Contraception and Separation

By Mike Appleton, Guest Blogger

In Portrait of the Artist As A Young Man, Stephen Daedalus is asked by his friend Cranly whether, having forsaken Roman Catholicism, he will become a Protestant.  “I said I had lost the faith,” he replied, “but not that I had lost selfrespect.  What kind of liberation would that be to forsake an absurdity which is logical and coherent and to embrace one which is illogical and incoherent?”

But God works, as they say, in mysterious ways.  A black man, accused of being secretly a Muslim, a socialist and an illegitimate pretender to the presidential throne, has accomplished what all of the post-Vatican II reconciliation committees and joint worship services and inter-faith conferences could not.  Rev. Mike Huckabee has declared that Protestants will at last abandon illogic and incoherence.  No longer will the Pope be called the Antichrist, nor Holy Mother Church the Whore of Rome.  Once again, he says, we are all Catholics.  My late Irish grandmother’s faith has been vindicated.

Christians have reunited under the banner of Richard “Coeur de Lion” Santorum to defeat apostasy and reclaim America for Christendom.  The enemy this time?  An HHS regulation requiring most health insurance plans to include FDA approved forms of contraception in coverage for preventive health services.  There is, of course, an exception for churches, but not for religious institutions serving the general public.  The outrage has been intense, widespread and misguided.

The newest crusade, like its historical predecessors, is largely fueled by the bad faith of its leaders and the ignorance of its foot soldiers.  The President has graciously described the controversy as a difference of opinion between reasonable people, but his comments are undeservedly charitable.  The argument that the requirement is an assault on religious freedom is legally frivolous.  The suggestion that it raises serious questions under the Free Exercise Clause or the Religious Freedom Restoration Act is laughable, unless one is a graduate of the Michele Bachmann School of Constitutional Revisionism and Beauty Culture.

It has never been the law that the First Amendment exempts religion from all civil authority.  The First Amendment “embraces two concepts,-freedom to believe and freedom to act.  The first is absolute but, in the nature of things, the second cannot be.”  Cantwell v. Connecticut, 310 U.S. 296, 303-304 (1940).  Public policy demands have been found to trump freedom of religion in a number of contexts.  The Mormon practice of polygamy was long ago held to be subordinate to criminal statutes.  Reynolds v. United States, 98 U.S. 145 (1879).  Jehovah Witnesses have been compelled to comply with child labor laws prohibiting the sale of printed materials on public streets by minors.  Prince v. Massachusetts, 321 U.S. 158 (1944).  Bob Jones University was unable to prevent the loss of its tax exempt status despite its religious convictions opposing interracial dating and marriage.  Bob Jones University v. United States, 461 U.S. 574 (1983).  And the courts have frequently ordered the provision of emergency medical care to minors over the religious objections of their parents.

The new regulation implements portions of the Affordable Care Act intended to expand the availability of preventive health services to women by requiring insurance companies to provide coverage for those services.  Meeting the public health needs of millions of women pursuant to a grant of legislative authority surely fits any reasonable definition of a compelling governmental interest.  And the impact on religious expression?  None.  Religious institutions are not required to change their moral views on contraception.  No woman will be compelled to practice birth control.

But if the regulation does not raise constitutional issues, why all the fuss?  The answer is that the reaction is a contrived and cynical political attack for election year consumption by Catholics and right-wing evangelicals.  It is an effort to extend the notion of religious expression to include what are clearly non-ministerial functions.  It is also part of an effort to further weaken the wall of separation between government and religion.  Indeed, the position of the Catholic bishops reinforces my opposition to the entire faith-based initiatives program.  How is it that a religious body can assert the propriety of accepting public tax dollars to support what it asserts to be a public function, such as operating a general hospital, and simultaneously insist that the operation of that same hospital is protected religious expression for all other purposes?

The government is obligated to respect the free exercise of religion.  Religious bodies engaged in the operation of public facilities are obligated to respect the rights of all employees, including those having incompatible religious beliefs, and to comply with applicable laws.  Once this has been made clear to all, Christians can return to warring among themselves.

526 thoughts on “Contraception and Separation”

  1. Religious Groups Line Up To Support Affordable Care Act
    By Ian Millhiser on Feb 21, 2012

    Earlier this month, the nation was barraged with media coverage of the Catholic Bishops’ opposition to regulations promulgated under the Affordable Care Act protecting working women’s access to contraception. The loudness of the bishops’ complaints, which were echoed by conservative luminaries ranging from Speaker John Boehner to GOP presidential frontrunners Rick Santorum and Mitt Romney, easily could have conveyed the misimpression that churches and other religious groups are at odds with the Affordable Care Act.

    On Friday, however, a broad coalition of religious organizations filed an amicus brief supporting the Affordable Care Act’s Medicaid expansion that should give the lie to any claim that the faith community opposes the ACA. The brief includes a number of major religious denominations, including the policy arm of the United Methodist Church, the General Synod of the United Church of Christ and the Presbyterian Church. Additionally, the brief’s signatories include a wide range of Catholic groups:

    Benedictine Sisters, Boerne, Texas; Congregation of the Sisters of Charity of the Incarnate Word, Texas; Dominican Congregation of Our Lady of the Rosary, New York; Dominican Sisters of Hope; Justice and Peace Committee of the Sisters of St. Joseph of Springfield, Massachusetts; Marianist Province of the United States; Sisters of Charity of St. Elizabeth Leadership Team, New Jersey; Sisters of Charity of St. Vincent De Paul of New York; Sisters of the Holy Cross Congregation Justice Committee; Sisters of the Incarnate Word and Blessed Sacrament, Corpus Christi, Texas; Sisters of Mercy West Midwest Justice Team, Nebraska; Sisters of the Most Precious Blood, Missouri; Sisters of the Presentation of the Blessed Virgin Mary, New York; Sisters of St. Dominic Congregation of the Most Holy Name; Society of the Holy Child Jesus, American Province Leadership Team; Ursuline Sisters of Tildonk, US Province; JOLT, Catholic Coalition for Responsible Investing; Region VI Coalition for Responsible Investment, Ohio, Kentucky, Tennessee; School Sisters of Notre Dame Cooperative Investment Fund

    None of this religious support for the ACA should be surprising. After all, all that these religious groups are doing is following Psalm 82′s command to “Defend the cause of the weak and fatherless; maintain the rights of the poor and oppressed. Rescue the weak and needy; [and] deliver them from the hand of the wicked.”

    Pope Benedict XVI has called health care an “inalienable right,” and added that it is the “moral responsibility of nations to guarantee access to health care for all of their citizens.”

  2. Mike,

    I doubt anything could erase the pedophile scandal from anyone’s mind.


    Birth Control Lawsuits Have Shaky Legal Merit

    President Obama’s religious accommodation in his rule requiring insurance plans to cover birth control has failed to placate elements of the Catholic community, and, with strong GOP support, they remain determined to sue. But do the lawsuits, the latest of which was filed Tuesday, have much legal merit? Possibly, but if judicial precedent is any indication, probably not.

    The tweaked regulation says religious non-profits like universities and hospitals do not need to pay for free birth control coverage in their employee health plans, and can pass the cost on to the insurance company. (Churches and houses of worship are entirely exempt.) But like other entities, Ave Maria University, a Catholic institution, argues in a new legal challenge that affiliating itself with any access to contraception would violate its religious beliefs.

    But barring a departure from precedent, the lawsuits aren’t set to go very far.

    “I don’t think they have much of a case under current precedent,” said Jessica Arons of the Center For American Progress. “Courts in New York and California have already upheld the exemption that was initially adopted by the Administration. And I think the further accommodation that the Administration has offered shows exceeding sensitivity to claims of religious liberty that are not required under the law.”

    Adam Winkler, a constitutional law professor at UCLA, was more blunt. “This lawsuit is inspired by politics and nothing more,” he told TPM. “Even under the previously announced rule there was little chance of success.”

    One avenue for a challenge is on First Amendment grounds. But the Supreme Court has emphatically said religious entities may not be exempted from generally applicable laws, with some exceptions that don’t apply to this issue. The second and more likely avenue to use is the 1993 Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA), which says federal laws may only constitute an “incidental” (as opposed to “substantial”) burden on religious practices, that those laws must by justified by a compelling government interest and be narrowly tailored to meet that interest.

    Former Bush administration lawyers David Rivkin and Ed Whelan argued in the Wall Street Journal that the mandate violates RFRA.

    “The refusal, for religious reasons, to provide birth-control coverage is clearly an exercise of religious freedom under the Constitution,” they wrote. “The ‘exercise of religion’ extends to performing, or refusing to perform, actions on religious grounds—and it is definitely not confined to religious institutions or acts of worship.”

    Rivkin and Whelan said the mandate fails a key RFRA test in that there are ways for the government to expand cost-free access to contraception that are less burdensome to religious beliefs, such as through health centers, public clinics and groups like Planned Parenthood.

    Arons mentioned one plausible scenario in which a religious entity could succeed in a legal challenge to the rule — but an unlikely one by her reckoning. “If they primarily employ and serve people of the same faith and if a primary purpose of their institution is to inculcate religious values, then they may even qualify for the original exemption,” she said.

  3. Elaine,

    Thank you for the clarifying links on this subject. I happen to think that what is going on is less about RCC morality than meets the eye. My supposition is that this is a PR counter-offensive to circle the wagons of Catholics, by claiming an attack against their religious freedom. It is done with what I think is the mistaken idea that this will erase in Catholic minds the horrible betrayal represented by the worldwide pedophile scandal and its coverup by RCC officialdom

  4. Contra-contraception
    By David Norlin
    The Kansas Free Press
    Opinion | February 20, 2012

    “Alarming” is a word that is, well, alarming. Used by editorial writers, politicians, and others, it gets attention, perhaps moves folks to action. But let’s cool off, here. As Isaiah said, “Be not dismayed.”

    The latest alarm’s about providing contraception insurance for women working in religious institutions. The Catholic Conference of Bishops and various Republican candidates/officials say it’s “an attack on religious liberty.”

    Roshana Ariel, however, points out in her Salina Journal column that, despite 1968 Catholic doctrine that “it’s always intrinsically wrong to use contraception to prevent new human beings,” two years later, “two-thirds of all Catholic women and three-quarters of those under 30 were using the pill and other methods banned by the church.” Today it’s remains clear that for years the alarmed Conference of Catholic Bishops–and other evangelical leaders–have had little effect and, like the emperor of the story, no clothes.

    The nakedness of their posturing comes smack up against these women’s self-chosen best interests. They refused to be knocked down and will choose when to be knocked up. These women’s choices seem a near-perfect definition of “liberty” in the best American sense. That, I imagine, is why the Bishops failed to level the canon of excommunication at them. Politely, silently, and consistently, these women have repudiated the extremism of their religious leaders.

    We know that all such leaders are not this extreme. Few bishops, priests, pastors, or religious leaders agree with every single doctrine. But those who adopt this alarmist hardening of right-wing ideological rhetoric need to stop. Cool out. “Be not dismayed.”

    This seems a hard lesson for religious or political ideologists. Saturday’s Journal religion section featured the now former priest of St. Mary’s Church in Mount Carmel, IL. When the Pope and international hierarchy changed missal language to hew closer to the old Latin meaning (as they understand it), the Reverend Bill Rowe decided to stick to language his parishioners could understand. Rowe was admonished, refused the order, and now, after 47 years of service, he is gone. Monsignor Rick Hilgartner, director of Divine Worship for the Conference of Bishops, is unrepentant. The “missal” must adhere (or be pretty close) to the Latin.

    This is indisputably a misguided missal. But bad as it is, it doesn’t touch the refusal of church fathers to offer even the opportunity for insurance to cover birth control for women employees at their schools, hospitals, and universities. Not abortions—Birth. Control.

    It would be distressing enough if such closed-ear responses were limited only to this patriarchy. But Republican poo-bahs and even our local Journal editor have joined the cacophonous chorus, saying we should be “alarmed.”

    When it comes to contraception, who plays the chorus organ? Their clueless whine ignores the churches’ own special exemption–an exemption hanging its female employees on their own special cross.

    We might admire the attractive young church secretary whose devotion to the local Presbyterian, Methodist, Lutheran, or Catholic Church is such that she finds her mission there. Yet if she wants control of her own body, perhaps to be of better service to said church, she is out of luck–unless she pays out of her own pocket, from a likely meager salary.

  5. “Why Would Anyone in 2012 Resist Birth Control?” -Mary Hunt (comment at 10:47 a.m.)

    Why, indeed. …the million dollar question… (rhetorical, of couse.)

  6. Contraception Furor v. Catholic Realities
    The current flap over health care is about birth control, it is not about religious liberty, and it is not over.
    By Mary E. Hunt

    Anyone who thinks that the much-discussed compromise offered by the Obama administration will end the U.S. Catholic Bishops’ efforts to eradicate contraception and otherwise truncate women’s rights is sadly mistaken. Their show of ecclesial muscle, noticed big time by the White House in an election year, only serves to reinforce and reinscribe a moral authority that many Catholics no longer grant to the hierarchy. We understand ourselves in far more mature, differentiated, and autonomous fashions that vary widely among us. We vote accordingly.

    The furor over the provision of contraceptive services focuses attention on the Catholic community, a quarter of the US population. Generalizations are hazardous, and the obvious is not usually what it appears to be. There are not two teams—the bishops and the rest of us—nor are there just conservatives and progressives. As a quarter of the US population, we range from Opus Dei to Catholics for Choice, from parish members to base community adherents, from students to seniors, and everyone in the middle.

    We do not speak in one voice, and no one speaks for all of us. We each have one vote. Not even the seemingly middle-of-the-road folks, like some media members and lobbyists who claim to be the voice of Catholic reason, represent anyone but themselves. This is the contemporary Catholic situation, and anyone who tries to persuade otherwise has a bridge to sell in Brooklyn.

    Nonetheless, the current flap over health care reveals three Catholic realities: it is about birth control, it is not about religious liberty, and it is not over.

    Why Would Anyone in 2012 Resist Birth Control?

    Efforts to say that the controversy is not about birth control are fruitless and foolish. No one is arguing about flu shots. This is about women’s reproductive health, something the Roman Catholic Church has tried to manage for millennia. The demand for widespread religious exemptions from a common sense policy that makes coverage of contraception part of a national health care package causes most people to scratch their heads. Why in 2012 would anyone resist birth control? Why would a church that opposes abortion not want people to use effective, economical ways of preventing unwanted pregnancies? Even the insurance companies, not known for taking the moral high ground, can spot a cost-saver when it is presented to them.

    Humane Vitae, the so-called birth control encyclical promulgated by Pope Paul VI in 1968, was taken out of mothballs for the occasion. Most young Catholics consider birth control a settled matter: they use it in good conscience. What they don’t know is that the decision to ban what was then called “artificial” contraception was made over and against the majority report of the Pope’s own commission. That group saw birth control pills as logical, better—a technological extension of responsible efforts to plan families. That the Pope went with a minority report in issuing the teaching against contraception shows how easily history could have gone the other way. More recent pitched battles over abortion, as well as present and future ones over same-sex love and marriage, are similarly configured; good Catholics are all over the ethical map.

    Efforts by the hierarchical institution to spin the current controversy as a matter of religious liberty are unconvincing. After all, it is not the Catholic Church whose liberty is impinged upon. Members, even bishops, can still teach and believe what they wish. No one forces them to use contraception. Rather, it is employees of Catholic institutions, including janitors and housekeepers, whose rights to make their own decisions about health care are impinged upon. Blaming the victim is an old trick, but, in this case, few people are buying it.

    Not Religious Liberty, But Religious Influence

    Religious liberty language is attractive, especially in an election year. But when it works the opposite way from what the bishops intended, they would do well to back off. If there are legal issues at stake, they are more along the lines of labor laws than Constitutional issues. The bishops’ issue is not religious liberty, but religious influence, namely, their own which is on the wane.

  7. anon nurse:

    “Vasily Grossman wrote in his masterpiece “Life and Fate”:…”

    Reads like an expansion of Dostoevsky’s famous commentary on The Brothers Karamazov::

    “The dolts have ridiculed my obscurantism and the reactionary character of my faith. These fools could not even conceive so strong a denial of God as the one to which I gave expression… The whole book [The Brothers Karamazov] is an answer to that…. You might search Europe in vain for so powerful an expression of atheism. Thus it is not like a child that I believe in Christ and confess Him. My hosanna has come forth from the crucible of doubt.”

  8. On the topic of “hell”, discussed briefly in this thread…

    “Hell” is the inability to love.” -Dostoevsky

    From Chris Hedges:

    “Acts of Love”

    Posted on Feb 19, 2012


    Love is not selflessness. It is the giving of one’s best self, giving one’s highest self unto the world. It is finding true selfhood. Selflessness is martyrdom, dying for a cause. Selfhood is living for a cause. It is choosing to create good in the world. To love another as one loves oneself is to love the universal self that unites us all. If our body dies, it is the love that we have lived that will remain—what the religious understand as the soul—as the irreducible essence of life. It is the small, inconspicuous things we do that reveal the pity and beauty and ultimate power and mystery of human existence.

    Vasily Grossman wrote in his masterpiece “Life and Fate”:

    My faith has been tempered in Hell. My faith has emerged from the flames of the crematoria, from the concrete of the gas chamber. I have seen that it is not man who is impotent in the struggle against evil, but the power of evil that is impotent in the struggle against man. The powerlessness of kindness, of senseless kindness, is the secret of its immortality. It can never be conquered. The more stupid, the more senseless, the more helpless it may seem, the vaster it is. Evil is impotent before it. The prophets, religious leaders, reformers, social and political leaders are impotent before it. This dumb, blind love is man’s meaning. Human history is not the battle of good struggling to overcome evil. It is a battle fought by a great evil struggling to crush a small kernel of human kindness. But if what is human in human beings has not been destroyed even now, then evil will never conquer.

    End of excerpt

  9. Mike S.,
    Thanks so much for the time. It matchs my experience, even as to the negative aspect of seeking approval and a supportive parent.
    The heavy lifting remains for me, assuming I continue to be motivated, as I am now. But results are seen now from the effort after my stalemating for many years. Showing the patient who he is is not easy. It has taken years.
    Practically every encounter with my real self, and with others is productive now in some palpable way. I’m more in contact with my gut feeling, which the therapist finds important. Not in words, but in signs.

    Just to end on a self-critical note: I found coming here, that it was easy to abandon the independent search mode and go over to the little fledgeling following the mother Robin on the ground food search. Oh, she eats that, that must be good; even relapsing into nested behaviour of just opening the beak exposing the red target to be filled.
    But changing and finding and encouraging growth is not easy. But rewarding. How fortunate there are folks like you and my therapist.
    He refuses to raise my fee after 8 years, guess it’s not money there.
    Shan’t trouble you again. In itself, this was the little bird following you, peep peep. And therefore thanks for your special consideration.

    Seeking approval, I can assume too much in my need, asking for attention disguised in various guises.. But discovering lines not to be crossed were and are a mystery to be solved now by me.

    1. Idealist707,
      My pleasure. A tip on your posting here, you already are a regular. Relax, hang out, you have interesting things to offer and need not think you have to try hard to fit in since you already do.

  10. Gene,

    I think I posted that because of the hysterics I saw on a MSNBC show this morning; the reasoning being that ruling in favor of the church will lead to forced pregnancies.

  11. Bob,

    “One more thing. The right of contraception is inextricably linked to the inalienable right of self ownership and thus will always trump a civil right afforded to an institution such as free exercise.”

    Uh, yeah. Why did you think I was saying the free exercise intrusion line was at mandated use and not mandated provision?

  12. Mike S.

    Been waiting impatiently for you. Right on the money

    I posted earlier that the independent islamic women of the Maldives were recorded in a book some 40 years ago of sexually dominating; to the point of exhaustion, their men. Whether that included “open marriages” for the women was not clearly handled.
    But fear of women and sexuality appears to be the primary factor. Women choose them. Men only pretend to decide.
    Particularly enjoyed your showing marriage as a economic and power transaction.

    In your experience as a therapist, do men, priest, come to the insight or realizing this fear? Your therapy may not be interested in achieving such insights, so maybe it is moot.

    1. “In your experience as a therapist, do men, priest, come to the insight or realizing this fear? Your therapy may not be interested in achieving such insights, so maybe it is moot.”


      While I’ve been retired for a while my experience when active is that for therapy to be successful people have to come to terms with what is holding them back from living in their own skins. Notice I don’t say happiness purposely because that is too subjective. However, if anything rings true in life, one has to be comfortable with who they are. To achieve this a person has to learn to at least be honest with themselves. The men who I refer to here would protest if they were called misogynists, even though I suspect that is their motivation.

      I’m not saying that someone in therapy would come to terms with their misogyny and the be “cured” of it. Many might actually embrace it. The therapists job is only to assist someone in seeing who they truly are and with that knowledge help work with them to change their life on THEIR terms. People and indeed therapists misconceive the practice as being one of a healer making someone better, it is really akin to that of a Yoga instructor who teaches a technique that then becomes the responsibility of the student to master. Therapeutic change in life can occur, it has in mine, but for change to occur it is the person, not the therapist who does the “heavy lifting”.

      The biggest reason that I gave up my practice and my psychotherapist training center, was that I found most people didn’t want to do the work, but wanted me to “cure” them of their ills. Also most of the therapist who trained with me in Gestalt techniques saw themselves as “healers” rather than facilitators. I didn’t become a Psychotherapist to make money off of peoples vulnerability, but to actually be of service to people as my therapist was to me. After years I came to the conclusion that many people sought out therapy not to change their lives, but to win the therapists approval of the way they lived and to also be their parental figure. I had all the tools to have made a fortune at doing just that, but living a con man’s life wasn’t my metier.

  13. Bob Esq., Thanks for the “He-Man” clip and the first, significant smile of the day.

  14. Mike,
    You are spot on, as usual. This contraception blowup is all about controlling women and revving up the radical religious right.

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