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A Modest Proposal Regarding Religious Liberty

February 12, 2012

Religious liberty is on all of our minds these days, specifically the notion that people of faith should not be forced to pay for things that violate their consciences. In the case of the HHS mandate requiring employers to provide healthcare plans that include no-cost contraception, Catholics across the board have objected, noting the Church’s longstanding prohibition on artificial birth control. The Obama Administration’s attempt at resolving the issue seems to have fallen flat, as the bishops of the United States have declared the Administration’s second try to be “unacceptable.’ I’ll admit that I don’t yet have a handle on exactly what the attempted “compromise” really entails, but the central issue apparently remains that religious people should not be required to directly or indirectly pay for things that violate their consciences.

I accept and hold that principle, but I wonder if we’re really prepared to apply it across the board. The chart above, which was recently released by the Archdiocese of Chicago, shows the discretionary (non-entitlement and debt service) portion of the federal budget for Fiscal Year 2012. You will note that three-fifths of all federal discretionary spending is directed to the military. This money is used to pay for the salaries and benefits of uniformed personnel, civilian employees, and military retirees, as well as the purchase of new weapons systems, ongoing military operations, and so on.

But the fact is that there are a great many religious people in this country who are pacifist as a matter of religious conscience and practice. Many of them are members of the historic “peace churches” like the Mennonites, the Society of Friends (Quakers), Amish, or Church of the Brethren. Many others are members of mainline and Evangelical Protestant and Orthodox denominations. And there are many Catholics who have adopted pacifism, a choice the Church doesn’t command but certainly authenticates within her broader teaching on just war (CCC #2306 & #2311). And, of course, there are many non-Christians – Buddhists, Sikhs, and others – who have renounced war in all its forms for religious reasons.

My proposal is that these citizens be exempted from paying the percentage of their federal payroll and income taxes that would otherwise be used to support the Defense Department. In 2012, that would mean an exemption of roughly 60%. Now, I am aware that not everyone agrees with pacifism. In fact, I am not a pacifist,  and so I would not seek the exemption personally. But whether you or I might agree or not is really beside the point, just as it is beside the point in the current controversy over the contraception mandate. The principle being upheld is that as a matter of religious liberty no one ought to be forced to pay for something that violates their conscience. If that is true of government-mandated private insurance policies, and I believe it is, then it is equally true of government-mandated taxes. In fact, more so, because if a Catholic institution refuses to comply with the mandate, it will be charged $2,000 per employee; but if a pacifist, following his religious conscience, refuses to pay any portion of his taxes, government goons will show up at his house and drag him off to prison.

So, who’s with me? Who will stand up for the religious liberty these citizens?

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156 Comments
  1. johnmcg permalink
    February 12, 2012 9:29 pm

    While I am not a fan of many of the things our military does, and would welcome greater Catholic engagement in making it more right, I would not support this, despite my strong opposition to the pre-compromise mandate, and some sympathy for those opposed to compromise.

    National defense is one of the Constitutionally delineated roles for the federal government — it is in theory for all of our benefit, and even if we could opt out of paying for it, we could not opt out of “benefiting”; i.e. living safe within the borders. Some see contraceptive coverage as a general social good, but it is generally seen as a benefit mainly for those using it.

    The HHS mandate was more onerous because it required Catholic groups to actually facilitate the activity they were opposed to. If the federal government were to mandate that all schooling must include some military training, or that they refer candidates for enlistment to the military, the parallels would be clearer.

    I think another key difference is that there are many other means besides employee health benefits through which one could acquire contraceptives, while there really is no other way to provide common defense.

    The draft would also be similar, but did have the conscientious objector provision for just that reason, however imperfect it may be.

    Though it would be an interesting statement of civil disobedience.

    • Paul DuBois permalink
      February 13, 2012 8:09 am

      How about if they were to mandate that all men over the age of 18 make themselves available for military training or lose all forms of federal education assistance and risk imprisonment? Would you be in favor of that?

      • Paul DuBois permalink
        February 13, 2012 8:12 am

        I meant military service, not training.

    • Robert Klingle permalink
      February 13, 2012 11:09 am

      Do I understand that you want me to pay for what I disagree with but You will not pay for what I agree with? Do you want your cake and eat it too?

      My DD-214 was signed on 24 July 1963. when was yours?

      • Mark Gordon permalink
        February 13, 2012 11:35 am

        Mine was signed on June 27, 1987.

      • johnmcg permalink
        February 13, 2012 11:49 am

        I am paying for many things I disagree with — the current campaign of drone attacks is one example.

        In my judgement, asking me to directly what I disagree with crosses a line.

  2. brettsalkeld permalink*
    February 12, 2012 9:31 pm

    I agree with the principle enunciated here. And I think we need to do something about it. The simple fact that many people don’t see how buying contraceptives (or, now, providing policies that cover contraceptives, even if we don’t pay for them) could possibly be a problem for people of conscience indicates how dire the situation is. When the Catholic Church is accused of trying to impose its morality and of refusing to allow any disagreement from its followers and/or employees simply because it refuses to provide things it itself finds immoral, the conscience of the culture at large has been severely stunted. Everyone’s freedom is threatened by a move like this.

    On the other hand, I think we’d need to be very careful about articulating how this is put into practice. For instance, how exactly does one prove that one is, in fact, a pacifist? (This is a much different animal than the contraceptive issues: any self-proclaimed pacifist will still be protected by the US Army; but anyone who refuses to buy coverage for contraceptives will simply not have coverage for contraceptives.)

    Also a math question: wouldn’t the actual tax cut be much lower than 60% given that taxes also go towards non-discretionary spending?

  3. February 12, 2012 9:32 pm

    I think allowing some form of conscientious objection in taxes is in fact a good idea. I think the technical problems of implementing it on a large scale are pretty serious, but a lot of that is arguably just due to the fact that our current system is not set up for it at all; it’s at least worthwhile to start working out what would have to be done to put such a system in place.

    Despite that, I don’t actually think the two cases are very analogous; in one the worry is about imposing responsibilities on private citizens in the use of their own money while in the other the worry is really over the accountability of public representatives in the use of public money; the latter is a different, and more complicated, question when we’re talking about complicity and cooperation. (Which is not to say that its answer would not tend in the same direction, since it might; it just seems to me that there is a different spread of moral principles involved.)

  4. David Cruz-Uribe, SFO permalink*
    February 12, 2012 9:46 pm

    This idea is not new, though it is usually framed in a somewhat different form. For years, there has been an effort to create a “Peace Tax Fund”: a mechanism whereby conscientious objectors could pay their taxes into a special fund that would only be used for non-military purposes. Their tax bills would not be lessened (as they are in Mark’s proposal) but their taxes would not be directly used for the military. This brings up the various arguments about fungibility of funds that come up with respect to the HHS mandate, but a lot of people think that this is a good solution. For more information, please see

    http://www.peacetaxfund.org/

    • Mark Gordon permalink
      February 12, 2012 10:21 pm

      I wasn’t aware of the peace tax fund idea, but it seems to be a good one.

    • Viliphied permalink
      February 17, 2012 2:21 pm

      Isn’t that effectively exactly the same thing as the birth control compromise?

  5. Mark Gordon permalink
    February 12, 2012 9:49 pm

    You’re right, Brett. The percentage would be lower. The point is that we could arrive at am accurate accounting for the defense-related portion of a person’s taxes. I really don’t see how this is substantially different than the contraception mandate. Presumably, pacifists neither desire nor acknowledge the “protection” of the US military and they should not be forced to pay for it.

  6. M.Z. permalink
    February 12, 2012 9:51 pm

    As a communitarian, I would oppose this as well. I realize a gathering of communitarians in this country wouldn’t be able to keep a bar open past 9, but I still think their thought is important. Whether one is a pacifist or not, the military exists for the protection of your interests. Likewise, whether you support the idea of a national health care welfare benefit standard, it exists to further your health and the health of your community. In both cases, people need to be placed in authority and given discretion to act in the community’s interests. If one finds the community behaving wrongly, one needs to seek to reform the community, not seek exemption from supporting it. To be grossly inflammatory, would it have been enough to deduct the costs of the concentration camps from your taxes?

  7. Thales permalink
    February 12, 2012 10:24 pm

    Mark,

    You could expand your proposal to cover a much wider range of federal funding than a pacifist objecting to money going to the Defense Department. One could object to federal funds going to Planned Parenthood and abortion-related organizations under the Mexico City policy; or one could object to federal funds going for human embryonic stem cell research, or federal funding going to unjust immigration enforcement, or unjust prosecution actions, or CIA assassinations, or whatever. There is no doubt that the money I pay as a taxpayer to the federal government goes to many things that are morally objectionable.

    But there is a significant flaw with your proposal: namely, there is a distinction between being forced to pay taxes to the lawful authority even when this tax money is then used for morally objectionable purposes, and being forced to directly pay for something morally objectionable. The latter is a violation of religious liberty, the former isn’t (as a general rule). See Catechism.2240 and 2242. Even if the federal authority misuses taxpayer money, it seems that the Church recognizes that a citizen still has a duty to pay taxes to the lawful authority for the sake of the common good; but this is different from being forced to pay for something you object by the government. (Of course, the related question is at what point does the federal government become so illegitimate that I don’t have a duty to pay my taxes, but it’s hard to argue that the United States is at that point yet.)

    Applying what I’ve said to the HHS rule: If the HHS removed the rule and instead set up accounts funded by taxpayer money from which the federal government paid for contraception and sterilization, it would certainly still be a morally objectionable policy, but I think the religious liberty argument would be absent… because I don’t think I’d have a sufficient basis to refuse to pay taxes. Do you see that the violation of religious liberty would be absent in that case in a way where it’s not absent with the current HHS rule forcing employers to buy contraception insurance?

    • Mark Gordon permalink
      February 13, 2012 10:19 am

      Thales, as I understand it the “compromise” proposed by Obama means that Catholic institutions would no longer have to directly pay for contraception through their premium contributions. But they would still be indirectly implicated by the simple provision of insurance plans that individual employees could use as vehicles for obtaining insurer-paid birth control. That required indirect relationship to contraception has been deemed “unacceptable” by the bishops and I accept and concur with their conclusion. But it does raise the question about other sorts of required indirect financial support for things that people deem objectionable on religious grounds.

      You’re right, all things being equal, Christians are obliged to be good citizens and pay taxes in support of their government. But we are not obliged to obey unjust laws, as Leo XIII notes in his encyclical Libertas: “…where a law is enacted contrary to reason, or to the eternal law, or to some ordinance of God, obedience is unlawful, lest, while obeying man, we become disobedient to God.” The federal power to tax and spend is a matter of law, and if a spending bill is passed that includes funding for something that a Christian in good conscience considers “contrary to reason, or to the eternal law, or to some ordinance of God” then shouldn’t we make provision for that objection as a matter of religious liberty? After all, Leo XIII goes on to say, “Thus, an effectual barrier being opposed to tyranny, the authority in the State will not have all its own way, but the interests and rights of all will be safeguarded – the rights of individuals, of domestic society, and of all the members of the commonwealth; all being free to live according to law and right reason …”

      • Thales permalink
        February 13, 2012 11:16 am

        Mark,

        Christians are obliged to be good citizens and pay taxes in support of their government. But we are not obliged to obey unjust laws….

        I agree, but it’s not clear to me that the law “you must pay taxes” is an unjust law, even though taxes are being used for immoral act X. It’s more clear to me that the law “you must pay for immoral act X” is unjust. And that’s the difference I see between paying taxes and the HHS rule. Of course, at some point, the law “you must pay taxes” can rise to the requisite level of injustice to support not obeying it (eg, perhaps Nazi Germany?), but I don’t think we’re at that level yet in the United States.

        That said, I’m sympathetic to your proposal; as I said above, there’s no doubt that federal funds go to immoral acts like human embryonic stem cell research, unjust immigration enforcement, unjust prosecution actions, CIA assassinations, drone attacks, torture, etc. In some parts of Canada, taxes go directly to abortions. In fact, all of these are “worse” instances of the government using federal funds than the pacifist who simply disagrees about military spending — after all, the pacifist has decided to live in a country with a constitution that explicitly requires the government to spend money on defense (the pacifist’s argument would be stronger if he objected to immoral military action X instead of defense spending in general). So in theory, I’d love to be able to object to my taxes going to immoral acts, but I just don’t know how that would happen in practice.

        • Mark Gordon permalink
          February 13, 2012 11:33 am

          But we’re talking about taxing and spending, which as we know are two sides of the same coin (actually two-thirds of the same coin; borrowing is the other third). The problem isn’t really taxes. It’s the spending. But the only way to isolate oneself from participation in morally objectionable spending is to withhold taxes.

      • Thales permalink
        February 13, 2012 11:44 am

        Mark,
        In the comments below, I offered two reasons why paying taxes and having the government spend them on immoral act X is different from the government forcing me to pay for immoral act X — two reasons which may make the first instance not unjust, with the second instance remaining unjust:
        (1) the first instance is less proximate to the evil than the second (because the government is an intermediary); and
        (2) the first instance involves what may be a superseding duty, the duty of all citizens to pay taxes to the lawful authority who is in charge of the common good even if the lawful authority misuses the taxes and violates the common good; while the second doesn’t involve this duty.

      • Viliphied permalink
        February 17, 2012 2:25 pm

        Do none of you know how insurance works? Do you really only think that services the insurer pays for for you ONLY come out of your plan?

  8. February 12, 2012 10:36 pm

    We give Mammon far too much credit.

  9. Chris Sullivan permalink
    February 12, 2012 11:10 pm

    I think Mark’s analogy here is pretty spot on.

    In both taxation and insurance, one pays money into a fund, some of which may be used by some people for things which one thinks are morally objectionable.

    The evil things the military do are, of course, far more evil than couples deciding in good conscience to use contraception.

    God Bless

    • brettsalkeld permalink*
      February 12, 2012 11:18 pm

      Even when done in good conscience?

      Look, I’m not saying that the kinds of atrocities possible in war are not vastly more serious than using a condom. I just want to flag up that we’re comparing apples and oranges as soon as we introduce “in good conscience” to one set of acts and not the other. It’s way too easy to appeal to the Pope and Catholic tradition about following conscience when we don’t actually find the sin under discussion all that sinful. But it applies across the board. You must follow your conscience over against the Pope on every moral question, not just birth control. If your terribly malformed conscience says you must assassinate scientists with whom you are not at war, or nuke civilians, or torture suspected terrorists, then you must, the scruples of the Church about such things be damned.

    • Thales permalink
      February 12, 2012 11:30 pm

      As I said to Mark, there is a distinction between being forced to pay taxes which are used by the government for immoral act X, and being forced to pay for immoral act X. I submit that the first is not an issue of religious liberty or conscience (at least, not as a general rule, because generally we are required to pay taxes) and the latter which is an issue of conscience.

      • brettsalkeld permalink*
        February 12, 2012 11:44 pm

        I agree there is a distinction, but I’m not sure the distinction means we could never do what Mark is suggesting. To me it looks like an extension of democracy. If enough people refuse to pay for something, the government needs to adjust its priorities accordingly. Given the two parties-of-death system we currently have, it might be one of the only ways we can actually impact government policy in a pro-life direction. (Which is exactly why they won’t let us do it! In any case, as I recently argued in my current thread, pushing ideas like this, even if we don’t expect them to be implemented, has the great side-effect of highlighting important issues for the public. I really think the Bishops should run with the “We’re happy to cover family planning, as long as it’s natural,” line for just this reason.)

      • Viliphied permalink
        February 17, 2012 2:28 pm

        The thing is, you’re wrong. You as an employer, when paying insurance for an employee, will NEVER pay directly for medical services that employee uses. To state otherwise is a fundamental misunderstanding of what insurance does.

        It, in effect, is EXACTLY the same as taxes. You, as the employer, pay the insurance company monthly premiums. Those premiums are used by the insurance company to pay for services for EVERYONE it insures. Why do you act as if your premiums are earmarked for services for your employees and your employees only?

      • Thales permalink
        February 17, 2012 3:49 pm

        Viliphied,

        I know that insurance is not a direct payment for the employee’s services. I know it’s indirect. I know how insurance works as a pool to everyone it insures.

        The problem is you’re jumping into the middle of the discussion where I was trying to make a distinction between taxes (where the government is involved as an intermediary and where we have a superseding duty to pay taxes) and the HHS rule (where there is no duty to pay taxes and the government is not acting as an intermediary). I’m not making a distinction between direct and indirect payment.

        You should read my back and forth with Mark down towards the bottom of this page for a better understanding of the nuances of my position.

    • Chris Sullivan permalink
      February 12, 2012 11:34 pm

      Brett,

      The kind of evil things the US military have actually done around the world are FAR worse than U.S. couples using condoms.

      And the Holy Father is on the record as seeing some good in condom use in some cases. Which rather dents the moral case against mandating contraceptive coverage.

      God Bless

      • brettsalkeld permalink*
        February 12, 2012 11:39 pm

        The kind of evil things the US military have actually done around the world are FAR worse than U.S. couples using condoms.

        Well that just goes without saying. Heck, it’s probably even worse than Italian couples using condoms.

      • Darwin permalink
        February 13, 2012 9:36 am

        Of course, the Holy Father is also on record as seeing some good as being done by the US Military.

        There’s a certain “if it bleeds, it leads” quality to this moral analysis which seems overly convenient.

      • Mark Gordon permalink
        February 13, 2012 10:35 am

        Darwin, why are you here, in this “pathetic disgrace” of a place, among the “filthy animals, where we “grovel before our god“?

      • Darwin permalink
        February 13, 2012 10:48 am

        I used the phrase “pathetic disgrace”, Mark, and I stand by it in regards to MM’s, MZ’s and Henry’s strong defense of the HHS mandate “accommodation” and attack against the bishops.

        I did not use either of those other phrases, and I strongly disagree with them. (I’m sure that occasionally commenters say things in the comment boxes here that you disagree with, and that you would not necessarily want to be held as responsible for every word that ever appears in a Vox Nova comment box.)

        If you think that my words are a little rough, I guess I can only only assume that’s the way that “Calvinism, American exceptionalism, individualism, and evangelical-style culture war posturing” people behave, which is what I’m told that I am.

        But as for why I’m here: because you wrote an interesting post.

      • Darwin permalink
        February 13, 2012 11:00 am

        On the other hand, if you want to ban me from commenting, for being a contributor at TAC and occasionally showing a hot temper, you’d certainly be within your rights to do so.

        I’ve been banned before here, off and on, and it does provide a certain freeing feeling.

      • M.Z. permalink
        February 13, 2012 11:21 am

        Don’t you just love how he gets to be a victim in all of this? Not only is he jerk, but he gets to be a victim on top of it. I’m so glad I’m no longer blogging.

      • Mark Gordon permalink
        February 13, 2012 11:27 am

        Darwin, I hardly think that “Calvinism, American exceptionalism, individualism, and evangelical-style culture war posturing” are even roughly equivalent to “filthy animals,” or “grovel before their god.” You are one of three “chief editors” at TAC, and you participated in the “Vichy Catholics” – VICHY CATHOLICS! – thread. You could have discouraged that kind of invective, but you chose not to, and I can only conclude that you didn’t because it didn’t seem terribly objectionable to you.

        That said, I wouldn’t dream of banning you from my threads. I find your commentary compelling and thought-provoking, which is why I’m always so amazed at the level of rage and vitriol I find over at TAC.

      • Darwin permalink
        February 13, 2012 12:52 pm

        Mark,

        As I said, I consider the “filthy animals” comment totally unacceptable (I would have deleted it had I seen it on one of my threads ) and the “grovel before their god” comment fairly unacceptable. That said, both were made by non-contributors and, as I pointed out, you probably would not want to have anything ever said by any commenter on Vox Nova attributed to you as your opinion unless you’d explicitly denounced it on the thread in question. (As it happens, after leaving my comment and seeing one or two more, including MZ’s response to me, I headed off to do other things and was offline for most of the next 36 hours, so I never even saw those other two comments till you linked to them.)

        I do stand by my own comment on the “Vichy Catholics” thread (though I recognize the phrase “pathetic disgrace” to have been written in anger, I don’t think it’s significantly out of line with the barbs that I’ve exchanged with the more partisan contributors here at times), and I do not object to either the title or the content of the post (which was a strong criticism of Catholics who have gone out of their way to praise Obama’s “compromise” despite bishops rejection of it and insistence on real accommodation for religious liberty.)

        As for me being as “chief editor” at TAC and the tone there: We only instituted a hierarchy of editors in order to have a simplified process for making some administrative decisions. I don’t have veto over what people post and as at VN each author generally referees his own threads.

        One thing I have learned is that a large group blog gradually takes on a tone which it’s hard to change except through drastic action. (I imagine that’s why Amy Welborn, in whose comboxes I met Morning’s Minion — and I believe MZ and Henry as well — long before VN or TAC existed, has ditched her blog wholesale a couple times over the years and started new ones.) That’s one area in which the process of helping to run a large group blog has perhaps made me a little less critical of some elements of Vox Nova (such as that when certain issues come up, opinion in the comboxes invariably seems to run at least half against Church teaching) — whereas I feel like my own Darwin Catholic blog strongly reflects my ideas on tone of conversation, it seems like once a blog hits a certain size its contributors only have a certain degree of control over the sort of discussion forum that gravitates to what they write.

        MZ,

        No, I certainly don’t consider myself a victim (as to whether I’m a jerk, I’m probably not the one to ask, though I prefer SOB or capitalist-fascist-pig to “jerk”.) I just enjoy the verbal full contact sport elements of blogging, and my point was that I don’t think I tend to give any worse than I get over the long haul. You may recall, when I could claim the distinction that the only two bloggers who had banned me were William Dembski of the Discovery Institute and one of the writers here, I was cackling away with glee.

  10. John Henry permalink
    February 12, 2012 11:28 pm

    the central issue apparently apparently remains that religious people should not be required to directly or indirectly pay for things that violate their consciences.

    This is a recipe for chaos on matters related to taxes. Every taxpayer likely objects to some of the uses to which taxpayer money is put. The Free Exercise Clause and the Establishment Clause do not provide an individual taxpayer with a veto or a right to withhold taxes. Nor is there much support in the Catholic tradition for such a position (I’m sure the Roman empire in Jesus’s day occasionally used tax moneys for immoral reasons; nevertheless, we are instructed to render to Caeser). And, ironically for this proposal, national defense is explicitly called out as morally obligatory in addition to the the collection of taxes in the Catechism:

    2240 Submission to authority and co-responsibility for the common good make it morally obligatory to pay taxes, to exercise the right to vote, and to defend one’s country:

    Pay to all of them their dues, taxes to whom taxes are due, revenue to whom revenue is due, respect to whom respect is due, honor to whom honor is due.45

    Granted, Iraq, torture, Obama’s recent Unconstitutional assassinations, etc. are all inconsistent with Catholic teaching, but, then, so is a radical refusal to pay taxes absent a serious mitigating factor.

    As to the mandate, I think the analogy the post draws above is inapposite. If this were a matter of taxes paid by citizens, then there would be little question of its legitimacy under RFRA and the Free Exercise Clause. What is different here is that the institutions and individuals are being compelled to pay directly – not indirectly through taxes – for services that violate their consciences (notwithstanding self-evidently ridiculous assertions to the contrary by the administration). Use government money to assassinate U.S. citizens abroad and I will object, but it’s not a violation of religious liberty. Threaten to put me in prison if I don’t personally pay for the assassination of U.S. citizens abroad and I have a heightened responsibility, and a much stronger claim that my conscience has been violated.

    • Darwin permalink
      February 13, 2012 9:48 am

      Very good point.

      I think the big issue with the HHS mandate is that it is a particularly offensive form of over-riding subsidiarity.

      Especially in a pluralistic society, one of the benefits of relying heavily on subsidiary institutions of the most local variety is that it allows people of differing beliefs to live according to their beliefs to the greatest degree possible. In this sense, there’s a strong argument for having a central government with a fairly limited range of responsibilities and strong subsidiary organizations that fill out the rest of the social fabric.

      With the mandate, we have an appearance of subsidiarity: rather than centrally provided health care we have everyone ordered to have their own plan, either through work or individually. This was actually listed as a selling point by some Catholic supporters of the plan. However, we also see the Administration refusing to actually allow those plans to act in a subsidiary fashion. They want to dictate the exact terms of what that coverage looks like, and in the process they end up with a far more extreme violation of religious liberty because they are forcing people to themselves provide objectionable services.

      This attempt to force the subsidiary hand to act against its conscience is far more offensive than if the government simply forced everyone into a single, government National Health Service and dictated the terms of that service. (Not that I would support centralized health care, I’m just pointing out it avoids this pitfall.)

      I think your analogy in regards to targeted assassinations is spot on.

  11. Chris Sullivan permalink
    February 13, 2012 12:04 am

    So all the Obama administration has to do is levy a new tax to pay for contraceptives and everything is fine and dandy ?

    BTW, the gospels do not say render to Caesar whatever Caesar demands, but what really is Caesars, and to God what is Gods.

    The elephant in the room here is all the fuss made by the USCCB over the HHS mandate compared to the very little fuss made about US war atrocities, torture etc.

    God Bless

    • Rodak permalink
      February 13, 2012 7:46 am

      @ Chris Sullivan —

      That’s because it’s really about abortion politics, Chris. This is just another wedge issue, being bruited about by Republican politicians to help bring down a Democratic president and his administration. It would be helpful if people of good will would speak of this thing in real terms.

    • Thales permalink
      February 13, 2012 10:00 am

      So all the Obama administration has to do is levy a new tax to pay for contraceptives and everything is fine and dandy ?

      Yes and no. If taxpayer money was used to pay for contraceptives (which already happens), yes, there is no issue of religious liberty/conscience. But we could still object to it as an unjust action of the government, just as someone can object to military assassinations, rendition, etc.

      • Kurt permalink
        February 17, 2012 4:27 pm

        Then why not a system where the boss objects to contraception, have the company pay a dollar amount per employee to a health and welfare fund owned and controlled by the employees who then would contract with whom they want and with what benefits they want?

      • Thales permalink
        February 18, 2012 1:22 pm

        Kurt,
        Okay, sure, that sounds plausible and better for religious freedom on its face. Why not have your option? Why is Pres. Obama insisting on the HHS rule? Another option is for the government to set up a fund from taxpayer money to pay for contraceptives — why not have that? There are a hundred ways for the government to get contraceptives to people in a manner that doesn’t violate the religious freedom of the employers. But Pres. Obama chose the HHS rule. Why?

        Because of this, some are arguing that the HHS rule doesn’t satisfy the “least restrictive means” test, and so it violates RFRA.

        http://www.eppc.org/publications/pubID.4654/pub_detail.asp

  12. February 13, 2012 1:55 am

    Regarding the payment of TAXES one could consider a payment system that resembles the ‘Combined Collection’ at masses. In this way many expenditures are lumped together and the donors (taxpayers) have the option of checking off what they wish to fund (or not fund), while allowing some funds to go into a general account that could be allocated according to the unmet needs. In this way we can see where a true concensus is formed regarding our public funds. This seems very democratic and transparent and something worth exploring.

    But I wouldn’t attempt to do this with the PREMIUMS paid for INSURANCE. We need to keep in mind that the nature and purpose of any insurance program is completely different from the nature and purpose of a vast array of government services paid for by the collection of taxes. Actually, the inability to make the distinction between ‘managing a risk’ to promote the common good and ‘creating a series of open ended liabilities’ to promote the common good, is at the heart of our fiscal problems.

    Since the ultimate healthcare resolution will be the (hopefully just) balance between the benefits and costs, there will be many needed changes that are certain to come. If benefits are not capped, restricted, managed, rationed or limited in some fashion, then costs will be out of control. Again, in any insurance scheme there is a limit to protection. The true goal is to make the needed protection (as opposed to unlimited protection) affordable. The administration is making a serious flaw in two respects. First, by attempting to make an ‘open ended’ set of coverages seem as though they were an inalienable right or even possible. In the end ALL coverages will have to be circumscribed and bargained for. And secondly, by picking a fight over a particular coverage that has moral concerns and stirs a debate on religious liberty.

  13. Anne permalink
    February 13, 2012 3:35 am

    “We need to keep in mind that the nature and purpose of any insurance program is completely different from the nature and purpose of a vast array of government services paid for by the collection of taxes. Actually, the inability to make the distinction between ‘managing a risk’ to promote the common good and ‘creating a series of open ended liabilities’ to promote the common good, is at the heart of our fiscal problems.”

    The for-profit nature of a health care system managed by insurance companies is at the heart of a lot of our problems.

    • February 13, 2012 11:47 am

      Anne, are profits at the heart of the Social Security and Medicare shortfall or the Public Pension debacle? Each of these are systems that are ‘insurance’ oriented in that they protect us against a specific risk; namely living longer than our earning years. All HIGHLY predictable risks (which includes healthcare) are relatively easy to manage and fund if there is a fundamental understanding of the problem and a commitment to the task. Since we are unwilling to confront these problems at their source (i.e. managing them as actuarial concerns) we are making them open ended liabilities which is phase II of the failure.

  14. Anne permalink
    February 13, 2012 4:03 am

    Actually, Mark, war tax resistance has a long history in this country. Joan Baez revived the tradition for pacifists during the Vietnam war when she refused to pay 60% of her 1963 income taxes to protest the war. Apparently at least 500 people had followed suit by 1967.

    And you have one Catholic bishop in your camp: In 1981 Archbishop Raymond Hunthausen of Seattle (yes, the one the Vatican went after later) suggested Catholics and others refuse to pay 50% of their income taxes to protest nuclear weapons.

    The Religious Freedom Restoration Act of 1993 was supposed to deal with these issues, but apparently not well enough to keep the Supreme Court from either quashing or refusing to hear several war tax resistance cases in the years since. (For more, see http://www.peacetaxseven.com/history.html).

    • Mark Gordon permalink
      February 13, 2012 7:30 am

      I know about the history of war tax resistance in this country, beginning most famously I think with Thoreau. I’m talking about legalizing tax avoidance (or a sequestering strategy like the Peace Fund) on the grounds of religious liberty.

  15. Ryan Klassen permalink
    February 13, 2012 8:09 am

    I think most of the commentators here are missing the analogy. The analogy is not between the HHS mandate for Catholics and the Defence budget for Catholics. The analogy is between the HHS mandate for Catholics and the Defence budget for pacifists.

    As a member of one of the Historic Peace Churches, let me try to explain. One of our religious beliefs is that Christians are called to live according to the life and teachings of Jesus, and one of those teachings is a refusal to resort to violence even in our own defence. Now, bear in mind that this is a Mennonite teaching, not a Roman Catholic teaching, so quoting the Catechism will not help here. It is Mennonite, not Roman Catholic, dogma, and it is Mennonite, not Roman Catholic, consciences that are formed in this way. And yes, we often fail to live up to this principle and resort to violence, but that is no more invalidates the principle than the fact that a vast majority of Roman Catholics use contraception invalidates the opposition to the HHS mandate.

    So contributing towards the “Defence” budget (even though someone else will do the killing) violates the religious conscience of Mennonites in the same way as contributing towards contraception (that someone else will use) violates the religious conscience of Roman Catholics. Believe me, if Mennonites could “opt-out” of the protections provided by the US Military, we would. We do not pledge allegiance to the flag or the republic. Traditionally we have lived in whatever countries we happen to reside in as foreigners and sojourners, contributing to the welfare of that land as Jeremiah called the exiles to contribute towards the welfare of Babylon – as Jews, not Babylonians. No offence, but if the US were conquered by another country, Mennonites would continue to live as their conscience dictated under whoever was in charge or we would move to where we could do so. We already do so all over the world.

    Can you see how something that does not violate your religious conscience might violate the conscience of someone formed in another tradition? And how, if it is legitimate for Roman Catholics to seek an exemption from a mandate that you find intrinsically evil, it would also be legitimate for another religious tradition to seek exemption from a mandate that they find intrinsically evil as well?

    • Thales permalink
      February 13, 2012 9:39 am

      Ryan,
      I’m unfamiliar with Mennonite teaching, so I’ve got a question. Do Mennonites recognize a duty to pay taxes to the government because it’s the lawful authority in charge of overseeing the common good? (It’s possible that they don’t — I don’t think the Amish recognize this duty, for example). To make my question simpler, assume that Mennonites lives in a country with a pacifist government, is there still a notion of a duty to pay taxes to the government?

    • Ryan Klassen permalink
      February 13, 2012 10:24 am

      Mennonites certainly believe in paying taxes to the government as the lawful authority charged with promoting the common good. That’s quite clear in scripture. However, when the government, in it’s lawful authority, compels something that violates Mennonite belief or practice, Mennonite have sought exemptions. By and large, the main exemption sought is from mandatory military service. We would prefer a simple exemption of course, but that is rarely possible, so alternative service in a field that is not forbidden by the Gospel is accepted as an alternative to military service. If no alternative was possible, Mennonites have traditionally accepted the punishment of the lawful government for refusing military service or they left the jurisdiction. Since Mennonites do pay taxes in non-pacifist countries, they would also pay taxes in a pacifist government.

      Most Mennonites do not seek exemptions from paying the portion of their taxes that funds the military or war, although many in the leadership of the Peace Tax movement are Mennonites. In practice, Mennonites have traditionally paid their taxes and not availed themselves of the services funded by their taxes that they found offensive. So for example, some Mennonites have found the government-run medical insurance plan in Canada to be problematic for religious reasons. They have paid the Medicare portion of their taxes and refused to use the service – instead paying for health care out of pocket. In the same way, the Canadian Social Insurance system (equivalent to Social Security) is seen by some Mennonites to violate the doctrine of the separation of church and state (a core Mennonites doctrine from the 16th century, I’m proud to say), so they pay into it as required by law and then refuse to receive their benefits. Now it is a minority of Mennonites who take this approach, but there are some.

      As Mennonites have become more involved in the broader society, we have had to come to grips with things like policing, which is more difficult to refuse. The development of active non-violence and just peacemaking are some of the ways Mennonites have adapted to this new situation while trying to remain faithful to the Gospel.

      In the current HHS debate, a Mennonite-type approach would be to advocate for an exemption. If an exemption was not granted, the next step would either be a refusal to provide insurance and an acceptance of the mandated fines, or to supply insurance with contraception according to the government mandate and then simply not use the contraception coverage. Thus you recognize the lawful authority of the government while refusing to violate your conscience.

    • Darwin permalink
      February 13, 2012 10:36 am

      Thanks for the explanation, Ryan.

      Just trying to understand clearly: Would a proper accommodation to Mennonite conscience be an exemption from supporting defense spending, or would it actually be a virtual exception from being members of the country at all (exempted from taxes of all sorts, but also from government services, voting, etc.). It almost sounds like you’re saying that the existence of a state (and the monopoly on legal violence that allows a state to exist and enforce laws and power structures) is irrelevant if not offensive from a Mennonite point of view.

      If I’m understanding that right, it seems like the right thing would be to offer an opt out from the country as a whole — sort of like the way that relations with the Native American tribal nations are dealt with.

      It seems like an intriguing idea and I’d be very much in favor of it — in a way that I’m not in favor of the suggested pacifist tax scheme (because it seems to me that being a member of a state in a first place, and supporting its existence, necessitates some level of defense spending, though not necessarily of the size and scope of the US Military.)

    • Ryan Klassen permalink
      February 13, 2012 11:51 am

      The existence of the state is not irrelevant nor offensive to Mennonites. Nor are Mennonites opposed to participating in the broader society. However, there are good states and bad states – good societies and bad societies. And pacifism seems to be one thing that most societies, good or bad, can’t accommodate. So in the 16th century, Mennonites (and other historic peace churches) did not willingly withdraw from society but were rather forced to withdraw into enclaves where they could refuse to kill others in peace (if you’ll forgive the pun). By and large, this continued wherever Mennonites went.

      There are some Mennonites today that “opt out” of a country, as you will see in a more obvious sense from Amish Mennonites or Hutterites. It is not the existence of the state (and the monopoly on violence) that is offensive to Mennonites per se, it is the ways in which the state inhibits the practice of the Gospel.

      I would see involvement in the state and society as analogous to the Jews during the Babylonian exile. Jeremiah calls the people to live in Babylon, become a part of the community and seek the good of the country in which they were living. At the same time, they were not to assimilate and become Babylonians. Many Jews did rise to prominent positions in the Babylonian and Persian governments (and perhaps this is a lesson for Mennonites to become more involved), but they refused to violate their covenant responsibilities, and chose to accept whatever punishment would be meted out when the laws of Babylon conflicted with their covenant.

      If you ask a Mennonite what the proper accommodation would be regarding military spending, most would simply ask for an exemption from military service. Schools would ask for the right to refuse military recruiters on campus (and would willingly forgo federal funding if that was the consequence). Most Mennonites would not ask for an exemption from the military spending portion of taxes, although paying into an alternative tax pool would be an excellent compromise.

      Perhaps a less inflammatory example of social engagement than military spending would be taking oaths. Jesus prohibits the taking of oaths, calling us to simply speak truthfully all the time. So the refusal to take an oath (and conversely, the refusal to lie) is a tenant of Mennonite faith and practice. However, the state has decreed that one must take oaths (whether it be to serve as a juror or a witness in a courtroom or to take public office or even to become a citizen). In many cases, an accommodation has been made whereby Mennonites simply affirm they are telling the truth rather than swearing an oath. If this is possible, Mennonites can then participate in that segment of society. If not, then we can’t.

      Another, more inflammatory example can be found in relation to Mennonite schools. In the United States, most Mennonite schools do not fly the American flag, do not say the pledge of allegiance and do not sing the national anthem before sporting events. For an example of the controversy this can create, you can go to http://www.goshen.edu/anthem. One of the more unfortunate results of this stand (which relates to the separation of church and state) is that many Mennonite high schools in the US cannot host or sometimes even participate in high school sports, as the anthem has been mandated at high school sporting events by a number of states. So these Mennonite school sports teams play exhibition slates with schools that will play without the national anthem.

      Again, in the case of the HHS mandate, one can ask for an exemption. If it is not granted, one can refuse to provide the service and pay the fine, or provide the service and not use it. Mennonites do have an affinity for praxis, so to pay for something that is not used is much less problematic from a Mennonite perspective. It’s only money. And if members of the community will use the contraception if it is provided, then from a Mennonite perspective, that is a matter of community praxis. Mennonites are VERY leary of asking the government to have any part in enforcing the doctrine and practice of a religious community (mainly because the doctrine and practice of many religious communities at one time included killing Mennonites). And since doctrine and practice is inculcated in a community, we do not want the government to force our doctrine or practice on those who are not members of our community (i.e. non-Mennonite employees of Mennonite institutions).

      • brettsalkeld permalink*
        February 13, 2012 12:31 pm

        Ryan,
        You (or some other Mennonites) need to work as consultants to the USCCB for however long it takes us to sort this mess out. We could learn a lot from you.

        Seeing that we’re unlikely to win this fight (especially given that many Catholics seem pacified by the recent “compromise”) Catholics need to start thinking about what it would look like if we didn’t provide insurance. Are there any work-arounds available to us? There’s enough of us around to provide the numbers needed for a kind of parallel system. What kind of legal issues would we need to be aware of?

  16. Kurt permalink
    February 13, 2012 8:29 am

    This so far has been a very thoughtful thread. I would just offer in addition (not in contradiction to anything said) that most of us (though not myself) live in a wonderful and vibrant democracy where we elect the people who make these decisions. Rather than focus solely on a personal purity, we should use our status as enfranchised citizens to move us communally to a better place.

  17. Thales permalink
    February 13, 2012 9:34 am

    Brett said: I agree there is a distinction, but I’m not sure the distinction means we could never do what Mark is suggesting.

    Sure, I can see the merit of what Mark is suggesting, and we could have a debate about it (as well as a debate about paying taxes in general, and at what point does our government lose legitimacy such that we no longer have to pay taxes). But I think it’s incorrect and misleading to draw an equivalence between Catholic employers under the HHS rule and pacifists paying taxes. Mark says If that is true of government-mandated private insurance policies, and I believe it is, then it is equally true of government-mandated taxes. And I say, no, it’s not. As John Henry says above, there is a difference between me “rendering unto Caesar what is Caesar’s” even though I know that Caesar will use my tax money to kill Christians in the Coliseum, and Caesar ordering me to directly support the killing of Christians in the Coliseum. One is a violation of religious freedom, one isn’t. I think the difference is a result of two factors: (1) one is more proximate to the evil than the other; and (2) one involves a superseding duty, the duty of all citizens to pay taxes to the lawful authority who is in charge of the common good even if the lawful authority misuses the taxes and violates the common good.

    If Mark wants an analogous example between the pacifists and the HHS rule, it’s not taxpayers. It’s an instance where the government institutes a rule whereby all persons are required to sponsor a combat soldier and so all are forced to send the combat solider food, money for bullets, etc.

    • Thales permalink
      February 13, 2012 9:35 am

      Sorry, my italics are off. I tried to italicize only Mark’s quote: “If that is true of government-mandated private insurance policies, and I believe it is, then it is equally true of government-mandated taxes.”

  18. February 13, 2012 10:05 am

    Mark,

    You have a deal. In fact, I’d go further. Anyone who objects to a particular spending program should have their federal income taxes reduced in proportion to the amount of overall federal spending that program represents.

    • Mark Gordon permalink
      February 13, 2012 10:37 am

      If the objection is made on the basis of religious conviction? Good. We agree.

      • February 13, 2012 11:45 am

        I’m actually a big fan of the Peace Tax Fund idea, and think it should be applied more broadly. We already have something similar for public funding for presidential elections.

    • M.Z. permalink
      February 13, 2012 11:24 am

      Is this because you don’t support taxes? It is easy to be principled when you don’t care about the consequences.

      How about those you don’t want to support a program pay a 20% premium on that amount and have that amount and the premium go toward deficit reduction?

  19. February 13, 2012 10:39 am

    I think Mark has fundamentally mis-stated the issue. Here in the U.S. we have a constitutional prohibition against the government making laws respecting an establishment of religion or which restrict the free exercise of religion. The same constitution expressly provides defense as one of the few powers granted to the federal government. There is no comparison between the two as far as the law of land goes.

    I am very sympathetic to the arguments that we go to war too often and without submitting to the required constitutional process but there is no basis under our laws to say that taxes to support defense are illegal. There is no basis in Catholic moral teaching to say that defense is, per se, immoral.

    As Catholic’s I think there is some obligation to be subject to the governing authorities. It is legitimate to contend for a change in the law that would be more accommodating of individual conscience. At the same time it would be wise to recognize that our current legal structure, which provides for a very limited role of government, though that limitation is more often than not disregarded, provides a great deal of room for respecting individual conscience.

    The question of the optimal structure for societal organization is very complex and has been struggled with for most of human history. What Mark proposes degenerates into nothing more than radical libertarianism or anarchy. If everyone is exempted from taxes for anything they claim violates their conscience there is no reason to have any government at all. Each person can simply purchase whatever service they want and donate to whatever organizations they want.

    It seems to me that it would be more effective to insist that the government respect the constitutional prohibition on restricting religious exercise and also to insist that the military be restricted to defensive activities and the requirements for the declaration of war be respected. If you can’t get agreement on this you will never get a consensus on amending the constitution to provide the exemption from taxes Mark proposes.

    If the modest proposal wasn’t meant to be considered seriously then it just seems like a distraction from a very real intrusion on the free exercise of religion.

    • Mark Gordon permalink
      February 13, 2012 10:44 am

      I assure you my proposal is genuine. I’m trying to probe the implications of the principle that forcing people of faith to pay for things they find morally objectionable is a violation of religious liberty. Some here apparently find federal taxation and spending to be sacrosanct, which I find odd since it is generally the same people who question the legitimacy of both in other contexts.

      • February 13, 2012 11:39 am

        Your proposal being genuine then I am on board with the intent. One approach is to limit government spending which would minimize the potential conflict. That is more palatable to the right than the left. In fact, if government spending was limited to things authorized by the constitution there would be very little spending at all and probably the only potential for conflict would be military spending. If military spending were likewise constrained by the constitution – no standing armies, defense only, war authorized by congress – it seems the only conflict would be with pacifists. I’m willing to let pacifists off the hook at that point.

      • John Henry permalink
        February 13, 2012 11:52 am

        That appear to be a bit of a strawman. I don’t think anyone has suggested that federal taxation and spending are ‘sacrosanct,’ just that they aren’t traditionally viewed as a violation of religious conscience either by the the Free Exercise jurisprudence of the U.S., the Church or, um, Jesus.

        Also, as Blackadder’s typically incisive comment above suggests, I very much doubt you’d be on board with your own proposal in practice. Cheers.

        • Mark Gordon permalink
          February 13, 2012 12:03 pm

          I know where Blackadder was going with his “typically incisive comment.” The sub-text of his comment, given its source, was a withdrawal of support for entitlements, which I would be willing to live with. I’m particularly fond of Dorothy Day, let’s remember, and she was as opposed to the welfare state as she was to the national security state. Moreover, she neither accepted government funding nor paid taxes. Heck, she didn’t even believe in incorporation.

          But it’s nice to see that you speak for Jesus, John Henry. I had no idea he was so aligned with US jurisprudence. :-)

      • John Henry permalink
        February 13, 2012 1:19 pm

        But it’s nice to see that you speak for Jesus, John Henry. I had no idea he was so aligned with US jurisprudence. :-)

        It would be news to me also in most cases. At the same time, ‘render unto Caeser’ seems like a fairly clear instruction, particularly given the Church’s interpretation of that over the years as expressed in CCC 2240. I confess that I doubt that I would favor cutting entitlements along the lines you (or BA) suggest, but I am interested in the idea. Have you written any good posts on this or do you have any book recommendations?

  20. Rodak permalink
    February 13, 2012 12:12 pm

    @ Mark —

    While I agree with your proposal in principal, I also recognize that the logistics involved with actually trying to implement it would be a disaster. How would a member of a non-pacifist religion prove to the government that he had legitimate religious reasons for being exempted from the largest slice of his tax assessment on religious grounds? There would need to be the equivalent of what used to be local draft boards set up in every community. But, unlike draft boards, which had to deal only with that tiny segment of the population which was both being drafted and proclaiming themselves to be conscientious objectors at any given time, the potential pool for this new bureacracy would be the entire adult population, at all times. I assure you that people would file for exemption who had no legitimate claim to it. And once they filed, they could begin an appeal process and avoid paying taxes, possibly for years, while that played out. Unlike being a Consciencious Objector, which entailed either serving in the military without being sent into combat, or doing civilian service for an approved charity for the length of time a draftee would have served in the military, there would be nothing required of tax exemption filers in lieu of paying taxes, if their petition were approved. So, I expect that millions of people would file frivolous claims.
    It’s a good thought, but I don’t see how it would be workable.

    • Ryan Klassen permalink
      February 13, 2012 2:09 pm

      This is why being able to check a box on your tax return saying that you do not want your taxes to be spent towards “Defense” would be more feasible. You wouldn’t pay any less in tax (and in fact, I would be in favour of a small increase in total tax payment if this option was chosen, as MZ proposed) so the overall revenue is not affected. And as a religious exemption, the onus would be on the religious group applying for the exemption to make its case, rather than the blanket ability to refuse funds for any program one wants. David Cruz-Uribe mentioned it earlier, but it bears repeating that such a proposal has already been made at http://www.peacetaxfund.org.

      The great thing about this option from a pacifist perspective is that not only does it respect our freedom of religion, but if enough people chose this option, the US would be forced to spend less on “Defense” no matter how much lobbying the defense industry was able to muster. Money talks, after all, and this is one way that less wealthy individuals can make themselves heard in a language that previously was only spoken by the wealthy.

      • Mark Gordon permalink
        February 13, 2012 2:18 pm

        Yes!

      • Thales permalink
        February 13, 2012 2:27 pm

        Ryan,
        I see that you might get some personal comfort knowing that your $5 isn’t paying for defense, but I don’t know that it would give me that much comfort considering the fungibility of money: the US would just use someone else’s $5 that would have gone to non-defense for defense, and it uses your $5 for non-defense. I know you say “if enough people chose this option, the US would be forced to spend less on “Defense””, but the critical mass of people needed to make a difference would be huge.

      • Ryan Klassen permalink
        February 13, 2012 3:31 pm

        But the point is that my $5 would not be going towards that which my religion considers sinful. Isn’t that what this is whole discussion about religious liberty is all about? Not wanting the government to force you to pay for something morally objectionable (even though you yourself will not commit the morally objectionable action)?

        Correct me if I’m wrong, but in all likelihood a non-contraceptive policy will be more expensive than a contraceptive policy. The premiums you pay go into one big pot from which the benefits are paid out. So by paying more for a non-contraceptive plan, you actually put more money into the pot. But you want the ability to do this so that you are not sinning by paying for contraception coverage (that you will not use), even though you’re making it cheaper for someone else to get contraception. It sounds pretty much the same to me, except that you have many more options to avoid this dilemma than we do. You can refuse to buy insurance, for example. But we cannot stop paying taxes, as so many have already pointed out.

      • Rodak permalink
        February 13, 2012 3:34 pm

        Oh, please. What planet do you hail from? The “pacificist lockbox” will be just as secure from the Pentagon, et al., as the “social security lockbox” has been. If they need the money for their next war, they will just start issuing propaganda about “national security” and “American interests” and take it. The only way they won’t take it is if they aren’t entrusted with it.

        That said, the more I think about this, the more I think that it reeks of “cheap grace.” Taking a moral stand that requires essentially no personal sacrifice is just a bit too easy. When it comes to taxes, I realize that this is problematic, given that most of your taxes are confiscated up front, so that there is not way to withhold them from the government on your own. I’ve never made enough money that I don’t actually get a refund. So I don’t have even a small portion of my overall assessment that I could refuse to pay 60% of.

        There has to be a better way.

      • Thales permalink
        February 13, 2012 5:30 pm

        Ryan,

        I guess my point is that it sounds like you’d be satisfied with the status quo of the current tax system, as long as you get a letter in the mail from the governmentt saying “Ryan, don’t worry, your $5 went to a non-defense program.” Like you, I object to the great number of immoral things my taxpayer money pays for, but I don’t think I’d be satisfied with that letter myself, because I know money is fungible and it’s just a game of moving numbers on a piece of paper.

        Not wanting the government to force you to pay for something morally objectionable (even though you yourself will not commit the morally objectionable action)?

        As you can see from my posts throughout this thread, I think there is a significant distinction between (1) paying taxes even though the government uses them to fund unjust actions and (2) having the government forcing me into a private transaction where I pay for someone’s unjust actions.

        I’m afraid I don’t quite understand your second paragraph. And it’s my understanding from what I’ve seen and read that a contraceptive policy would be more expensive than a non-contraceptive policy.

      • Kurt permalink
        February 13, 2012 6:01 pm

        There has to be a better way.

        The better way is to work through the democratic process to bring an end to a militaristic foreign policy or the legality of contraception or whatever the issue of moral concern is.

      • Ryan Klassen permalink
        February 13, 2012 6:39 pm

        Rodak – I think you are misunderstanding both my statements and the proposal over at http://www.peacetaxfund.org. First, this is undertaken with the clear understanding that it will not prevent the US from spending as much as it wants on the military (unless by some miracle a huge percentage of the general populace could be convinced to voice their displeasure with foreign military interventions through this option – a pipe dream I know). But faithfulness, not effectiveness, is what we are called to.

        Second, this is not a withholding of taxes. It is actually paying more in taxes so that the taxes do not go towards the military. This is the way it has always worked for Mennonites. Wherever we have gone, Mennonites have paid higher taxes or surcharges or fees or whatever for the right to religious liberty (as expressed in pacifism).

        This would be the opposite of “cheap grace” – paying more so that that what we pay does not violate the Gospel. This moral stand requires greater personal sacrifice than doing nothing. It is a commitment to contributing to the common good of society while making a statement about what one believes contributes to the common good. It may only be a symbol, but symbols have real meaning too.

      • Ryan Klassen permalink
        February 14, 2012 10:40 am

        Thales – Thanks for the correction on the insurance policy. I had read somewhere that the non-contraceptive policy was actually more expensive than a contraceptive policy. We have a slightly different system in Canada and it’s been a while since I lived in the States, which may explain the incoherence of the second paragraph.

        As for the knowledge that my $5 would not go towards the military, I would not be satisfied with that, but a first step is better than nothing. It would be symbolic, but symbols are not without power. And it opens up possibilities (however improbable) that would not be available otherwise.

      • Thales permalink
        February 14, 2012 11:53 am

        Ryan,
        Fair enough. Thanks for your thoughts.

      • Kurt permalink
        February 14, 2012 12:06 pm

        The non-contraceptive policies are more expensive than the policies with contraception. In Hawaii, the difference was 10% cheaper with the inclusion of contraceptives.

      • Thales permalink
        February 14, 2012 12:53 pm

        Kurt,
        The study I saw said that contraceptive policies were more expensive than non-contraceptive policies. But regardless, even if you’re correct, I think the issue is irrelevant: obviously, contraceptives cost something and premiums are used to cover these costs, even if the inclusion of contraceptives has an effect on the insurance company’s revenue streams considered as a whole.

  21. February 13, 2012 12:17 pm

    I think being forced to pay taxes which eventually end up being used for things we object to; and forcing people to purchase things privately from other private persons, are quite different.

    The ACA was designed to keep healthcare in the private sphere, rather than making it a government operation, because the sponsors of the bill knew that government-run (or “socialized”) healthcare wouldn’t fly with the voters. Fine. But if it’s truly private, then people should have the right to choose whether they purchase things — with their private funds from a private entity — that violate their consciences.

    Actions taken with tax receipts are different. Neither Jesus nor the Church has ever taught that people should refuse to pay taxes, even if some proportion of taxes are used to fund unjust actions by the government.

    In a democracy people have the right and respnosibility to try to persuade other voters and their elected representatives not to support certain policies. But if they are unsuccessful, the funding of those policies with tax receipts is not morally attributable to those who opposed them.

    Whereas people are morally responsible for what they choose to purchase or support with their private funds. Or, if they’re not responsible and can’t choose whether or not to buy things that violate their consciences, then the idea that healthcare is being kept in the private sphere is a sham.

    • February 13, 2012 12:23 pm

      [Sorry, I didn't realize the point I made has already been made by others over and over. You can delete my comment if you want.]

      • Thales permalink
        February 13, 2012 1:16 pm

        Agellius,
        I actually like the way you put it. You’ve got new insights about the distinction that I hadn’t thought of.

  22. February 13, 2012 12:54 pm

    Mark, one drawback to your proposal is that directing the payment or nonpayment of taxes might supercede the power of the vote itself. In effect, this could all backfire and we might wind up with a greater concentration of influence in the hands of the wealthy who would fund what pleases them and de-fund those matters that are less of a concern. How would a working poor family show their discontent of war with an earned income tax credit? Sort of like having the right to vote based upon the amount of property one owns.

  23. February 13, 2012 7:03 pm

    @ Ryan —

    My comment was specifically about people belonging to religious groups that are NOT pacifist (or to no religious group at all). If one is a Quaker and gets drafted and declares himself a conscientious objector, he gets classified that way (so long as he can provide proof that he’s actually a Quaker.) That’s no problem for the draft board. People like me, filing, however, was problematic. I prevailed in the end, but it was a long process. Now imagine millions of people like me having to be vetted not to pay a portion of their taxes, so that the government doesn’t get its hands on it, and it CAN’T be spent on war.
    Now, if you’re willing to let the government have the money, and TRUST the government not to spend it on war–that’s what I call “cheap grace”–because you’re deluding yourself in order to escape your guilt. You’re saying “Well, I did everything I could–it’s out of my hands now.”
    I note that Catholics frequently note how money is fungible, so that federal funds going to Planned Parenthood are funding abortion, even though “officially” that isn’t the case.
    This would be no different.
    What would involve real sacrifice and would not be cheap grace, would be a major interdenominational Christian movement to convince young men and women not to go into military service. If the numbers of enlistees go be reduced enough so that a draft had to be instituted, then individuals could resist the draft, put some REAL skin in the game, and make the kind of personal sacrifices necessary to be righteously called “picking up one’s cross.”

  24. February 13, 2012 7:33 pm

    Great discussion! But I think it raises two issues that really go beyond the scope of the debate here:

    (1) Chris Sullivan put it this way: “The evil things the military do are, of course, far more evil than couples deciding in good conscience to use contraception.” I agree with that, but I suspect the most conservative Catholics who have spoken out against the HHS mandate would not agree with it. Since the morning-after pill is regularly being described as an “abortifacient,” and ordinary contraceptives are sometimes characterized that way as well, the mandate is being cast as a test of Catholic opposition to abortion, which Catholics on the right see as a far more grave evil than war and militarism. As Catholics, we need to talk about that idea, but dialogue is not our style right now.

    (2) Ryan Klassen’s comments have been most helpful, especially in regard to the tendency of Anabaptist pacfists to disengage from various facets of the societies in which they live. Not easy to do, and very few Catholics in this country who oppose war/militarism seem to me to disavow the sweet life that American military hegemony confers on us all, without our ever having to raise a finger to ask for it. It seems to me that a willingness to sacrifice some of our advantages under the military umbrella ought to go along with any resolution to stop paying some of our taxes.

  25. February 14, 2012 10:53 am

    I have several concerns about this mandate and Catholic objection:

    1. What about the individual’s free will? I tend to lean towards the idea that God created a world in which evil could reside because otherwise there would be no way for us to exercise our free will and choose good. Same seems to apply here.

    2. Although it is rare, some people require lifelong use of “the pill” as a hormone replacement after removal of the pituitary gland. Also, other medical conditions may warrant surgery that would cause sterilization. How would the Catholic stance on insurance covering such “contraceptives” affect those who have medical conditions and are not trying to thwart life.

    • Thales permalink
      February 14, 2012 11:59 am

      1. Are you talking about the employee or the employer? The employer’s free will is being infringed: he/she is being forced to buy something he/she doesn’t want to buy because it conflicts with his/her conscience. I don’t see the employee’s free will being infringed at all: the employee can get contraception if he/she wants.

      2. It is my understanding that the Catholic stance does not affect your concerns in any way, and that coverage for medical, non-contraceptive uses of the pill or surgeries that cause sterilization as an indirect effect are not being affected.

      • Kurt permalink
        February 14, 2012 12:59 pm

        The employer’s free will is being infringed

        Since with the President’s accomodation, we are now speaking of private, for profit employers, I think this discussion woudl be enhanced by hearing from such an employer. So far, not a single covered employer claiming moral opposition to contraception has emerged. I’m not sure one exist, although I am open to hearing from those saying a single objecting stockholder should not be forced to cooperate with contraception.

      • Thales permalink
        February 14, 2012 5:13 pm

        I’m truly baffled why you say this, Kurt. See my comment below about those employers who have actually filed lawsuits against the rule.

      • Kurt permalink
        February 14, 2012 8:11 pm

        I’m truly baffled why you say this, Kurt. See my comment below about those employers who have actually filed lawsuits against the [now withdrawn] rule.

        All of those employers are covered by the revised exemption. While some have suggested the revised exemption still has shortcomings, the issue has also been raised that any employer should be able to be exempt. In response to the later point, I’m suggesting that such employers may not exist.

      • Thales permalink
        February 14, 2012 9:34 pm

        That’s not correct. See below.

      • February 14, 2012 10:57 pm

        “1. Are you talking about the employee or the employer? The employer’s free will is being infringed: he/she is being forced to buy something he/she doesn’t want to buy because it conflicts with his/her conscience. I don’t see the employee’s free will being infringed at all: the employee can get contraception if he/she wants.”

        The freewill of both parties is being infringed. The free will of the employer may be infringed by being forced to buy insurance that it disagrees with. The employee’s free will is being infringed by the Catholic employer that doesn’t provide said insurance. The employee is likely to only have one insurance policy and if that one doesn’t cover the contraception, then that could effectively prevent that employee from obtaining it if they are low-income. In that case there was no choice involved on the employee’s part…the choice was made for her/him.

      • Thales permalink
        February 17, 2012 9:51 am

        The employee’s free will is being infringed by the Catholic employer that doesn’t provide said insurance.

        The notion that a person’s free will is being infringed because that person can’t get an abortion for free makes no sense to me whatsoever.

      • February 17, 2012 1:07 pm

        “The notion that a person’s free will is being infringed because that person can’t get an abortion for free makes no sense to me whatsoever.”

        I said nothing of abortion. First, abortion is not contraception. Contraception prevents conception. Abortion is obviously post-conception. Abortion is irrelevant to a contraception topic.

        Second, it is still infringing someone’s freewill because the person cannot choose to utilize contraception if they cannot pay for it out-of-pocket. Thus, the choice is made for them. Choice made for you = no free will. If the church forced me to go to confession, go to mass each week and on days of obligation, not eat meat during Lent and prevented me from ever committing any act that is “sinful”, would that make me holy or a robot with no freewill?

        This issue is particularly vexing for a person who needs “the pill” as hormone supplement, but the costs are prohibitive by self-pay. The Catholic Church considers this use to be valid, and an across-the-board ban on insurance providing contraceptives would prevent that person from obtaining her legitimate medication. How is that fair or make sense? How are we protecting life and human dignity?

      • Thales permalink
        February 17, 2012 2:03 pm

        truthseeker,

        I brought up abortion because it’s not irrelevant to the contraception topic. First, the rule also covers abortion drugs (ie, drugs that prevent a human embryo from implanting). But let’s set that issue aside for now. Abortion is relevant to this contraception topic also because many people think that abortion is a necessary part of health care and that it should be covered by insurance, just like contraception.

        Now, your argument is that not getting contraception paid for is an infringement of a person’s free will because the person cannot choose to use contraception. Under your logic, not getting an abortion paid for is also an infringement of a person’s free will because the person cannot choose get an abortion. And that doesn’t make any sense to me.

  26. johnmcg permalink
    February 14, 2012 12:17 pm

    1. Yes, you have free will. Which means I can’t compel your conscience, but doesn’t mean I have to help you do something I believe is sinful.

    So yes, “the same seems to apply here.” But I don’t see how it applies in a way where compelling Church organizations to provide birth control is the right thing.

    2. As has been mentioned in almost every discussion on this topic, Catholic policies have specific exceptions for theraputic use of these medicines, and would continue to.

    • February 14, 2012 10:37 pm

      “2. As has been mentioned in almost every discussion on this topic, Catholic policies have specific exceptions for theraputic use of these medicines, and would continue to.”

      OK. So it’s legit with the church…but if a Catholic employer only offers policies excluding contraceptives, then might the individual not be able to get those needed meds or procedures covered by insurance? If so, you don’t see that as a problem?

      • johnmcg permalink
        February 15, 2012 2:46 pm

        This has been the policy of most Catholic employers for some time, and does not seem to have been a widespread problem so far, so I don’t see why it would be going forward.

      • Kurt permalink
        February 16, 2012 2:18 pm

        At yesterday’s House hearing (the one opened by an all-male panel opposed to contraception), the GOP not only refused a Democratic request that the Catholic Health Association and Catholic Charities be invited to testify, but the one Democratic witness they originally allowed (a Georgetown University student) was banned from testifying when the GOP found out she would be speaking about how students are denied exceptions for theraputic use of these medicines.

        • johnmcg permalink
          February 16, 2012 2:36 pm

          Ooh, “Banned!” .

          I suspect the GOP has also banned her from telling her story publicly. Otherwise, I’m sure there would be more details about the specific treatment that was denied and the theraputic purpose for it, and the lack of any other remedies for it.

          I was also banned from testifying.

        • February 16, 2012 2:37 pm

          I didn’t see the hearing. Were the GOP folks opposed to contraception or opposed to the HHS ruling? I would be stunned to find out that the GOP was opposing contraception itself.

      • johnmcg permalink
        February 16, 2012 2:38 pm

        I’m also quite sure it would be difficult to find a media outlet willing to tell the story of a college student who was denied a neccesary treatment because of the Catholic Church’s scruples about birth control.

        Or maybe that was banned by the GOP as well.

      • Thales permalink
        February 16, 2012 4:17 pm

        ABCnews.com has the “banned” testimony: her testimony is about how students can’t get contraception at Georgetown. What that has to do with religious freedom for employers, I don’t know.

      • Kurt permalink
        February 16, 2012 4:23 pm

        I suspect the GOP has also banned her from telling her story publicly.

        Seems her story missed your attention since your claims are that she is a liar.

        • johnmcg permalink
          February 16, 2012 5:09 pm

          I am claiming the facts of the story are not as you have presented them.

          I can believe that student health services did not fill her perscription and referred her elsewhere.
          I can believe that an overzealous administrator denied coverage temporarily.
          I can believe that some combination of the above two factors resulted in unnecesary suffering and a poor health outcome for a Georgetown student.

          But I do not believe that it was Georgetown’s official policy to not cover medically necessary medicines that could be used as birth control, resulting in a poor health outcome.

          I strongly suspect that if it did, we would have heard about it quite loudly.

      • johnmcg permalink
        February 16, 2012 5:19 pm

        Here is the story http://abcnews.go.com/blogs/politics/2012/02/rep-darrell-issa-bars-minority-witness-a-woman-on-contraception-2/ . Which had been discussed here. http://www.commonwealmagazine.org/blog/?p=17018 before.

        I wish she had been allowed to testify, so we could get a clearer picture of it. My suspicion is it was an overzealous administrator rather than official policy, but I am open to correction.

      • johnmcg permalink
        February 16, 2012 5:29 pm

        Quote from her testimony: (http://abcnews.go.com/images/Politics/Testimony%20-%20Sandra%20Fluke.pdf)

        “Her perscription is technically covered by Georgetown insurance because it’s not intended to prevent pregnancy.”

        So, yes, somewhere along the chain between he testimony and this combox, someone was lying.

      • johnmcg permalink
        February 17, 2012 2:09 pm

        To be fair, the testimony does go on that although the birth control was covered by the policy, her friends was unable to use it because she was “repeatedly denied” by Georgetown’s administration, leading her to stop taking the medication and ultimately painfully losing her ovary. She goes on that others have had similar difficulties, and that it creates a general sense that Georgetown does not cover any women’s health services, not just birth control.

        I think it’s unfortunate she was not allowed to testify or answer questions, because there are some things that merit further investigation:

        1. I would be interested in statistics of how many apply for coverage of theraputic use of birth control pills and how many are accepted.

        2. It is surprising to me that the administrator at Georgetown would be overzealous in denying coverage. It seems to me that all the incentives would lead to erring on the side of being too lenient. If you approve a specific request, nobody is going to complain, but if you deny it, you have one angry student, who could likely rally support for her cause. I suppose that it’s also possible that the type of person attracted to the job of birth control cop would be the type of person more inclined to being strict.

  27. Thales permalink
    February 14, 2012 1:01 pm

    Ooh, I just read a new example illustrating the difference that many of us have been talking about between paying taxes and the HHS rule.

    Compare (A) a citizen pays taxes, the federal government takes this tax money, and then gives money to Planned Parenthood; with (B) the federal government forces a citizen to donate his/her money to Planned Parenthood, or else he/she will be penalized or fined. One is a violation of conscience, one isn’t.

    • Mark Gordon permalink
      February 14, 2012 3:10 pm

      I think both are a violation of my conscience. If my tax dollars are being used to pay for abortions, then I want no part of paying taxes. That was the entire rationale behind the Hyde Amendment and the Mexico City policy.

      • Thales permalink
        February 14, 2012 3:29 pm

        Well, okay, I agree with you in the sense that both are unjust and objectionable. But my point is that one is more unjust and more violating of personal conscience than the other. You don’t agree?

        • Mark Gordon permalink
          February 14, 2012 5:41 pm

          Thales, I think we’re making progress. You agree that using my tax dollars to fund abortions would be unjust and objectionable. You simply think that “forcing” Catholic institutions to indirectly pay for contraception is more objectionable. A couple of observations.

          First, the issue of “personal” conscience seems to be much more pertinent to taxes than to the proposed HHS mandate compromise, where we are mainly talking about institutional conscience. That distance from personal conscience is even greater if, as proposed, the cost burden for optional contraceptives is shifted to the insurer and the user. In the case of personal taxes being routed into general revenue, from which accounts funds are then spent to reimburse abortion services, there is a direct affront to personal conscience. The money is mine. I earned it. They took it. And now some it is being used to pay for abortions.

          Second, let’s look at it in terms of available options for avoidance and likely resulting punishments. In the case of a Catholic institution, there are several options, none of them pleasant, but their availability strains the use of the word “forced.” A Catholic institution that doesn’t want to accept the proposed compromise could simply ignore it and pay a fine of $2,000 per employee. Or, the institution could decide to stop accepting federal funds. Or, it could cancel any existing contracts with health insurance companies and self-insure. It could also form a self-insurance pool with other Catholic institutions. None of those are acceptable options, in my view, because they place an enormous financial burden on Catholic institutions, but they are options.

          On the other hand, I have only three options if I object to my taxes being used to pay for abortions. one, violate my conscience, pay my taxes, and live with it; two, hire an attorney and try to fight the federal government in court, which will likely ruin me; or three, simply refuse to pay and wait for federal marshals to show up and take me away. My choices, then, are to self-violate my own conscience, expose myself to financial ruin and eventual jail, or go directly to jail.

          Now, to me that is not only a closer violation of conscience than the situation in which Catholic institutions find themselves, but the options and likely outcomes are far more dire. Therefore, I conclude that the situation of the individual taxpayer is more unjust and objectionable.

        • February 14, 2012 6:29 pm

          I think the best option is to have the federal government get out of the health care business which it has no business being in to begin with.

        • Mark Gordon permalink
          February 14, 2012 10:49 pm

          BullPasture, the federal government got into the healthcare business (Medicare and Medicaid) because the private insurance market had abandoned the elderly and the poor. People routinely died in this country for lack of access to healthcare, and the churches (every conservative’s proposed alternative) didn’t come close to picking up the slack. Would you return to that? If so, I hope you’ll insist that your mother or grandmother immediately renounce her Medicare benefits and move to the private market. Good luck with those premiums.

      • Thales permalink
        February 14, 2012 8:59 pm

        Mark,

        I’ll grant your second point, that the consequences of not paying taxes are worse than not following the HHS rule.

        But I’m really lost on your main point, so you’re going to have to explain it to me again. I really don’t understand what you’re trying to say. It sounds like you’re saying that there is a greater violation of conscience with paying taxes that go for abortion instead of being forced by the government to pay directly or indirectly for abortion. But I really don’t understand why you think that. So please explain it to me again.

        This is the way I see it: everyone has to pay taxes as a duty of being a citizen. This duty is a Christian duty, recognized by the Church and by Christ, even if the government uses the taxes for an immoral purpose. When you pay taxes, it goes into one pot of billions of dollars, and from that pot, the government doles out money — so the relative impact of your contribution going to an immoral purpose is miniscule. Now citizens can object to how the government money is used and can seek legislation to change the government’s purpose for the money, but it is recognized that you’re not endorsing what the government does with taxpayer money. This is because the government is an intermediary between me and my money, and the immoral act. Now my duty as a citizen is to pay tax money to the government and to try to get the government to have moral spending practices, but after that duty, I’m not responsible for what the government does.

        This in contrast with the HHS rule where the government is NOT an intermediary. An insurance program is the result of an agreement between private entities: the employer who comes to an agreement with an insurance company to provide a certain type of insurance to his employees. Here, a Catholic employer is trying to offer a benefit, health insurance, to its employees, but it doesn’t want to provide a benefit that covers immoral acts. And the government is requiring the employer to provide this benefit. It seems self-evident to me that the employer’s connection to an employee’s abortion choice is closer than in the tax situation. What am I not seeing?

        • Mark Gordon permalink
          February 14, 2012 10:36 pm

          Good Lord, Thales, I’m making a simple point, and it really isn’t about comparing situations. It’s about consistently applying a principle. In the HHS mandate controversy, the principle being defended is that as a matter of religious liberty, citizens should not be forced to pay for things that they find morally objectionable. I accept that principle, and I therefore support the bishops in their protest against both the mandate and the proposed revision. I’m taking that principle and applying it to the government’s taxing and spending power. When this government goes to war, as it does with numbing regularity, there isn’t some neat prophylactic barrier between a religious pacifist’s tax remittance and what he considers a grotesquely immoral act. There is a direct relationship which implicates him in that immorality. That’s the whole principle of tax resistance (Read Thoreau’s “Civil Disobedience”), and it was the whole reason why we Catholics demanded the Hyde Amendment thirty years ago. (Incidentally, I just learned this evening that the phrase “that government is best that governs least” comes from “Civil Disobedience,” not Jefferson.)

      • Thales permalink
        February 14, 2012 11:08 pm

        Mark,
        Look, if all you’re saying that it’s also unjust when the government uses tax money for immoral purposes, I’m with you. I’ve said that over and over. But you seemed to be claiming that there is an equivalence between that and the HHS rule–that both are equivalent violations of religious freedom. And that’s where I disagree.

        • Mark Gordon permalink
          February 15, 2012 12:15 am

          If you disagree, then I can only conclude that it’s because your – our – ox is being gored in this case. But that seems terribly insular to me. If a principle is worth defending then it is worth applying across the board. I doubt you would be so adamant if this were a case of, say, Christian Scientists being told that their health insurers had to provide side coverage for blood transfusions. Of course, I also wonder whether everyone would be so exercised if a Bush or Romney Administration had promulgated the mandate. It’s been the law under Romneycare in Massachusetts for years, and yet Romney just won the CPAC straw poll last weekend.

      • Thales permalink
        February 15, 2012 9:36 am

        If you disagree, then I can only conclude that it’s because your – our – ox is being gored in this case.

        See, that’s exactly where you’re going wrong, and that’s exactly why your post is misleading and a red herring in the larger debate about the HHS rule. A lot of people right here on VN made the argument “the bishops didn’t make a fuss about being involved in contraception with regard to state mandate X, so they shouldn’t make a fuss with the HHS rule — and if they make a fuss it’s because they’re hypocrites and GOP stooges.” Your post could be used in a similar way: “if you make a fuss about being connected to an immoral act (ie, Catholics under the HHS rule), but you don’t make a fuss about being connected to an immoral act (ie, pacifists’s tax money going to wars), you’re a hypocrite and a GOP stooge.”

        Those arguments are false red herrings, because they’re missing the point that there are different levels of egregiousness when talking about religious liberty. I agree with you that the principle of religious liberty is worth defending across the board, but your example of pacifist tax money is in no way equivalent to the HHS rule, and so there is no hypocrisy to take issue with the HHS rule while not going to bat for the pacifist tax proposal you suggest. In a civil society with people of differing beliefs and views, there are always instances where religious liberty is curtailed in some way — in fact, it is necessary for religious liberty to be curtailed in small ways in order to accommodate everyone — but some infringements on religious liberty are more egregious than others.

        If you want to talk about the tax money scenario, my ox is being gored just as much as the pacifist: I object to the my taxpayer money going to the gravely immoral act of drone assassinations, torture, and other unjust military actions. That’s severely offensive to me, as it is for the pacifist. But that’s not an infringement of religious liberty the way the the HHS rule is.

        If you want to talk about an HHS-rule-equivalent-scenario-for-pacifists, suppose that the government required, as a condition for operating a school, that every school — including those operated by pacifists with a pacifist mission– provide wall space for military recruitment posters and permit a third party to distribute “war-is-good!” pamphlets to students on school property so that students could have greater “access” to the military. That would be an exponentially greater infringement of religious liberty than the tax money scenario, and I (and the bishops I hope) would go to bat for the pacifists. That pacifist scenario would be similar to this scenario: suppose the government required, as a condition for operating a school, that every school provide floor space for a condom machine operated by a third party. I think that’s also similar to what’s going on here: the government is requiring, as a condition for operating a school, that every school provide to their employees through a third party insurance for contraception, sterilization, and abortifacients. In all three scenarios including the pacifist school, the school is not paying directly for the immoral thing they object to, but they are being forced by the government to indirectly support this immorality and to ensure access to the immorality in a way that conflicts gravely with their religious identity and mission.

        • Mark Gordon permalink
          February 15, 2012 10:28 am

          So it is more egregious to force a Catholic institution to indirectly support contraception than it is to force an individual taxpayer to directly support another evil? The only difference is that you haven’t personally made the connection between your tax dollars and assassination, torture, war, etc. But others have, and you still don’t think their religious liberty should be respected because you privilege the taxing and spending power of the federal government. Okay. We disagree.

      • Kurt permalink
        February 15, 2012 10:34 am

        Thales writes:

        If you want to talk about an HHS-rule-equivalent-scenario-for-pacifists, suppose that the government required, as a condition for operating a school, that every school — including those operated by pacifists with a pacifist mission– provide wall space for military recruitment posters and permit a third party to distribute “war-is-good!” pamphlets to students on school property so that students could have greater “access” to the military. That would be an exponentially greater infringement of religious liberty than the tax money scenario, and I (and the bishops I hope) would go to bat for the pacifists.

        It is called the Solomon Amendment and the bishops as a body did not go to bat for they objectors, save Bishop Gumbelton acting on this own.

      • Thales permalink
        February 15, 2012 10:47 am

        So it is more egregious to force a Catholic institution to indirectly support contraception than it is to force an individual taxpayer to directly support another evil?

        What you’re saying doesn’t make sense: by definition, a taxpayer never directly supports evil because, by necessity, there is an intermediary doing the evil (ie, the government).

        There’s 2 scenarios:

        1. A taxpayer has a duty to pay taxes and so pays taxes. An intermediary, the government, then takes the money and does an immoral act.

        2. The government is no longer an intermediary, but forces the taxpayer to support an immoral act as a condition for running a school, business, etc.

        Both are instances where the taxpayer’s money is indirectly supporting an immoral act; but I think the 2nd is a greater intrusion by the government into the taxpayer’s religious freedom. I’ve given reasons for why I think so, and I don’t understand the reasons why you disagree.

        • Mark Gordon permalink
          February 15, 2012 10:59 am

          And in the case of the revised HHS mandate, the Catholic institution isn’t taking the contraceptive, the employee is. If the immoral act is forcing payment, then there is a direct relationship in both cases. If the immoral act is the underlying evil – contraception and/or war – then there is an indirect relationship in both cases. You can’t have it both ways, Thales, which you’re a smart enough guy to figure out, and which is also why I suggest that the political, personal and religious context is at play here. Let’s drop it. Frankly, I’ve explained my reasoning every which way from Friday. You don’t get it or I don’t get it. Truce!

      • Thales permalink
        February 15, 2012 11:45 am

        Mark,

        Look, I’m frustrated because I think there is an important distinction which you’re failing to see. I get that you’re probably frustrated with me because you think that you’ve got an important distinction which I’m failing to see. But being condescending isn’t helpful; I’m not going to insinuate that you’re not seeing my distinction because the political context is blinding you, so you don’t need to insinuate that on my part.

        So let me try one more time to explain where I’m coming from. It seems to me that you’ve set up the taxes situation and the HHS situation like this:
        (#1, the pacifist/taxes situation). The taxpayer is forced to indirectly pay for immoral act X done by the government.
        (#2, the HHS situation). The taxpayer is forced to indirectly pay for immoral act X done by the employee.

        Is that fair? From this, it seems to me that you’re saying that there is an equal indirect relationship of the taxpayer paying for immorality in both cases, and so there is an equal violation of religious liberty. Is that fair?

        Now to where I’m coming from: I think the situations are NOT equivalent when it comes to an infringement of religious liberty. Why? I suggest so for a couple of reasons:
        – #1 involves a superseding duty, the duty of all citizens to pay taxes to the lawful authority who is in charge of the common good even if the lawful authority misuses the taxes and violates the common good; #2 doesn’t involve this duty.
        – the “force” is of a radically different nature in both cases: in #1, the government forces you to pay taxes — but that is a legitimate right asserted by the government; while in #2, the government is forcing you to indirectly support an evil in a private relationship between you and other parties — and I don’t see that to be a legitimate right asserted by the government.
        – #1 is far, far less proximate to the evil than the #2 (because the government is an intermediary in #1 and not in #2; because your taxes are so miniscule in relation to how they support the evil in #1 when compared with #2; because the impression that the taxpayer endorses or implicitly accepts the evil in #1 is less than the impression that the taxpayer endorses or implicitly accepts the evil in #2).

        I’ve given you examples illustrating the difference in my the other comments (ie, the pacifist paying taxes vs. the pacifist being required to permit access to “war-is-good!” posters and pamphlets).

      • Kurt permalink
        February 15, 2012 11:51 am

        Thales point does not have relevance to religious organizations but it is relevent, as the bishops have mentioned, as to the right of a boss of a for-profit company to deny his employees contraceptive coverage.

    • Kurt permalink
      February 14, 2012 3:59 pm

      Thales,

      I take it your point is the first is not a violation of conscience. The second, certainly i snot a violation of conscience if the donor has no objection to PP. Now, we are still looking for this unicorn of the objecting non-exempt employer. I note thee GOP could not find a single one for its upcoming hearing.

      • Thales permalink
        February 14, 2012 5:11 pm

        Kurt,

        Of course I’m talking about a donor that has an objection to PP.

        You say there there is no such thing as an objecting non-exempt employer? Why would you think that? You’ve got EWTN, Belmont Abbey College, Colorado Christian University, Priests for Life all filing actual lawsuits against the rule.

      • johnmcg permalink
        February 14, 2012 5:43 pm

        While we’re at it, maybe we can find the people who were coerced into working for Catholic parachurch organizations and were then blindsided that thier contracepties were not covered.

      • Kurt permalink
        February 14, 2012 8:06 pm

        Thales,

        All of those employers now have an exemption. Those opposed to contraception have raised the issue of non-religious affililated employers who do not have the exemption now offered to those institutions you mentioned. I am suggesting no such non-exempt company may exist. Do you have any evidence that they do?

      • Thales permalink
        February 14, 2012 9:52 pm

        Kurt,
        You’re mistaken. First, the proposed accommodation didn’t change the rule — the rule still went into affect as is. Second, it’s my understanding that even with the proposed accommodation, the religious exemption is still so limited as to effectively exclude religious organizations that do service, serve non-religionists, etc. Third, the accommodation apparently doesn’t address employers who self-insure. Fourth, it’s my understanding that the accommodation doesn’t change the religious liberty concern — it only engages in a semantic game of who is paying for contraception.

        Look, I admit that this is a difficult situation to understand, in large part because no one actually knows specifically what Pres. Obama is suggesting with the accommodation. I could be mistaken about how exactly everything works. But the employers who have filed suit still think that their rights are being infringed. They certainly don’t think that they now have an exemption.

      • Kurt permalink
        February 15, 2012 8:55 am

        I could be mistaken about how exactly everything works.

        On several fronts. Nothing is currently in effect nor will anything be the rest of this calendar year. The proposed rule has been changed, maybe not to everyone’s liking, but it is simply an objective fact that it has been changed. The proposed accommodation covers, again maybe not to their liking, all of these parachurch organizations. And the rule changes the fact of who pays for the contraception.

        Again, the lawsuit (unless a new suit was filed yesterday) is on the old proposed rule. And many if not most of the parachurch organizations impacted by this rule have said positive things about it (hospitals, charities and colleges).

        Lastly, I see you are limiting your comments to the issue of the extent of the exemption some employers have, not the issue I raised of those employers who have no exemption (private, for profit employers). Can I assume your lack of comment here is that unlike the bishops, you do not see a need to exempt them, possibly like me in that you are unconvinced any such employer exists?

      • Thales permalink
        February 15, 2012 11:00 am

        1. The proposed rule has been changed, maybe not to everyone’s liking, but it is simply an objective fact that it has been changed.

        That’s not what I’ve read: http://usccbmedia.blogspot.com/2012/02/six-more-things-everyone-should-know.html
        But we can let that issue go.

        2. Again, the lawsuit (unless a new suit was filed yesterday) is on the old proposed rule.

        Sure, but if you listen to what the organizations and their lawyers are saying, they’re saying that the accommodation doesn’t fix their objections and so their lawsuits are still going forward.

        3. I don’t understand your last paragraph at all. I think it’s because I don’t know what you’re talking about when you say “exemption”. It’s my understanding that there is only one exemption — for religious institutions — but that this exemption is so small that it fails to include schools, hospitals, soup kitchens, charities, and pretty much every institution run by a diocese (because it characterizes as “religious” only those institutions which employ and serve co-religionists and has a non-secular purpose)

      • Kurt permalink
        February 15, 2012 11:42 am

        I don’t understand your last paragraph at all.

        Because you gravely misunderstand the legal actions in this whole matter.

        I don’t know what you’re talking about when you say “exemption”.

        There is a rule for contraceptive coverage and then there are exemptions to the rule.

        It’s my understanding that there is only one exemption — for religious institutions

        No. There is an exemption for churches, which would include anything run by a diocese including schools, charities and soup kitchens.

        There is an exemption for small employers that would include every soup kitchen I know of as well as even secular enterprises run by athestic owners.

        There is a another exemption for organizations not run by a diocese, church or house of worship but religious in nature (independent schools, hospitals as well as soup kichens with large numbers of full time paid employees). These are organizations that were not exempt in the CIvil Rights Act of 1964 but are given an exemption in this case, although the secular insurance company will offer contraception directly to employees who want it without involving the exempt organization.

        Not enjoying any exemption are large, for-profit businesses. Here, to the displeasure of the bishops, it will not be the boss’s decision if employees can have policies that cover contraception.

        One bishop has even called for violent opposition to contraception.

      • Thales permalink
        February 15, 2012 12:12 pm

        Kurt,

        What you’re saying about the HHS rule and the new “accommodation” doesn’t correspond with anything that the bishops have said, or the lawyers suing the government have said, or the 100+ people at Catholic institutions objecting to the rule have said. So I don’t know where you’re getting your information.

        http://usccb.org/news/2012/12-026.cfm

        http://www.becketfund.org/wp-content/uploads/2012/02/Unacceptable2-15-12pm.pdf

      • Kurt permalink
        February 15, 2012 1:03 pm

        Thales,

        Your links mostly talk about the desire of those institutions to give every boss the unilaterial right to exclude contraception from their employee’s health care. Certainly their view is that no employee should ever have contraceptive coverage or even use contraception.

      • Thales permalink
        February 15, 2012 1:28 pm

        …every boss the unilaterial right to exclude contraception from their employee’s health care.

        Um, yes, that’s the point.

      • Kurt permalink
        February 15, 2012 2:52 pm

        I appreciate this. The Catholic Church has every right to say that contraception should be in no one’s health insurance policy. Not General Motors, not Lockheed Martin, not an individual policy bought from Blue Cross. In fact, there is no right that contraception even be legally available. That is the issue on the table and you are right, that is the point.

      • Kurt permalink
        February 15, 2012 3:01 pm

        Here is some additional commentary:

        In their latest move in the battle over contraception coverage, top Republicans in Congress are going for broke: They’re now pushing a bill that would allow employers and insurance companies to pick and choose which health benefits to provide based simply on the boss’ personal moral beliefs. Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), the top GOPer in the Senate, has already endorsed the proposal, and it could come to a vote this week. The measure would expand the religious exemptions to President Barack Obama’s health care bill so that any boss of any company could exclude any drug or procedure he claimed he was morally opposed to. Such a declaration would not be subject to review or argument.

        Obama’s Affordable Care Act requires all health care plans to offer certain services and benefits, including birth control. Last week, Sen. Roy Blunt (R-Mo.) offered a “conscience amendment,” to the law, pitching it as a way to allay religious employers’ qualms about providing birth control to their employees.

        But Blunt’s proposal doesn’t just apply to religious employers and birth control. Instead, it would allow any insurer or boss, religiously affiliated or otherwise, to opt out of providing any health care services required by federal law—everything from maternity care to screening for diabetes. Employers wouldn’t have to cite religious reasons for their decision; they could just say the treatment goes against their moral convictions. That exception could include almost anything—an employer could theoretically claim a “moral objection” to the cost of providing a given benefit. The bill would also allow employers to sue if state or federal regulators try to make them comply with the law.

        If Republican leaders get their way and Blunt’s bill becomes law, a boss who regarded overweight people and smokers with moral disgust could exclude coverage of obesity and tobacco screening from his employees’ health plans. A management team that thought HIV victims brought the disease upon themselves could excise HIV screening from its employees’ insurance coverage. Your boss’ personal preferences would determine which procedures your insurance would cover for you and your kids.

        • February 15, 2012 4:03 pm

          All of these conflicts can be avoided simply by getting government out of the business of healthcare and out of the business of trying to direct choices. End the business preference for tax deductibility. Give a deduction to individuals if you want. Everyone buys what they want and the problem goes away. If he right and the left would let go of the idea of using government to coerce the behavior they think is moral these and so many other issues would go away.

      • Thales permalink
        February 15, 2012 10:21 pm

        Kurt,
        Don’t be afraid of all the bogeymen you’re reading about. Blunt’s bill just retains the status quo, and the world hasn’t ended yet.

      • Kurt permalink
        February 16, 2012 1:46 pm

        Thales,

        In the same status quo, most American women use contraception and most employers (even most religious employers) include it in their health care plan. And the world has not ended yet.

        I did enjoy the House Republican hearing the other day. Whose idea was it to have five men and no women in the lead panel to attack contraception? Brilliant, just brilliant.

      • Thales permalink
        February 16, 2012 2:26 pm

        In the same status quo, most American women use contraception and most employers (even most religious employers) include it in their health care plan. And the world has not ended yet.

        And so why force those who object?

      • February 16, 2012 9:04 pm

        Kurt, this is completely wrong: “The proposed rule has been changed, maybe not to everyone’s liking, but it is simply an objective fact that it has been changed. ”

        Not true, not at all. The original rule went into effect last Friday. It remains to be seen whether and when the administration will even propose an actual modification, or what the exact terms will be. That is all for some future date. For now, the original rule is law.

    • Ryan Klassen permalink
      February 14, 2012 4:45 pm

      Thales,

      I find it surprising that you would be fine with the federal government directly funding abortions with your tax dollars. I would have thought that you supported the Hyde Amendment.

      See, what Mark’s proposal would do would be to set up a type of Hyde Amendment for pacifists. In fact, it seems like an almost perfect correlation. Some of your tax dollars are passed on to Planned Parenthood, and PP can use “other” money to pay for abortions, but your money cannot be used for abortion. A Peace Tax Fund would essentially work the same. My tax money would still go to the federal government, and the military would be able to use “other” funds to pay for war, but not my money.

      I would hazard a guess that you feel the symbolism of the Hyde Amendment is worth preserving, and that it doesn’t cause you to feel complacent about continuing to work against PP. In the same way, a Peace Tax Fund would in no way cause those of us in the Historic Peace Churches to think we had done all we needed to do to oppose war and violence.

      • Thales permalink
        February 14, 2012 10:16 pm

        Ryan,

        What you’re suggesting is not the equivalent of the Hyde Amendment. The Hyde Amd. prevents any taxpayer money, regardless of the taxpayer, from funding abortion directly. In other words, the government is prevented from using tax money for immoral act X. In contrast, you’re not seeking to prevent the government from using tax money for immoral act X; you’re just seeking to have YOUR tax money isolated so that it doesn’t pay for immoral act X, but you’re not seeking to prevent the government from paying for immoral act X with other tax money. Do you see the distinction?

        Now I agree that you have a point about the fungibility of money. Take PP and abortion. Of course, taxpayer money does go to abortion indirectly — the government gives tax money to PP for non-abortion services, and the money goes into one PP pot, and PP uses other money for abortions… and so, taxpayer money is supporting abortion in some indirect way. So the Hyde Amd. doesn’t prevent taxpayer money from supporting abortion indirectly once it gets into another entity’s hands, and so in that way, it is symbolic. But the Hyde Amd. has more teeth than what you’re proposing, since it places a restriction on the government using taxpayer money in a certain way; while your proposal doesn’t.

        Just to let you know: I’m entirely sympathetic to your position. I object to a great number of immoral things my taxpayer money pays for. But I wouldn’t be fully satisfied with your solution of “segregate my money, while the government still uses other taxpayer money to pay for immoral act X”. I’d rather have the solution of “the government can’t use any taxpayer money for immoral act X.”

      • Ryan Klassen permalink
        February 15, 2012 8:22 am

        I think I’ve said many times that I would not be satisfied with simply knowing that my tax money was not being used to fund the military, just as you would not be satisfied with simply knowing that your tax dollars will not fund abortions. Of course I would rather have the government be unable to spend any tax dollars for war. But the Peace Tax Fund is a first step, and it is possible (however unlikely) that it could be used as a vehicle to prevent the federal government from spending money on immoral wars. And since you would also like the government to be unable to spend money on immoral acts (whether or not you think all war is immoral), I appreciate your support for going even further than the Peace Tax Fund to defund those wars that are immoral.

        I still would argue that it is for me, exactly what the Hyde Amendment is for you. In fact, it is even more a violation of the conscience of the Historic Peace Churches than a repeal of the Hyde Amendment would be for the Roman Catholic Church. The federal government will never pay for abortions. They would give money to PP without restrictions, so some would be used to subsidize abortions, but no one will get a free abortion because the government paid for it. So your tax dollars may or may not help fund abortion, but they would certainly not be paying for someones abortion. Pretty remote cooperation, even without Hyde.

        Conversely, my tax dollars are taken by the federal government and used directly to pay someone to kill someone else, or to directly buy weapons that will be used to kill someone. And given what we know of modern warfare, it is certain that some of those killed will be innocent civilians. So my tax dollars that go towards the military are a more direct cooperation with evil than my tax dollars that are passed on to PP.

      • Thales permalink
        February 15, 2012 11:49 am

        I don’t disagree with anything you’ve said here. We definitely should work to get the government to not use taxpayer money for immoral purposes. Cheers!

  28. Paul DuBois permalink
    February 14, 2012 2:41 pm

    I realize I am coming onto this conversation very late, but I would like to take a different approach in arguing against this idea (which I have supported for the last 35 years). I have felt that one of the two reasons the people of this country so eagerly supported the Iraq war was that it cost the vast majority of us very little. If you were not close to someone who went to fight it, then you saw your taxes decrease and the economy say a slight benefit from the massive borrowing that went into production for the war. Because people were not paying for the war and so few of us were asked to offer assistance in fighting it, we felt little of no pain outside of some sorrow at the loss of life. Many (I feel most) did not even feel much sorry at the massive loss of Iraqi life as we felt they somehow deserved it.

    From the onset of the war I felt the resistance to it would have been stronger if we had our taxes raised to pay for the action we had taken. I fear a proposal like this would result in many people who oppose war resting comfortably that they had done their part to protest or resist the war by checking that they did not want their taxes to go for it.

    • Mark Gordon permalink
      February 14, 2012 4:37 pm

      When I get back to my desk I’ll edit your original comment, Paul.

  29. February 16, 2012 4:54 pm

    @Mark Gordon
    “, the federal government got into the healthcare business (Medicare and Medicaid) because the private insurance market had abandoned the elderly and the poor. People routinely died in this country for lack of access to healthcare, and the churches (every conservative’s proposed alternative) didn’t come close to picking up the slack.”

    Mark can you point me to documentation of this claim. I understand that was the justification for the government getting into healthcare. I’m not convinced that it factually based.

    • Mark Gordon permalink
      February 17, 2012 9:47 am

      Bull, here’s a short article that summarizes the conditions for the elderly, especially the elderly poor, at the time Medicare was debated and passed. Other studies have shown that the mortality rate for seniors has improved due to the availability of no-cost (to them) comprehensive medical care, along with their disposable income and quality of life.

      • February 17, 2012 2:32 pm

        Mark, your original claim was that “People routinely died in this country for lack of access to healthcare, and the churches (every conservative’s proposed alternative) didn’t come close to picking up the slack.”

        I asked you for documentation of this claim and you sent me to a January 2012 Washington Post “Fact Checker” article about Ron Paul’s claims that life wasn’t too bad prior to Medicare. The essence of that article is captured in this quote:

        “These reports indicate medical costs could easily have reached the point of disaster for senior citizens before the Medicare era, but they don’t disprove Paul’s point that charitable organizations kept the elderly from suffering in the streets.

        In fact, the 1963 survey suggests that assistance was available to some extent for those who couldn’t afford it. It said that nine percent of the married elderly and 16 percent of non-married seniors received free care to one degree or another.

        Accounts of charitable care were also fairly common before Medicare, and Paul swears he still provides free services for Medicaid and Medicare patients to this day without charging the government.”

        That doesn’t support your premise. Do you have anything else?

        • Mark Gordon permalink
          February 17, 2012 3:34 pm

          Those sentences don’t support the premise, but the fact that only 9% of married elderly and 16% of non-married elderly suggests that a lot of care was not extended. And of course you are selectively quoting the article, which gives a different picture of life before Medicare than the one painted by Ron Paul. Several years ago, I got a book at the library titled The Political Life of Medicare. It’s not on Kindle, but is available pretty cheap in print. And if you have an interlibrary loan, I’m sure you’ll find it. Although the book is really a history of the political wrangling over Medicare, it includes a lot of context for the original passage of Medicare, and especially subsequent expansions of the program. I recommend it. Apart from that, you’ll have to do your own research.

          It is worth noting that the bishops of the United States have advocated for universal healthcare for decades, calling access to basic healthcare a fundamental right that flows from the dignity of human persons. The bishops have also said that a comprehensive national healthcare system should use both private and public resources, which is what Medicare does. Aside from the veterans health system, healthcare services to the elderly are provided privately and paid for publicly for the 40 million Americans who use it. Moreover, the bishops have complained loudly about any cuts to Medicare and Medicaid, and have pushed for an extension of public coverage for the poor and uninsured.

        • February 17, 2012 5:29 pm

          Mark It isn’t logically valid to conclude that any needed care was not obtained from the fact that 9% of elderly married couples and 16% or elderly singles were assisted. You need more data to draw any conclusions such as a finding of fact that 25% of the elderly were unable to afford needed care without assistance.

          Thank you for the book reference – I will try to obtain it. I don’t know that Medicare arose out of a genuine need or political pandering. My bias is that it arose from political pandering but I have not researched the question. Since that bias has been challenged I would like to get facts.

          I am well aware that the U.S. Bishops have advocated for universal health care for a long time. I don’t believe that their positions give them any particular expertise in public policy. Additionally, it seems to me that this position is in opposition to Rerum Novarum.

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