They New York Times editorial board recently published an editorial that is overwrought and severely lacking in facts.
As you read the editorial, remember the mindset of the editors. To them, everything is about politics, and positions, and political advantage; everything is seen through a lens of moral relativism. They do not seem able to understand the fact of an unchanging, 2000-year teaching of the Catholic Church. Through their lens, the Church’s teaching on contraception is a policy position that could be changed with the changing times–and they just cannot understand why the Church is so far behind the times. I don’t expect them to agree with the teaching, but it would be good journalism for them to try to understand the difference between a doctrinal teaching of the Church that cannot ever change, and a policy position that can change based on political necessity and gain.
I’ve copied the entire editorial here and added my comments in parentheses in bold.
The Politics of Religion
Thirteen Roman Catholic dioceses and some Catholic-related groups scattered lawsuits across a dozen federal courts last week claiming that President Obama was violating their religious freedom by including contraceptives in basic health care coverage for female employees. It was a dramatic stunt, full of indignation but built on air.
Mr. Obama’s contraception-coverage mandate specifically exempts houses of worship. (No, it does not. The mandate only exempts those organizations that fit within the HHS definition of “house of worship,” which is so narrow that most Catholic organizations and institutions don’t qualify.) If he had ordered all other organizations affiliated with a religion (This is exactly what HHS has done. Why does NYT use the word “if?”) to pay for their employees’ contraception coverage, that policy could probably be justified under Supreme Court precedent, including a 1990 opinion by Justice Antonin Scalia.
But that argument does not have to be made in court, because Mr. Obama very publicly backed down from his original position (False. Mr. Obama held a press conference and spoke about a possible accommodation. The HHS mandate became law the same day) and gave those groups a way around the contraception-coverage requirement (False. The proposed accommodation is only a proposal, which might be explored at some time after the election. The HHS mandate, unchanged, is federal law.)
Under the Constitution, churches and other religious organizations have total freedom to preach that contraception is sinful (Don’t we wish that the Church had actually done this over the past 40+ years?) and rail against Mr. Obama for making it more readily available (A false straw man; the Church has not said anything against Mr. Obama, or Obamacare, for making contraception more readily available.) But the First Amendment is not a license for religious entities to impose their dogma on society through the law (Tell us something else we don’t know! And then tell us, NYT, where the Church has done this.) The vast majority of Americans do not agree with the Roman Catholic Church’s anti-contraception stance, including most American Catholic women (Do you stand for this “logic” from your teenagers? Everybody is doing it, so it is OK. Again, some elementary journalistic skills would unveil the fact that the Church is not a democracy, where the faithful vote on teachings and doctrine. Agree with the doctrine or not, the journalist should at least understand the difference between doctrine and current lifestyles.)
The First Amendment also does not exempt religious entities or individuals claiming a sincere religious objection from neutral laws of general applicability, a category the new contraception rule plainly fits (If Obamacare fits “general applicability,” then why are there so many waivers and exceptions to its requirements?) In 1990, Justice Scalia reminded us that making “the professed doctrines of religious belief superior to the law of the land” would mean allowing “every citizen to become a law unto himself.” (And Congress gave us the Religious Freedom and Restoration Act to clear this up).
In 1993, Congress required government actions that “substantially burden a person’s exercise of religion” to advance a compelling interest by the least restrictive means. The new contraceptive policy does that by promoting women’s health and autonomy (Huh? The new contraceptive policy advances a compelling interest? This is quite a leap–that providing contraception free for everybody advances a compelling interest. What compelling interest? Or, does the author of this rather twisted sentence intend to say that the HHS mandate is the “least restrictive means?” Again, huh? Requiring employers to provide something to which they object for reasons of faith is “the least restrictive means?” )
And there was no violation of religious exercise to begin with. After religious groups protested, the administration put the burden on insurance companies (what gives the President the authority to direct insurance companies to spend their own money on this? Oh, right, the insurance companies won’t actually pay from their assets. They will pass the costs on to the insured–employers–who will then be in the same situation as now. Paying for a “service” which they find morally reprehensible) to provide free contraceptive coverage to women who work for religiously affiliated employers like hospitals or universities — with no employer involvement (What about self-insured employers, for example, many dioceses, universities, and hospitals? What about Catholic insurance companies? What about a small businessman with a conscience?)
This is a clear partisan play (Of course, the subtext is that the Catholic Church is anti-Obama, and trying to sabotage his reelection.) The real threat to religious liberty comes from the effort to impose one church’s doctrine on everyone (And where in the lawsuits–the subject of the editorial–is the Catholic Church imposing doctrine on everyone? A real journalist who did just a tiny bit of research would find that the Catholic Church has a hard time imposing its doctrine on its own faithful.)