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Slavery to the State and Religious Freedom: A Mennonite Perspective

March 3, 2012

The recent HHS mandate requiring that every health insurance plan cover contraceptives has put Catholic institutions in an awkward situation. As Catholics discuss the best way to approach this issue, we here at Vox Nova thought that it would be interesting to hear from another Christian perspective. Christians of the Anabaptist tradition have been strong advocates of the separation of Church and State since long before it was cool. As such, they have a history of both reflection and praxis in situations where Christian conscience and the law of the land collide. Ryan Klassen is a Mennonite theologian and regular participant here at Vox Nova. We are pleased to offer you his thoughts on this question as Catholics continue to consider the best way forward in this new situation.

I have watched with keen interest (and the occasional comment) the debate on the relationship between the contraception mandate in the HHS rules for insurance coverage and religious freedom in both the broader society and Vox Nova. Perhaps now that the aftermath of the announcement has had time to settle, we can look more broadly at the issue of religious freedom itself. I can’t help but wonder if one of the reasons the Roman Catholic Church is having such a difficult time with the issue of contraception coverage is the short history the Roman Catholic Church has with the doctrine of religious liberty, freedom of conscience and the separation of church and state. Perhaps the 47 years since Dignitatis Humanae is not quite enough time to fully integrate these elements within thousands of years of doctrine and practice that preceded it. At least, that’s what it looks like to an outsider looking (sometimes longingly) in.

Before we get too far, perhaps I should introduce myself. My name is Ryan Klassen. I am a Mennonite theologian, ordained minister and occasional combox participant here at Vox Nova. Thus I come to this issue as an outsider looking in, although I add “sometimes longingly” because I, like many before me (including Vox Nova’s own Julia Smucker), am considering whether being a faithful Mennonite requires a return to Rome. For me it might, but I just haven’t found the way yet.

For those of you who are unaware, Anabaptist-Mennonites have a long history with religious liberty, freedom of conscience and the separation of church and state. They have been essential elements in our theological tradition since our origins in the early 16th century. One of the first Anabaptist theologians, Balthasar Hubmaier, wrote extensively on religious liberty and freedom of conscience.[i] Of course, one of the problems with calling for the separation of church and state in the 16th century was that the church and state were not particularly separate at the time. Thus Anabaptists were considered not only heretics but insurrectionists as well. Combine this with a belief that a true gospel ethic requires a renunciation of violence even in self-defense and it’s a wonder they survived the religio-political conflict of the time.[ii]

Hubmaier’s basic point was that the Word of God and the teaching of the bishops were the appropriate means to reprove heretics. The use of violence by the church was in direct contradiction to the parable of wheat and tares, and the use of the sword by the state was to punish evildoers, not heretics or unbelievers. Salvation of souls, honour of the church and love for the truth are good intentions that become lethal errors when violence is used by the church or the church asks the state to use violence on her behalf.

Without the protection of political patronage and with the inability to protect themselves through violence, Anabaptist-Mennonites became a sectarian movement. “The Quiet in the Land” became a motto, as it was one of the ways Mennonites managed to survive. There is a pattern to Mennonite history; living quietly in fairly self-contained communities, paying what was required to avoid mandatory military service, fleeing when payment wasn’t enough to hold off persecution. In this way they moved about Europe, from Germany and Switzerland to Holland, to Russia and eventually to the United States, Canada, Mexico and South America.

In Canada (and to a lesser degree, the United States), most Mennonites have moved away from a strictly sectarian self-identity and towards a greater participation in the broader society. In many ways, this is the converse of the situation for Roman Catholics. The end of what has been essentially 1600 years of Christendom has challenged the Roman Catholic Church to rethink the relationship between church, state and society. The lack of persecution in North America and Europe has started to bring about the end of sectarianism in Mennonite churches, and has caused Mennonites to rethink their relationship with state and society, especially in terms of opposing evil outside one’s own community, albeit using only the methods allowed by the gospel (or better yet, by using the methods of the gospel). In this we have much to learn from the Roman Catholic Church.

You may ask what this narrative digression has to do with the HHS mandate and the issue of religious liberty. If you will permit, I have a story that hopefully will bring us back to the point. When Mennonites came to Canadian the later part of the 19th and early part of the 20th centuries, one of the things they negotiated on their arrival was conscientious objector status. Since Mennonites understand renunciation of violence to be an irreplaceable element of the gospel, they could not participate in the military. When the draft was instituted in World War 2, Mennonites could appear before the draft board, receive conscientious objector status and be enlisted in labour camps for the duration of the war rather than join the military. And yet, about 50% of Mennonite men who were drafted decided to enlist. This created quite a problem, both for the self-identity of the Mennonite community and for the religious claim the community had for a conscientious objector exemption.

I see some parallels between this situation and the situation facing the Roman Catholic Church regarding contraception coverage. Mennonites claimed an exemption from compulsory military service based on religious practice. Yet in practice, half of Mennonite men accepted compulsory military service. The Roman Catholic Church is claiming an exemption from including artificial contraception coverage on employee insurance plans based on religious practice. Yet in practice, a significant percentage of Roman Catholics use artificial contraception.

The Mennonite reaction to the men who joined the military was twofold. First, those who enlisted were excommunicated. Excommunication (or the ban) has always been a key part of the Mennonite understanding of discipleship and the church.[iii] Those who claimed to be members of the church but lived in disobedience to the gospel, and refused to accept a call to repentance from the congregation, were excommunicated. Second, Mennonite churches re-evaluated the education and formation of their members. Obviously a gap had formed between Mennonite doctrine and the beliefs and practices of church members. Since this was a matter of church doctrine and practice, the church needed to make sure that the doctrine (in this case, pacifism) was inculcated once again in the lives of her members.[iv]

The danger I see in the Roman Catholic reaction to the HHS mandate is that the Roman Catholic Church is asking the government to take on what is rightfully the duty of the Church. It seems to me that the Church is trying to get an exemption from government policy to make it harder for Roman Catholics to use artificial contraception, rather than confronting the bigger issue of why so many Roman Catholics use contraception. If we want to continue with the analogy, it would be like Mennonites asking the government to impose conscientious objector status on all Mennonites so they couldn’t enlist. But that would be to abdicate the responsibility given by Christ to the church, to make the church subservient to the government.

Freedom of religion means that the church and her members are able to practice their beliefs without interference from the government (including the ability to advocate for public policy that benefits the common good – I’m not calling for privatized religion here). It also means that the church does not look to the government to enforce adherence to any religious beliefs or practices, either on adherents or on those outside the tradition. Having been on the wrong side of state intervention on behalf of other churches, Mennonites see more clearly than most the dangers of this approach.

From a Mennonite perspective, I see how providing coverage for artificial conception is an issue for Roman Catholics. However, I see this as a minor problem – one of the costs for participating in this particular society, if you will. It is similar to the war taxes Mennonites have long paid for the right to conscientious objector status. By all means, advocate for an exemption. But recognize that you may need to confront the fact that this may be an issue where you simply cannot participate in what the rest of society is doing, and find a third way. Mennonites are struggling to figure this out too, but coming out from a sectarian perspective, we must more often learn what it means to take some responsibilities for the world that we are in but not of. Roman Catholics coming from a Christendom perspective need to ask whether the changing orientation of society means there are things in which they cannot participate. Perhaps as Roman Catholics help Mennonite figure out how to contribute to the common good of society, Mennonites can help Roman Catholics find the third way when confronted with a demand from society that contradicts the demands of the gospel.

Much more significant is the issue that so many Roman Catholics use artificial contraception. The government is not forcing any Roman Catholics to use artificial contraception (which would seem to be the sinful act here). Paying for an insurance plan that covers artificial contraception itself does not look to be a sin (or if it is, then it is a sin that most are already committing and fall under the same category as use of contraception). It seems that you are faced with the same problem that the Mennonite churches in Canada were faced with in World War II. What do you do when a significant number of your members act contrary to church teaching? Who is responsible for communicating doctrine and enabling adherence?

The most significant issue is that the Roman Catholic Church seems to want to hand the responsibility given by Christ to feed his sheep over to the US government. That is what troubles me the most. If religious liberty is really the issue, then the church needs to stop being a slave to the state. There was a time when the church had priority over or responsibility for the state. That time has passed. Having religious doctrine and practice enforced by the state is not a sign of the ascendancy of the church but a sign of her slavery. If the church wants to be free, she must stop giving the state what is not due to the state and start doing what Christ commanded – feed his sheep.

———————————————-

[i] See Balthasar Hubmaier, “On Heretics and Those Who Burn Them,” in Balthasar Hubmaier: Theologian of Anabaptism, trans. and ed. H. Wayne Pipkin and John H. Yoder (Herald Press, 1989).

[ii] As a wry aside, I would point out that even by their very existence, Anabaptist-Mennonites were able to bring about a type of reconciliation between Lutherans and Roman Catholics. At the Diet of Speyer in 1529, one thing Roman Catholics and Lutherans could agree on without compromise was that Anabaptists should be captured and executed wherever they could be found.

[iii] See The Schleitheim Confession, trans. by John H. Yoder (Herald Press, 1977). Bear in mind that the excommunication (ban) spoken of in these articles of faith was in the context of a sectarian community that was required to remain hidden to avoid persecution. Modern excommunication looks differently in the contemporary context, but the purpose is the same – to bring the person back into fellowship with the church through repentance.

[iv] The fate of excommunicated Mennonites who served in the Canadian Armed Forces during World War II upon their return was varied. Mennonite leaders were anxious not to highlight the failure of formation that led to so many Mennonites enlisting, so generally they were allowed to re-join the church once they left the military. Some churches distinguished between those who served in combatant and non-combatant roles (i.e. medic), requiring a statement of repentance for the former before reinstating them into the church.

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55 Comments
  1. March 3, 2012 5:52 pm

    An interesting perspective, but I think part of your analysis is flawed. The American Catholic bishops have long decided, for good or for ill, not to fight the liberalization of access to birth control. So, the suggestion that the USCCB wants to have the US government to provide the internal discipline of the Church through external coercion is not accurate. What the Church is objecting to is being made complicit in making birth control available. Unhappily, this rather clear point on the part of the Catholic bishops and others is being drowned out by accusations that the Church is trying to prevent access to birth control, which is simply not the case.

    All the same, the Mennonite experience of negotiating these questions is certainly helpful. While American Catholics, especially those of English or Irish heritage, as well as those from Germany under Bismarck, not to mention those from lands not ruled by Christians, have long known what it is to be Catholic and not have the power of the State, it is certainly fair to say that Mennonites have a more sustained and direct reflection on these kinds of issues that Catholics have more frequently solved experientially, rather than systematically.

    • Ryan Klassen permalink
      March 3, 2012 8:01 pm

      You could be right about the flaw in my analysis. It is simply what it seems to me from the outside. I just find it odd that the Roman Catholic Church is more worried about including coverage for artificial contraception with insurance policies than the fact that so many Catholics use contraception. Sort of like being worried about a fairly remote co-operation with the sin of others while not being concerned at all about one’s own sinful acts. It reinforces the caricature of the Roman Catholic Church, popular among Protestants, that the Church cares more about the sins of others than the sins of her own members. My analysis is just an attempt to make sense of what seems like a fairly significant inconsistency.

      While Catholics may know what it is like to live in lands where the government is not also Catholic, that has not been the preferred situation in Roman Catholic doctrine. Indeed, many American Catholics still believe that a Catholic government and Catholic civil society is the goal they are called to work towards. It’s not a matter of living in non-establishment contexts; it’s a decision that the church is best able to be the church when not so closely identified with the government or civil society. And the Roman Catholic Church is not there yet.

      • Thales permalink
        March 3, 2012 8:44 pm

        Ryan,
        I wrote my other comment before I saw this response. Thanks for your thoughtful comments.

      • Thales permalink
        March 3, 2012 8:54 pm

        I just find it odd that the Roman Catholic Church is more worried about including coverage for artificial contraception with insurance policies than the fact that so many Catholics use contraception.

        Hhhmm. Well, the Church is concerned about the fact that so many Catholics use contraception — I suppose that it might not seem that way since so many Catholics disagree with Church teaching. But it’s still a big deal for the Church (consider Humanae Vitae, Evangelium Vitae, Theology of the Body, and the popes’ continual firm stance on this teaching). And it’s because the Church is concerned about the fact that Catholics use contraception that they’re drawing this line in the sand over the HHS rule: because if the Church is forced to provide contraceptive access, it will make it look, to an outside observer, that contraception is not that big a deal because the Church itself is going along and providing access to it.

        • brettsalkeld permalink*
          March 3, 2012 9:44 pm

          This is an interesting question. Certain groups will tell you that the Bishops have ignored this for decades (thereby losing millions of Catholics to the broader culture) and others will tell you that Catholics are fleeing the Church because the Bishops aren’t concerned with anything but sex. For what it’s worth, Humanae Vitae is easily the number one selling encyclical on Amazon.

  2. bill bannon permalink
    March 3, 2012 8:01 pm

    On the wry observation of footnote 2, 21st century readers may not know that some early Anabaptists were violent and polygamous as at the Rebellion at Munster (1535) where an adversary to their rebellion had his head impaled on a stake and his genitals nailed to the city gate.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Münster_Rebellion

    • Ryan Klassen permalink
      March 3, 2012 10:19 pm

      Yes, although to be fair, most other Anabaptists pled with the Munsterites to renounce violence event before the Rebellion. That event was the one that forever cemented pacifism within the Anabaptist tradition. After Munster, Anabaptists forswore violence and went willingly to martyrdom throughout Europe without resisting their persecutors. Yet Munster was (and is) brought up again and again to justify their continued persecutions.

      • bill bannon permalink
        March 3, 2012 11:06 pm

        I’d have to read both sides on the ensuing period. I don’t see how anyone quickly transitions out of head impaling…and the other thing.

      • Ryan Klassen permalink
        March 4, 2012 8:23 am

        Let me provide you with some sources then (perhaps more reputable than Wikipedia). First, the early Anabaptists were not an homogeneous group (nor are they now, which is why you have Mennonites churches, not a Mennonite Church). Anabaptists sprung up all across Europe, from Poland to France to Italy. The origins of these groups were independent (i.e. there was not one ur-Anabaptist church that then spread out), but there was significant communication between the groups. Some, such as the one led by Balthasar Hubmaier, allowed for violence in self-defence. A few, such as the Munsterites, were violently apocalyptic. The vast majority were pacifist. We have a significant amount of correspondence between the groups (which, unfortunately is not available in an easily accessible compendium but mainly scattered throughout numerous doctoral dissertations), which includes the call from pacifist groups to apocalyptic groups to lay down their plans for violence. Recommended sources: C. Arnold Snyder, “Anabaptist History & Theology” (Pandora Press: 1995); Klaus Deppermann, Werner Packull, and James Stayer, “From Monogenesis to Polygenesis: The Historical Discussion of Anabaptist Origins,” in Mennonite Quarterly Review (Spring, 1975).

        Those groups with apocalyptic tendencies who viewed violence as an acceptable means to achieve their ends tended to come into conflict more quickly with the authorities. And they were inevitably destroyed. Very quickly, only pacifist Anabaptists were left. Thus, it wasn’t that Anabaptists transitioned from head-impaling and genital-nailing to pacifism. It was that the head-impaling Anabaptists quickly died, leaving only the pacifists to continue down to the present day. The correspondence following the fall of Munster confirms that the vast majority of Anabaptists believed that the Munsterites got what they deserved for their rejection of the gospel (as well as considerable concern, rightly it turned out, that this would justify persecution against themselves). Recommended source: James Stayer, “Anabaptists and the Sword” (Wipf & Stock: 2002).

        As it turned out, Munster was used as a justification for the continued persecution of Anabaptists by both Lutherans and Roman Catholics throughout the 16th, 17th, 18th and even into the 19th century. Munster was brought up time and again (and obviously is still brought up today) to prove the inherent insurrectionist nature of Anabaptism, despite the fact that after Munster, we know of not one single Anabaptist group or individual turned to violence in self-defence. I can make this claim based on my final source: Claus Peter Clasen, “Anabaptism, a Social History, 1525-1618: Switzerland, Austria, Moravia, South and Central Germany” (Cornell University Press, 1972). Clasen undertook the effort to trace every Anabaptist in Switzerland, Austria, Moravia and South and Central Germany from 1525-1618. Quite an undertaking. Plenty of persecution, plenty of arrests, plenty of executions, no violent resistance. If you want the stories of those who were martyred for their faith, check out Thieleman van Braght, “Martyrs Mirror: The Story of Seventeen Centuries of Christian Martyrdom, from the Time of Christ to A.D. 1660″. It’s available online at http://www.homecomers.org/mirror/. If I could recommend just one example, it would be that of Dirk Williams (www.homecomers.org/mirror/dirk-willems.htm). The woodcarved illustrations are excellent as well.

        Hopefully this will give you enough of the other side of the story to give up the false narrative of a violent Anabaptism that apparently continues until today.

      • bill bannon permalink
        March 4, 2012 9:14 am

        Thanks for those sources. I intend in the long run to live near both Mennonites and Amish near my brother in P.A. From the non Mennonite other side of things without reference to gospel, the Japanese under the brunt of Hiroshima and Nagasaki turned pacifist overnight from centuries of militarism from perhaps reasons of loss of face and the Eastern ego and the perception of nothing but future losses ahead vis a vis those who had such a bomb….ie one can cite the gospel but be motivated by many other streams of influence in unusual stances.
        On the other hand though, that Amish community who consoled the mother of the man who murdered their children in the little school…those Amish produced one of the brightest candles of example many of us have ever seen in a lifetime. The wife of the murderer was welcomed into the funeral for the children and one Amish man held the father of the murderer in his arms for an hour.

      • Ryan Klassen permalink
        March 4, 2012 10:13 am

        Absolutely. There is no doubt that the events at Munster helped “settle” the argument over pacifism for most early Anabaptists. The basic appeal was to the gospel, but social and political events helped solidify the particular Mennonite-Anabaptist understanding of the gospel.

        The reaction of the Amish Mennonites to the shooting in their community is the exemplar of what pacifism is (or should be). It is not the mere refusal to use violence but the desire for peace and reconciliation, recognizing that peace and reconciliation can only be brought about by breaking the cycle of violence with forgiveness.

        I hope you are able to move to PA and get to know some Mennonites. We can be standoffish at times (still struggling with the move from a primarily sectarian and ethnic tradition) but we need to get to know and learn from other Christians, so I hope you are able to make some connections.

      • Ryan Klassen permalink
        March 4, 2012 11:02 am

        If I could make one more reading recommendation, it would be Balthasar Hubmaier himself. He was probably the foremost early Anabaptist theologian and a sting proponent of religious freedom, freedom of conscience and the separation of church and state. His writings will probably be less foreign than most Mennonite-Anabaptists as he wrote against Luther on the bondage of the will, was not a strict pacifist (allowed for violence in self-defense or defense of the community), encouraged Christian participation in civil society and maintained his desire to remain united with Rome until his dying day.

      • Ryan Klassen permalink
        March 4, 2012 11:03 am

        *strong (not sting)

  3. Thales permalink
    March 3, 2012 8:43 pm

    Thanks for your thoughts. I’ve got 2 comments:

    1. I think Dominic Holtz is right in his comment when he said that your analysis is wrong: You say that “the Church is trying to get an exemption from government policy to make it harder for Roman Catholics to use artificial contraception” and thus the Church is trying to use the government “to enforce adherence to [its] religious beliefs.” That’s not the case. People can still use contraception; the Church just doesn’t want to materially cooperate with this contraceptive use. As it is under the current state of things, contraceptive access is bountiful and plentiful; and if there is an issue of access, the government has a dozen other ways to can increase access without violating the Church’s conscience — the Church just wants to be left out of the transaction and doesn’t want to be the one providing access. Also consider the fact that the Church regularly employs non-Catholics, and I’ve never heard of the Church making a claim on the personal contraceptive decisions of their non-Catholic employees. Or consider the fact that the Church ministers to non-Catholics in schools or hospitals all the time: in those situations, the Church’s unwillingness to give access for contraception or sterilizations or abortions to the non-Catholics who they serve is primarily because the Church thinks it’s an immoral thing to do — but the Church is not stopping these same non-Catholics from accessing sterilization and abortion elsewhere.

    2. You say “But recognize that you may need to confront the fact that this may be an issue where you simply cannot participate in what the rest of society is doing, and find a third way. …. Roman Catholics coming from a Christendom perspective need to ask whether the changing orientation of society means there are things in which they cannot participate.”

    Your comments touch on what I find quite disturbing: the growing narrative that says that society is better off if Catholic and other religious institutions close and stop serving society. Now in any society, different people and different religions have competing views on life, and thus, it is necessary to make some religious accommodations and not have others. It’s always a balance of what is a reasonable accommodation and what isn’t, while keeping in mind that every accommodation creates some kind of burden on someone else. Now I happen to think it’s a good thing for society to have Christian organizations involved in schooling, hospitals, and other charitable endeavors, and I find a contraceptive accommodation to be such a minimal burden on the rest of society — and thus I think it’s shame that it seems that so many would rather see these Christian institutions close.

    • Ryan Klassen permalink
      March 3, 2012 10:53 pm

      Regarding my comment on things that Roman Catholics may not be able to participate in, I certainly did not mean that society would be better off without the service religious institutions provide. But the requirements of the gospel sometimes mean that we as Christians cannot do things the way that everyone else does. I agree that a contraceptive exemption would be a minimal burden (if any burden at all). I would advocate for such an exemption on your behalf. But if that’s not possible, then the Roman Catholic Church needs to find a way to serve society in a way that conforms to the gospel. That’s what the “third way” means. Refusing to give up on the mission of the Church while also refusing to give in to the temptation to compromise with the world. It’s the more difficult path but it can be done.

      As I see it, the temptation for Mennonites is to withdraw from society, to keep to ourselves, to be the “quiet in the land.” But that is not being faithful to the gospel. The temptation for Roman Catholics (again, as seen from the outside) is to take responsibility for civil society rather than to serve. Looking at this issue from the outside, the call for an exemption to the HHS rules on artificial contraception look like the Catholic Church trying to enforce her position on artificial conception on non-Catholics. I’m not saying that’s what the Church is trying to do – just what it looks like from outside.

      I still think there is a kernel of truth in my analysis. If the majority of Catholic women did not use artificial contraception, then the inclusion of artificial contraception with insurance plans wouldn’t matter – paying for coverage of an act that is never committed cannot be seen as sinful. So it is only by virtue of the fact that many Catholic women are using artificial contraception that the Church sees the need for an exemption. Or at least I would see that as a bigger issue than the scandal or confusion it might create. The Church cannot stop her members from sinning, and so she is asking the government for permission to make it harder (or at least, to not make it easier).

      • Thales permalink
        March 4, 2012 1:38 pm

        I certainly did not mean that society would be better off without the service religious institutions provide.

        Ryan, I didn’t think that you were saying that. I understand and agree with your main point of “But the requirements of the gospel sometimes mean that we as Christians cannot do things the way that everyone else does.” I appreciate your thoughtful comments about the tension between keeping to oneself as a religious people and engaging the culture even as the culture makes demands on religious people. I just wanted to add that your comment reminded me of the disturbing and growing narrative that it’s better off to have religious institutions closed than to make minor accommodations to them.

        If the majority of Catholic women did not use artificial contraception, then the inclusion of artificial contraception with insurance plans wouldn’t matter – paying for coverage of an act that is never committed cannot be seen as sinful.

        I guess the point that I was trying to make is that even if 100% of Catholic women followed Church teaching on contraception, I don’t think that would change the situation much: Catholic institutions employ non-Catholics, they teach non-Catholics in schools, and they serve non-Catholics in hospitals — and these non-Catholics could still argue that a religious exemption was unfairly restricting their “right” to get contraception.

  4. Jordan permalink
    March 3, 2012 10:44 pm

    Ryan, thank you for your well written and insightful post.

    In an earlier comment (March 3, 2012 8:01 pm), you mention two interrelated points.

    First, you note that some Protestants characterize the Catholic Church as more interested in “the sins of others than the sins of her own members.” Later, you write that “many American Catholics still believe that a Catholic government and Catholic civil society is the goal they are called to work towards.”

    While at first glance I agree with your statements, I am not convinced that the link between them is self-explanatory. As you note in your article, the relatively recent Catholic “discovery” of non-sectarian rights and the non-sectarian state in Dignitatis Humanae has not provided enough distance between institutional Catholicism’s previously explicit desire to conflate church with state and the reality of religious and social pluralism in a secular republic. The still uneasy relationship between Catholic hieararchy and Capitol Hill perhaps explains the hierarchy’s rather ham-fisted foray into politics post-Roe.

    For some Catholics, both clerical and lay, any attempt to provide even very basic social health insurance must be flatly rejected. I suspect that this fear stems from the concern among some Catholics that institutional Catholicism will not have intimate control of the health insurance process. An opportunity for social justice is thwarted by an obsession that somewhere deep in print and red ink Catholicism will inevitably encounter moral compromise. This stance creates an antagonistic rather than synergistic relationship between Catholicism and federal politics on social justice issues.

  5. March 4, 2012 7:09 am

    “The Church cannot stop her members from sinning, and so she is asking the government for permission to make it harder (or at least, to not make it easier).”

    @ Thales, et al.

    Exactly. I was constructing a comment in support of Ryan on that very point last night, when I hit a wrong button and inadvertantly deleted it. I was too tired to do it over, so I’m glad to see that Ryan has made the point himself.
    I would take Ryan’s analogy further to say that, as the Mennonites excommunicated, or shunned, those members of their faith who opted to become warriors, if the Church is really so extremely invested in banning the use of contraceptives, then the Church should begin excommunicating contraceptive users. But that won’t happen, because that would pretty much empty out the pews. Nobody wants to look that one in the face.
    The other option, of course, which has been universally rejected here, is that the Church employ and serve only Catholics, and self-insure–withdraw from the larger society in which it cannot go by the rules established by a free people for the common good. Whether or not this decision would be a violation of the Church’s perceived mission would be irrelevant to non-Catholics at that point.

    • brettsalkeld permalink*
      March 4, 2012 12:06 pm

      Would we actually be allowed to self-insure and thereby duck the mandate? I was under the impression that even self-insured entities (including many diocese) are still beholden to it.

      • Thales permalink
        March 4, 2012 1:41 pm

        Brett’s correct in that self-insured entities are still covered by the mandate. But I took Rodak to mean that there’s the option of just shutting down schools and hospitals.

  6. David Cruz-Uribe, SFO permalink*
    March 4, 2012 9:27 am

    Thales wrote:

    “I’ve never heard of the Church making a claim on the personal contraceptive decisions of their non-Catholic employees.”

    I have not seen any examples either, but the Church does make claims on the moral lives of its employees and contractually attempts to enjoin them to live by Catholic moral principles. As I said, I am not aware of these provisions being enforced on birth control, but there are other examples (one of which I documented in a recent post) where they have fired employees who do not abide by Catholic teaching on sex and reproduction.

    So again, I think that Ryan does have a point, at least as we are viewed from the outside. It may not be what we think we are saying, but it is what people are hearing.

    • Thales permalink
      March 4, 2012 1:45 pm

      David,
      Yes, of course, Catholic employers make some claims on the moral lives of employees — namely, on those actions that outwardly would create scandal or bring disrepute on the Church or the employer. But that’s not odd: practically every secular employer does the same, making claims on the moral lives of their employees to not engage in a felony or a crime of “moral turpitude,” and firing employees who do not abide by this or who engage in some other act that brings disrepute onto the employer. I was talking about private acts, like contraception, that don’t arise to that level of creating scandal.

  7. brettsalkeld permalink*
    March 4, 2012 12:08 pm

    I think we need to fight this, but I also think that, even if we fight it, there’s a very good chance that we lose. It is in that regard the the experience of Mennonites becomes very interesting to me. What exactly could a third-way look like in this context? Is self-insuring (in some form) available? Or is that totally closed off by the legislation? If not self-insuring, then what?

    • Thales permalink
      March 4, 2012 1:51 pm

      Self-insuring is not an option: EWTN self-insures, but they’re bound by the HHS rule, and so have filed suit against it.

    • Jordan permalink
      March 4, 2012 2:20 pm

      Even if the new HHS directive were defeated, diocesan self-insurance (not EWTN, a corporation) would still pose a number of pitfalls. Here are two.

      — Would self-insurance for Catholic Charities, Catholic hospitals, diocesan employees etc. be paid by the employees for the employees’ benefit, or would parish collections help defray the costs of such a program?

      Some lay Catholics might object to the use of parish collections for the operation of diocesan self-insured health care. Self-interest (“I’m not benefiting from this”) might be one reason. Also, some lay Catholics are wary of parish collections after the sex abuse scandals, embezzlement scandals etc. among other wrongdoings.

      — Could lay Catholics purchase health insurance through a diocese rather than a private insurer? What restrictions would apply (pre-existing conditions, for example)?

      Perhaps more lay Catholics would “buy into” self-insurance (and keep it solvent) if they were able to participate in the diocesan pool. Would diocese take any person regardless of their health record? Also, I suspect that opening the Catholic employee pool to the laity would also require dioceses to permit non-Catholics to join the pool. So long as non-Catholics abide by the Church’s moral positions, this is not a problem. However, opening Catholics health self-insurance to the general public might land the hierarchy in the same political questions now facing them from the federal government.

  8. brettsalkeld permalink*
    March 4, 2012 6:16 pm

    So, if self-insuring is a no go, as I suspected, what options are there for a third-way?

    • Ryan Klassen permalink
      March 4, 2012 7:48 pm

      I don’t know the insurance system in the US very well, so practical solutions are not my forte in this case. I think you, Brett, suggested a possible third way in another thread – that the Catholic Church look at providing free access to natural family planning in lieu of artificial contraception. Perhaps even offering NFP alongside contraception coverage would be a sufficient solution, making accommodation for non-Catholics who work at Catholic institutions while providing a licit option to promote women’s reproductive health for Catholic women.

      One other way has been provided by the government – the payment of a fee/fine/tax in exchange for not offering insurance coverage. Mennonites have taken this option in order to be excused from socio-political involvement, so maybe it is something Roman Catholics could do in order to maintain your socio-political involvement. Perhaps Catholic hospitals could provide medical care for employees at Catholic institutions as a direct employment benefit rather than through insurance. I realize that all this would cost more, likely quite a bit more. I suppose that begs the question as to whether morality has a price. How much are you willing to pay in order not to violate your conscience?

      I realize this is a provocative question, but I think at least considering it has value. Any other suggestions for a third way?

      • David Cruz-Uribe, SFO permalink*
        March 5, 2012 7:03 am

        “I suppose that begs the question as to whether morality has a price. How much are you willing to pay in order not to violate your conscience?”

        It is worth noting that this option was confronted and rejected previously. Wisconsin passed a mandate somewhat stricter than the HHS mandate, but with an exemption for any self-insured plan. The bishop of Madison chose to comply with the mandate after concluding that self-insurance would cost too much.

      • Rodak permalink
        March 5, 2012 7:24 am

        @ David Cruz-Uriber —

        If the Church is going to make moral decisions based on business considerations, then it should accept regulation like any other business. As the famous punchline goes, “We’re now only haggling over the price.”

    • Thales permalink
      March 5, 2012 12:21 pm

      Ryan’s suggestion that that the Church might be able to provide free access to natural family planning in lieu of artificial contraception looks nice on paper, but I think that we all know that has absolutely zero chance of ever coming about: in no way will modern secular society ever think that NFP is equivalent to artificial contraception because NFP means you have to abstain, and modern secularism says that abstention is never possible.

      Brett,

      Here’s my predictions:
      -If the HHS rule stays in effect, I think you’ll have some Catholic institutions close up shop. Cardinal George of Chicago made some noise a couple of days by stating as much. (Just Google him for more info on this.) Remember, Catholic institutions closing up is not new: that’s already happened in a similar situation with Catholic adoption agencies closing up in some states because the government requirements were too offensive to the Catholic beliefs of the adoption agencies (i.e., requiring adoptions to gay couples). So I think that some “non-essential” (if I can use that term) institutions will just close like the adoption agencies.

      -I think that some institutions that consider themselves “essential” would keep on going as best as they could. (I’m thinking of the dioceses themselves and their employees, maybe some private Catholic schools like Ave Maria, probably EWTN.) I think these “essential” institutions would pay the fine until it got onerous, and then, probably buckle under and do what the government was requiring them to do while loudly and vehemently protesting it (like Bishop Morlino situation). (I think that going along with the regulation unwillingly is probably morally permissible for some of these institutions, under a “permissible material cooperation with evil” analysis. But I remind all those with whom I argued when this issue first arose: just because something is permissible material cooperation with evil, doesn’t mean that it isn’t also a grave violation of religious freedom and of justice.)

      -But I actually think that the HHS rule as it is now, cannot stand. The literature I’ve read makes me conclude that it’ll be overturned in court in the lawsuits that have already been filed by EWTN and the religious schools. Setting aside the argument that the HHS rule violates the First Amendment protection of religious freedom (which is a decent argument in itself), the U.S. has a federal law called the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA), which prevents the federal government from burdening religious freedom. It looks to me like it’s a no-brainer that the current HHS rule violates RFRA, and that even most “liberal” judges who would be sympathetic to the Obama administration would probably agree that there is a violation. See here for more info:

      http://www.nationalreview.com/bench-memos/289635/hhs-contraception-mandate-vs-rfra-some-closing-observations-ed-whelan

      -Finally, the HHS rule is a regulation by the President, so the minute that there is a Republican president, I would guess that the regulation would be overturned (kind of like how the Mexico City policy — which is funding for international groups which do abortion — is the first thing changed by whoever is President, back and forth). Also, a law undoing the HHS rule just got defeated in the Senate, but if the Republicans gain control of the Senate in the next election (and even assuming that Pres. Obama remains in office), you’ll see legislation which would try to change the rule (now Pres. Obama can just veto the bill, but it would put pressure on him to change the rule). Bottom line: this debate over the rule is not going to end anytime soon.

      • Kurt permalink
        March 6, 2012 2:13 pm

        I dunno. Conservative organizations are doing everything they can to get off this issue. The Republicans promised a quick vote in the House but have now backtracked. 30% of Republicans support the President on this issue according to conservative sources.

        So far, no Catholic institutions have closed up shop becuase of similiar, even more direct state laws. The Catholic adoption agencies is a greatly different situation. Here the agencies wanted to take taxpayer money while forcing children to remain homeless. No decent person could have supported the continued taxpayer funding of Catholic agencies under these circumstances.

        The dioceses themselves are totally exempt from the mandate, so I don’t know why you suggest they are.

        But within the conservative and anti-birth control movements, they are talking to their following about litigation. It is a way to justify getting out of the legislative efforts that are causing such political problems for the Right (as well as conservatives calling for violence or labeling people “sluts”).

      • Thales permalink
        March 6, 2012 3:01 pm

        The Republicans promised a quick vote in the House but have now backtracked.

        I assumed that was because it failed to pass the Senate, and so there’s no immediate reason for trying to pass it at the House. Boehner’s pretty incensed by the mandate, so I can’t see him shying away from getting the mandate changed if he could do anything about it.

        The Catholic adoption agencies is a greatly different situation.

        You’re missing my point completely. I know it’s a different situation, and I don’t care if you think their closing is just — that’s all irrelevant to my point. My point is that the agencies chose to shut down instead of going along with the government regulation. You mention that other Catholic institutions haven’t shut down in the face of other regulations. And that exactly illustrates what I’m saying: I suspect some institutions (those that I’m calling “non-essential) will close because they don’t want to go along with the regulation, while others will suck it up and go along with the regulation.

        The dioceses themselves are totally exempt from the mandate, so I don’t know why you suggest they are.

        I’m thinking of those institutions run by the diocese that aren’t exempt by the mandate. For example, dioceses run schools, and but the mandate doesn’t cover the diocesan school employees.

      • Kurt permalink
        March 6, 2012 7:45 pm

        The mandate exempts anyone who is a diocesan employee.

      • Thales permalink
        March 7, 2012 10:57 am

        The mandate exempts anyone who is a diocesan employee.

        No, it doesn’t. Not those institutions being run by a diocese that are engaged in non-exempt actions like schools and hospitals. HHS’s “religious employer” exemption is only for organizations where “(a) its purpose is the inculcation of religious values, (b) it primarily hires persons who share the organization’s religious tenets, (c) it primarily serves person who share those tenets, and (d) it is a nonprofit as described in sections 6033(a)(1) and section 6033(a)(3)(A)(i) or (iii) of the Internal Revenue Code.”
        [I’m getting that language from here:

        http://www.usccb.org/about/general-counsel/rulemaking/upload/comments-to-hhs-on-preventive-services-2011-08-2.pdf%5D

        You think that a diocesan-run hospital qualifies under the exemption? Besides you, I’ve heard no one claim that, regardless of what side of the debate they’re on.

      • Kurt permalink
        March 7, 2012 1:49 pm

        Not those institutions being run by a diocese that are engaged in non-exempt actions like schools and hospitals. HHS’s “religious employer” exemption is only for organizations…

        You start get in right towards the end of your statement. The exemption is to organizations, not functions. All dioceses and eparchies are exempt even if a portion of what they do is educational or medical. Every diocese and eparchy in this country meets the tests in (a),(b), (c), and (d), as you note above. The word “primary” is there for a purpose. Secondary activities would not take the exemption away or force an employer to have two sets of health insurance policies.

        You think that a diocesan-run hospital qualifies under the exemption?

        I don’t think there is a single diocese in the country that has a hospital as part of it. Perhaps a nursing home for aged priests, but that would meet the test you note above.

      • Thales permalink
        March 7, 2012 2:53 pm

        Re: hospitals. Fair enough about dioceses not running the hospitals — my limited Google research skills seem to say you’re correct. Dioceses however do run schools, and I wonder what happens with them under the rule.

        But let’s assume that you’re right, and that all dioceses and their direct employees will be exempt from the HHS rule: there are still plenty of Catholic agencies and institutions in dioceses that have relationships with the bishops, answer to him to a certain extent, etc., that won’t be exempt from the rule: hospitals, adoption agencies, Catholic charities, etc. My main point still remains: I suspect some of the “non-essential” organizations will close; while others will suck it up and stay open.

      • Kurt permalink
        March 7, 2012 4:51 pm

        Thales,

        Well, you taken us on a useless detour by inaccurate or imprecise terms or innocent acceptance of the biased politicized terminolgy of others. But that’s okay, I have plenty of time.

        Health care plans for employees of a diocese or eparchy are exempt. What about other Catholic organizations that are not part of a diocese or eparchy? Well, that decision will and must be made by their Board of Directors or Board of Trustees.

        Now, can we continue the discussion from this point?

      • Thales permalink
        March 8, 2012 3:27 pm

        Now, can we continue the discussion from this point

        Sure thing. Just delete the parenthetical phrase “….I’m thinking of the dioceses themselves and their employees….” from my main comment, and the rest of my comment still stands.

      • Kurt permalink
        March 8, 2012 5:56 pm

        Okay, what will they do under the modification of the HHS rule? Well, a good number are already in compliance. Others have insurance policies that read contraception is not covered. They day after the rule takes effect, they will have the same insurance policies that will read the same way. There will be no reprinting of employee handbooks. Will they close down because they’ve read in the newspaper there is something bilateral going on between some of their employees and the insurance company? I doubt it.

        The Catholic Charities agency nearest my home spends a good deal of their time now enrolling people in health care programs that cover contraception as well as other basic benefits. I don’t see them shutting down.

  9. Julia Smucker permalink*
    March 4, 2012 11:23 pm

    My mind is abuzz with thoughts. First of all, Ryan, thanks for the shout-out. And believe me, it took me awhile to make my peace with Rome. I could even say that Romanness was my biggest obstacle to becoming Catholic. But eventually I got there, and have been wrestling with the competing ecclesiological narratives ever since.

    The point you raise about Mennonites and Catholics converging onto equal footing in relation to the state is a fascinating one, which Mennonites such as Chad Mason (http://www.themennonite.org/issues/11-1/articles/Mennonite_but_not_Anabaptist) and Catholics such as Frederick Bauerschmidt (“Baptism in the Diaspora” in On Baptism: Mennonite-Catholic Theological Colloquium, ed. Gerald Schlabach, Pandora Press, 2004) have also observed. Coming to this place from different directions can shed new light on all sorts of tangled questions.

    One example that this post brings out for me: from a Mennonite angle, I deeply share your concerns about being in bondage to the state. And from a Catholic angle, concerns about sectarianism are highlighted by the parallels I’ve been seeing between the Anabaptists and the Donatists, of which the ban is one notable dimension.

    Here is the sentence that sums it up for me:
    Perhaps as Roman Catholics help Mennonites figure out how to contribute to the common good of society, Mennonites can help Roman Catholics find the third way when confronted with a demand from society that contradicts the demands of the gospel.

  10. Anne permalink
    March 4, 2012 11:36 pm

    <<I think we need to fight this, but I also think that, even if we fight it, there’s a very good chance that we lose. It is in that regard the the experience of Mennonites becomes very interesting to me. What exactly could a third-way look like in this context? Is self-insuring (in some form) available? Or is that totally closed off by the legislation? If not self-insuring, then what?<<

    The bishops have so totally confused this issue that the faithful often end up arguing over problems that aren't really problems anymore. For example, on what grounds do we "need to fight this"? Have all other channels been closed? Is there no way to negotiate with the government? If so, that's the bishops' call, not the government's.

    The President has already offered one suggestion for a "third way" (the religious employer doesn't pay or even mention contraception in his ins. plan; any employees who want contraceptives have to approach the insurance companies independently, and the insurance companies must cover those services without copays). As for the self-insured, the government admits this situation requires further work and has promised to hammer out a compromise that's fair to all sides. They've set aside a year to work things out.

    Yet bishops are acting like the negotiations are over, and calling the faithful to "battle" and other such warlike positions. Why such disproportionate ire? Diplomats negotiating peace treaties show more goodwill toward "the enemy" than the bishops have been exhibiting toward this President and what some of them call "Obamacare." You'd think they were Tea Party politicians out to sabotage health reform, never mind how long the Church itself has advocated universal health care.

    I don't know that they're trying to get the government to enforce Catholic morality on Catholics, but I do think they're undermining what progress the Church had made on the religious liberty front. For now, we seem to have returned to the days when the guiding principles were, as John Courtney Murray once put it, " intolerance whenever possible, tolerance whenever necessary" and "error has no rights."

  11. Anne permalink
    March 5, 2012 4:19 am

    Ryan Klassen: “While Catholics may know what it is like to live in lands where the government is not also Catholic, that has not been the preferred situation in Roman Catholic doctrine. Indeed, many American Catholics still believe that a Catholic government and Catholic civil society is the goal they are called to work towards. It’s not a matter of living in non-establishment contexts; it’s a decision that the church is best able to be the church when not so closely identified with the government or civil society. And the Roman Catholic Church is not there yet.”

    Yes, for those of us old enough to remember the Church before Vatican II, this feels very much like 1959, with contraception in the daily news, and bishops speaking of religious liberty strictly in terms of the rights of the Church.

    I’ve been pondering how this could happen. I’m no fan of those who try to discredit opponents by picking apart their history and alleged philosophy instead of simply responding to what they say. But the bishops aren’t my opponents; they’re my religious leaders. I understand and accept Catholic doctrine, and most importlantly, I know the bishops haven’t always acted this way. I don’t want to discredit them. I’m just honestly curious as to what in the heck happened to turn them so hostile in this situation.

    It seems for one thing that the bishops never got over the final days of their wrangling over the health care reform bill when the Catholic Hospital Assn. and many prolife laymen, including Rep. Stupak, took the government’s side over theirs. That the President again talked to the heads of these organizations in early February instead of to the bishops obviously bugged the bishops, esp. Cdl. Dolan. But to be fair to Obama, he had to think the lay leaders were the most directly concerned, since it was their organizations’ lack of exemptions that seemed to be the central point of contention at that time. But this perceived offense just served to reinforce the bishops’ previous disdain for Obama “the secularist” and fuel their growing attraction to Republicans who, for their part, seem to defend whatever Catholic bishops say, as long as it’s about controversial matters of personal morality that keep Catholic and Evangelical voters stirred up enough to forget their own economic self-interest when they go into the voting booth.

    Beyond this, I think all Catholics who live in mostly non-Catholic countries, but esp. the US, have been moving away from the progress we’d made in church-state relations ever since Pope John Paul II issued his encyclical (Evangelium vitae) demanding that Catholics not rest until civil law reflects moral law on the life issues, esp. abortion and euthanasia. Trying to implement both the spirit and letter of that encyclical is tricky when you live in a pluralistic democracy. But the Pope didn’t make matters any easier when he included “family planning” in one paragraph of the letter, right alongside abortion and other what might be called capital offenses. Add to that the attempt by some prolife groups to have all contraceptives, but esp. the “morning-after” drugs, labeled “abortifacients,” and you have a growing impetus to throw off the tolerant posture toward civil law fostered at Vatican II and do all that can be done to put an end to “the culture of death” from beginning (contraception) to end (euthanasia). Such an attitude leaves no place for negotiating tolerant positions with secularist leaders who are merely part of the problem. Or so it seems.

    • March 5, 2012 6:59 am

      The puzzle, and challenge, seems to be this. Roman Catholicism has lived under a number of regimes. Some have been overtly hostile (e.g. the Roman Empire until the early 4th century, the Persian Empire in the 4th and 5th centuries, varied moments in the history of the Arab and Ottoman Empires, under the Communist regimes, etc.), and here the dilemma is usually clear, viz. to submit to gradual elimination or to suffer martyrdom. In general, the Church has sought at least the freedom to live out its own internal life as well as the freedom to do those works which the Gospel demands, including feeding the poor, caring for the sick, the widow, and the orphan, instructing the ignorant (i.e. schools), and, crucially, proclaiming the Gospel to those who do not yet know Christ. Very often, some of these, sometimes all, have been curtailed by the State, and often viciously, in which case the Church must be, and has been, willing to suffer. What it hasn’t demanded, because it couldn’t even imagine such a scenario, is that the affairs of State be governed by natural law principles as clarified by the light of faith, much less by Christian revelation.

      Other states have been ruled by self-consciously Christian rulers, whose citizens have been entirely, or largely, Christian believers. Even when noting the proper sphere of the secular prince, the presumption here is that a Christian prince, who acknowledges his sovereignty to come principally from God, must also rule in a way that allows, even makes downright easier, the liberties of the Church (e.g. no work on Sundays, holy days of obligation as civil holidays, state recognition and support of Church schools, state recognition of sacramental marriage as also civilly valid, etc.).

      What the Church has wanted to assert in both cases is that it is, itself, a society, a body, independent of the State, but not reducible to a free association of citizens. It has its own ends, its own goals, which are not as such in conflict with the state, but which no state can in justice prevent, since the Church has a divine constitution and a divine mandate to live out its mission. It can, and should, live out that mission with due respect to the rightful concerns of secular rulers to maintain and promote civil order (e.g. canon law requiring that, for marriage, one not permit a sacramental marriage of person who are too young in civil law, even if canon law would permit their marriage). When the state prevents the Church from living out its mission, it is violating the Church’s liberty, not merely the civil liberties of citizens. (This latter point is one of the central struggles, e.g. with the Peoples’ Republic of China, which sees all religions as associations of citizens, and thus as necessarily subject to the approval and oversight of the State and Party.)

      What is relatively a new problem, but this is also a relatively new problem for Mennonites and the Anabaptist/Radical Reformation churches in general, is the phenomenon of being a Christian in a democratic state with universal suffrage. In this scenario, Christians themselves are the rulers, either in their own person (if elected officials) or indirectly (if a citizen not in public office). So long as they have real political authority, they have a duty at the very least to support a social order that (a) maintains justice for all citizens and makes it possible for them to flourish, and because of that (b) allows the Church the freedom to exercise its mission.

      These have not historically been a problem for the Church in the U.S.A. When any administration wants to reduce the Church to a free association for the purpose only of divine worship, narrowly construed, and only free in that regard, then all suffer, and Christian officials/citizens surely have a duty to rectify the situation.

  12. Nick C. permalink
    March 5, 2012 9:38 am

    Americans are raised to believe that they live in a free society and that the U.S. government always stand for truth and freedom. There is a fear that when the U.S. government provides funding for a certain action, they are sanctioning its “goodness”. And when they stop funding it, the reverse is believed You saw this in the mid-90’s when the American bishops were opposed to welfare reform, which had as one of its provisions the denial of welfare funds if a single parent had “too many kids”. To many Catholics, this could lead to perverse behavior – such as the overt acceptance, and eventually expectation, of abortion as birth control. And since African Americans make up only 13% of the population, but now over double that in the percentage of abortions…..well, you can debate what that means, but it’s not good. (And of course the vast majority of aborted babies in China are female.)

    So, in my view, the conflict is not just church and state. In a free society such as the U.S., a tax system is supposed to be based on fairness. And part of fairness is: how is the government spending its money? And the bottom line fear among many Catholics is that the current ruling by this administration is just another step to the ultimate goal of many – the eventual funding of abortion. And when that happens, funding becomes acceptance and acceptance becomes expectation. If the government funds abortions but not welfare payments for single parents with “too many kids”, well, it does not take a degree in theology to figure out where this goes.

    So while the Church is ultimately responsible for leading its flock and teaching its dogma, it has to partner with the state in some sort of useful fashion. We have the most pro-choice President in the history of this country. But alas, in the Church’s desire to “partner” with the administration, we let him give an address to the country’s most well known Catholic university, and we worked with him to achieve another Church goal – universal health care ( a goal of the American Bishops since 1913.)

    But sometimes, you have to stand up to your partner and tell your partner when certain actions cross the line. In order to achieve some goals, such as universal health care, the Church has to take certain firm stands in defense of its dogma and the impact certain government actions have on its flock.

    No easy answer here…….it is always a struggle to work this out

  13. Matt Bowman permalink
    March 5, 2012 2:36 pm

    I want to thank Ryan for his insightful perspective. I agree with Thales in wondering about Ryan’s description of the situation as the Church “trying to get an exemption from government policy to make it harder for Roman Catholics to use artificial contraception,” and the Church “having religious doctrine and practice enforced by the state.” That is not, factually, what is happening in regards to the Church’s demand that no HHS Mandate can force a religious person to provide objectionable coverage. The demand is not that the state ban contraception (or coverage thereof), it is that the state not force private folks to cover it. Maybe the confusion here is blurring the distinction between contraception and its coverage. Even if no insurer covered it, it would still be legal and accessible, and in fact our government already, directly, gives it away and subsidizes it. The Bishops’ request legislatively is not that no insurer can cover it–it is simply that some can refrain from covering it. So in Ryan’s draft anology, it is not like “asking the government to impose conscientious objector status on all Mennonites,” it is simply like asking the government not to force all Mennonites to enlist. That is so factually clear that it seems to me Ryan must be getting at some other valuable point that I am missing, by his observation that the Church should not try to get the government to enforce its doctrine. Ryan’s analogy with the draft is still a valuable one, for a slightly different point than the point he makes: the fact that some Mennonites enlist is irrelevant to the question of whether the Mennonite congregation opposes war as a congregation–the unfaithful cannot define the beliefs of the faithful. Likewise the fact that Sr. Keehan and Commonweal think the mandate and its fake compromise is OK is utterly irrelevant to the question of whether the federal government should be able to force everyone else who is Catholic or Christian or religious to provide coverage they object to. People who defend the mandate on the basis that some Catholics consider the coverage morally OK are demanding that all Catholics conform their consciences to Commonweal’s conscience, which in Ryan’s analogy is like demanding all Mennonites to conform their consciences to the enlisters’ consciences. Ryan himself declares the moral cooperation to be minimal, and he is entitled to believe that, but the federal government is not entitled to force all Catholics to agree when they don’t believe that. In American tradition protecting religious freedom, it is not permissible to impose on religions the choice of being “quiet” or compromising their fundamental beliefs. That choice is a false one. The Bishops’ demand for broad exceptions is itself a “third way”: insurers can provide contraceptive coverage, but religious and moral objectors don’t have to. As far as the practical result if courts ignore the federal law that Obama is blatantly violating, here is the outcome: objecting institutions will be fined heavily by the IRS. If they refuse to pay the fines, the Obama administration will go into tax court and take away their assets. That is where the fight will happen, and when that fight happens publicly, it is a win-win for religious objectors. But that assumes we will lose in court. Everyone assumed pharmacists would lose in court in Illinois and Washington. Everyone was wrong.

    • Kurt permalink
      March 5, 2012 4:45 pm

      the Church’s demand that no HHS Mandate can force a religious person to provide objectionable coverage.

      I’m not dimissing the sincere views of private employers that have a moral objection to contraception or any other drug/procedure/treatment. It is a hard question that should be taken seriously. And the question has been put forward as not about a particular item in an employee’s health care plan (contraception) but the principle of religious liberty.

      Yet I think it has to be admitted by the objectors as well that this is a tough issue and not a simple one. We don’t allow a boss to opt out of Workers Compensation insurance because he claims a religious objection. Or should we?

      • Matt Bowman permalink
        March 6, 2012 9:45 am

        I think it should be admitted this is not as tough an issue as liberal Catholics are making it. The same “religious or moral” protection requested by the USCCB and Republicans was in HillaryCare, in a component sponsored by Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan. That bill declared that its mandates shall not “prevent any employer from contributing to the purchase of a standard benefits package which excludes coverage of abortion or other services, if the employer objects to such services on the basis of a religious belief or moral conviction.”

        The same “religious or moral” protection language is in Democratic Senator Frank Church’s conscience statute, which Senator Ted Kennedy praised and voted for in the 1970′s, and which applies not only to abortion and sterilization but to “any health service.” That law also specifically stops objecting entities from suffering forced involvement in sterilization.

        The same “religious and moral” protection was signed into law by President Clinton limiting mandates on Medicare and Medicaid participating plans, and again in Medicare+Choice language, and again in regulations on federal employee insurance, and in multiple other examples.

        President Clinton and Ted Kennedy enacted the Religious Freedom Restoration Act that the Obamacare mandate is blatantly violating. Senators Nelson, Casey and Manchin voted for the Blunt bill, and it has Democratic cosponsors in the House.

        It should not be a tough question to ask whether in America’s deep tradition of protecting religious (and moral) freedom, a new comprehensive and unprecedented national mandate on private coverage would simply submit itself to unanimous, bipartisan supported religious freedom protections, especially in the face of actual violations of that freedom by the declaration that everyone must treat pregnancy as a disease (everyone, that is, unless they are subject to numerous discretionary waivers that let off the Amish, McDonalds, grandfathered plans, and many others, showing the law is not generally applicable in the first place, including exemptions for a never-before used federal definition of religion that applies only to churches worshipping [and yes the World Vision case proves you are wrong that the standard exists in Title VII, since that organization violates 3 of the 4 prongs of the HHS Mandate test and is still religious]).

        Hypotheticals like workers comp and Randian “moral” objections are no grounds for opposing this measure on Obamacare, since the Blunt bill would not have applied to any of those other laws.

    • Ryan Klassen permalink
      March 5, 2012 4:59 pm

      Thank you for your kind words Matt, and everyone else who has been so gracious. My post was written from a Mennonite perspective, with the hope that there might be some insight from our experience of the struggle for religious freedom in the face of a hostile religious and political environment. It was also written form a Canadian perspective, which is quite different than the United States. I am not as familiar with the way the insurance system works in the States and I am not a Roman Catholic, and so my thoughts on specific options has remained purposefully vague.

      I am still surprised that the greater emphasis in all this is put on the appearance of sin or the “remote material co-operation” with a moral evil by Catholic institutions rather than the committing of the moral evil itself by Catholics. This is something the Mennonite in me just cannot get beyond. On the other hand, I am just as surprised that coverage for artificial contraception would be seen as a necessary part of basic insurance coverage. It is certainly not covered under Canada’s single-payer government administered insurance system.

      In a way, my approaching the issue from this direction was an attempt to give the Roman Catholic Church the benefit of the doubt. If the Church is simply using the government to try to enforce church doctrine or practice (as a legacy of a Christendom approach), then at least the Church is concerned to correct and change the sinful behaviour of her members. But if I am wrong in this analysis (as so many here have argued), then it appears to me (from the outside) that the Church cares more for her image than she cares for the sin of her members. I prefer to believe the former, but rest assured that most of the world will believe the latter.

      • Thales permalink
        March 5, 2012 5:53 pm

        …a moral evil by Catholic institutions rather than the committing of the moral evil itself by Catholics.

        Again, Catholic institutions employ non-Catholics; have non-Catholics as students; provide medical services to non-Catholics, etc. Assuming we lived in a universe where all Catholics followed the Church teaching, we’d still be having this same debate about the HHS rule.

      • Matt Bowman permalink
        March 5, 2012 10:34 pm

        Thank you for elaborating. I think I understand better now what you mean about the Church and its moral view on contraception. I think you are saying it is odd for the Church to be fighting this so visibly when its members are actually widely sinning even more directly. I agree that is a significant tension. Technically it is not a contradiction, nor is it the Church trying to get the government to enforce its rules, since here the question isn’t just whether members will commit contraception freely, but whether the government will force religious institutions to help. But it is legitimate to ask whether the non-coerced sin was sufficiently dealt with in the first place.

  14. Ross permalink
    March 5, 2012 4:03 pm

    Thanks for this, I do enjoy the Mennonite contribution to this blog. Another great post! Personally, I suffer more than a little cognitive dissonance around our relation with the State. I’m a Catholic who is paid by the Government to work with kids in care homes, help long term unemployed people and care for folks with learning difficulties. It could be argued that the State is using public taxes to employ people like me to build up the Kingdom of God and live out the Gospels. So in this context taxation is entirely righteous and any total rejection or sweeping dismissal of the state and taxes over issues such as war making or abortion is just far too simplistic. Even in a situation where we could withdraw to some non-violent, rural commune were we could be a people set apart, holding all things in common and care for our most vulnerable. Even in this situation we are still expected to contribute our share to a council of elders or community leaders who’d distribute wealth for the common good on our behalf, so to speak. And sometimes, we need to look at the State as a deeply flawed yet giant version of this same arrangement.

    • Ryan Klassen permalink
      March 5, 2012 5:52 pm

      Thanks Ross. Your description of the flaw in sectarian withdrawal is exactly correct. When Mennonites remained in their own communities, they simply set up small versions of the Christendom they were trying to escape – bylaws against mowing the lawn on Sundays and such. I wouldn’t recommend it.

  15. Anne permalink
    March 5, 2012 7:51 pm

    “…the bottom line fear among many Catholics is that the current ruling by this administration is just another step to the ultimate goal of many – the eventual funding of abortion.”

    If they believe that to be so, the current actions of the USCCB couldn’t be more self-defeating since they’re playing right into the hands of opponents who claim Catholic doctrine is based on little more than misogyny and the desire to control women. If they’re afraid a line will have to be drawn someday, they should lay the groundwork by opening up a reasonable public discourse with those who disagree, by turning public opinion toward the universality of Catholic teaching, not by demanding their right to force their will on their employees and/or charging the government with violating their religious liberty even as the head of state says publicly he’s willing to compromise. If nothing else, it’s bad pr.

    Substantively, when the bishops overlook the fact that contraceptive medications really do have medical uses as preventive health care, and not just contraceptive uses (58% vs. 42%), they’re choosing to foster contempt for themselves and church doctrine over a “principle” that may not even cover a good portion of what’s at stake. (IOW, the church doesn’t even have moral objections to 58% of the most often-used contraceptives prescribed by doctors.)

    This is, at the very least, a public relations disaster, and in a pluralistic society in which the Church has been mandated to bring civil law into line with moral law, public relations matter.

    • March 13, 2012 9:58 pm

      I agree with you. So why do so many seem to dismiss those using contraceptives legitimately as medications? Don’t they care that not covering the contraceptives harms these women who are actually acting in manners acceptable to the church (since preventing pregnancy is a side-effect, not the primary reason for the meds).

      Why do so many on this site seem to argue from positions that assume the church is correct on this issue and that the church should not be questioned? If the majority of Catholics use birth control, doesn’t that mean that the sense of the faithful is actually calling for a re-evaluation of the Catholic teachings?

  16. Anne permalink
    March 5, 2012 8:06 pm

    <<(IOW, the church doesn’t even have moral objections to 58% of the most often-used contraceptives prescribed by doctors.) <

    To be obsessively precise, that should read "the Church doesn't even have moral objections to 58% of the prescriptions for the most often-used contraceptives." (That's according to recent Guttmacher Inst. statistics.)

    <<This is, at the very least, a public relations disaster, and in a pluralistic society in which the Church has been mandated to bring civil law into line with moral law, public relations matter.<

    In fact, when the Church was mandated with bringing civil law and moral law into line (by JPII in Evangelium vitae), the Pope himself admitted that in a pluralistic democracy such as ours, such a task could not be accomplished without first laying the groundwork by doing essentially what I said above. IOW, the Church can't simply issue demands and then charge the government with violating its rights if it doesn't meet them….and when that doesn't work, call on powerful members of the laity to use partisan politics to force the point.

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