Saturday, February 11, 2012

A simple solution

I had pretty much already decided what I thought the Catholic church - and all other affected religions - should do in response to the HHS mandate that they provide their employees with insurance that covered contraception. However, I thought my preferred solution was awfully intemperate. Then I read Wendy Kaminer’s essay on the topic and I decided my preferred course of action wasn’t intemperate at all.

Kaminer believes that having ones employer provide insurance that covers contraception and abortion is a civil right that trumps any “moral” considerations regarding those services. (The idea that those “moral” considerations are themselves aspects of a “right” never occurs to her - much less the idea that the latter right is actually in the Constitution, unlike the former.) She compares the refusal of contraception and abortion to manifestations of slavery and racism (then says she is not doing so). The heart of her argument is:

Still, while the fate of American civilization doesn't depend on this debate about the obligations of church-affiliated institutions to abide by secular law, the stakes are relatively high. As government workers are laid off and government programs shrink, the public role of private, tax-exempt non-profits expands. The stronger their right to dispense public funds and deliver public services according to sectarian religious dictates, the weaker our rights to a non-sectarian public sphere. It's a zero-sum game.

I find her inability to envision a rich hodge-podge of private non-profits tiresome. Nonetheless, under the terms she has laid down - the only good non-profit is a secularized non-profit - she is correct about this being a zero-sum game. However, her solution - forcing “sectarian” non-profits to bend to secular law - is not the only solution, and I think she and all who think like her will prefer my proposal:

The Catholic Church - and any other religious organization which is subject to the HHS mandate and has principled objections to it - should simply shut down every hospital, college, adoption agency, charity, foundation, and other “public role” service it runs. Schools covering K through 12 could stay open but it seems unwise. Not only would they have to hire only Catholics and admit only Catholic children, they would also - if I understand the wording of the mandate correctly - have to spend a significant portion of their school day teaching religion, thus leaving less time for other subjects. The quality of the education they provide would suffer and so it seems wiser to close them as well.

Problem solved. No more having to allow “private, tax-exempt non-profits” to “dispense public funds and deliver public services”. Instead, all services will come from the government. Religious organizations can subside into their proper role: a place people visit once a week and pay lip service to when running for public office. At least until the emerging “coherent non-theist movement” is finally strong enough to make them completely unnecessary.



Should the Church Have To Dispense Birth Control? - Megan McArdle. Read the whole thing; here’s a sample

I've seen several versions of Kevin's complaint on the interwebs, and everyone makes it seems to assume that we're doing the Catholic Church a big old favor by allowing them to provide health care and other social services to a needy public. Why, we're really coddling them, and it's about time they started acting a little grateful for everything we've done for them!

These people seem to be living in an alternate universe that I don't have access to, where there's a positive glut of secular organizations who are just dying to provide top-notch care for the sick, the poor, and the dispossessed.


E Hines said...

For one thing: ...the public role of private, tax-exempt non-profits expands. The stronger their right to dispense public funds.... What public funds would those be? The "public" funds of tax monies not collected because of exemption? Or the private funds that an organization keeps because they don't belong to the government in the first place?

For another thing: Ruth Ann Daily of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette mentioned another aspect of this: An exemption, by definition, establishes one worldview over another and relegates dissenters to second-class status.

The rule also ignores insurers like the SBC's GuideStar.

It's also interesting to note that the justification for the rule has strong colorings of the old "pregnancy is a disease" meme. The rule should not exist.

Eric Hines

Elise said...

I believe the public funds to which this author is referring are the government payments received by Catholic hospitals and (perhaps) schools and other charities.

Thanks for the link to the Daily essay. This line:

Therefore the government must abstain from any such sphere where its presence is not absolutely necessary -- as in forcing employers or insurance companies to dispense free contraceptives.

seems to me to be the essence of the argument. That is, where is the government's presence absolutely necessary? It seems to me that most people answer that question thusly:

The government's presence is absolutely necessary when it gets me what I want.

And I think your point about the "pregnancy is a disease" meme is a very interesting one.