Leaders of the Catholic Church are feeling betrayed and bewildered by the Obama Administration. The problem, as they see it, are new federal rules released last week that require employers to provide all forms of contraception that have been approved by the Food and Drug Administration without co-payments or deductibles for health insurance policy holders. This, of course, flies in the face of their religious beliefs.
Timothy Dolan, the Archbishop of New York and the president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, has called the rule “a literally unconscionable attack on religious freedom,” as reported in The Wall Street Journal
Now, the question becomes: does Obama lose the Catholic vote over this issue? I say no, but that does not mean that he should not rethink the exemptions already put in place for religious institutions and extend them to Catholic organizations such as hospitals, schools and charities. There are myriad reasons why this should be done, ranging from selfish political motivations to legitimate religious grievances with contraception among them.
Catholic hospitals and schools and the like welcome those with different religious affiliations to make use of whatever service they are providing. They do so in a conciliatory fashion and in the case of hospitals, for example, tread carefully not to proselytize. However, if a non-Catholic, or non-Christian for that matter, is utilizing one of these organizations, they should not be surprised to see religious undertones manifest themselves through icons or through actions.
I am wild about the food at a Jewish deli where I regularly dine and although the deli has no formal affiliation with the religion, should I be surprised that the Star of David is prominently portrayed on their sign? Should I be taken aback when the old men who usually populate the Deli are talking about scripture? The answer is a resounding no.
Now, I am not comparing a Catholic school or hospital to a Jewish deli, but even apples and oranges are both round. If someone who is not Jewish looks for employment in one of the shops in Great Neck Long Island, which I have visited often, should they be upset that they do not get to work on Saturday because the shop is closed for the Sabbath? The answer is another resounding no. People who do not share the same faith as the religious institution that employs them should be prepared to have the dogma of that religion affect some aspects their working lives.
Catholic organizations, including hospitals, schools and charities should be recognized as religious groups and should therefore be allowed to opt out of the requirement built into the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA). That being said, some Catholic organizations accept federal funds based on the need and the geographic area of the country. Some will also accept loans from the government but many others are self-sustaining. I can see someone putting forth the argument that if there is any public money going to these organizations then they should comply with the law but that is simply not the case across the board and Catholic institutions should not have to play by rules that other religious groups are not forced to comply with. Muslim groups such as the Islamic Society of North America have received federal funds and have never been asked to comply with a statute that offends them simply because they have accepted federal money.
There is something else at play here and is hard to articulate but easy to identify. I hypothesize that Christians, and all denominations that fall under that classification, are expected to have thicker skin than some other prominent religions in the country. Reasons for this may vary but it could be that Christians, for the most part, have never been persecuted in this country and have always sat among the majority as far as the religious divide goes.
You need not look hard to find examples of this at play. Saturday Night Live recently aired a skit mocking the Denver Broncos evangelist quarterback Tim Tebow. In the skit, Jesus, played by Jason Sudeikis, appears in the football team’s locker room and explains to the team how he takes time off from his celestial duties to help them win. Cartoons and depictions of the Islamic prophet Muhammad drew huge outcries after they appeared in a Danish newspaper. Religious leaders all over the world stood in line to say that type of depiction was beyond uncouth. There was not a peep about the Saturday Night Live skit.
I believe that the Obama administration, in its crafting of PPACA, did not feel the need to exempt religious organizations as it did religious groups because they felt that offending this branch of the Catholic church would not be as devastating as forcing Muslim organizations to build credit because the Catholic organizations are expected to have thicker skin. This is not only inconsistent, it is wrong.
There are options for those who work in Catholic organizations who wish to practice contraception that fall in line with the beliefs of the Catholic Church and they should be used by an employee of that organization over methods that the church finds offensive. One of those methods in Natural Family Planning, the practice tracts changes in both temperature and cervical mucus and using that information is able to predict when ovulation occurs at which point unprotected sex must cease. The FDA recognizes this practice.
Will Obama lose the vote of rank and file Catholics for not extending the exemption to religious organizations? I don’t think so, but a little sensitivity and understanding as to why this practice is offensive to them will go a long way.