are at the point where someone would argue that Catholic employers should be expected to ponder the possibility that their employees who want subsidized contraceptives are planning something of that nature.)
It is difficult to come to any other conclusion than that Murray is deliberately seeking to muddy the waters in this debate over Obamacare. Why is he doing it? Is it a deliberately dishonest ploy? That’s a harsh charge. Perhaps it is simply a bout of partisan political enthusiasm muddling his thinking. But there has to be some reason to explain why he would throw up a smokescreen like this around the motives of those who see nothing wrong with forcing Catholics to violate their freedom of religion. The same can be said of anyone who echoes his case.