Monthly Archives: February 2012
So much has been written about the HHS rule and its “compromise” that I hardly think I have much to add to the conversation. Nevertheless, there are a few points that I think have been missing form the debate, even in Catholic circles. Allow me to take a brief moment to give a relatively disconnected trio of issues that just may help to spark some more conversation.
1. Religious Liberty is an Individual Freedom.
It seems to me that the focus of the national Catholic conversation has been on the Obama administration’s violation of the freedom of religion by forcing Catholic institutions such as hospitals and universities to provide employees with contraceptives and sterilizations, a practice that is in clear contradiction to the teachings of our faith. While this is certainly deplorable and the most overt violation of the First Amendment, what has been relatively missing from the dialog is that religious liberty is not merely a liberty granted to religious organizations. First and foremost, religious liberty is an individual liberty. Each and every citizen of our nation is guaranteed under the Constitution the freedom to practice one’s religion both publicly and privately and to not be coerced into violating our consciences by acting in a way contradictory to the tenants of one’s faith.
Thus, the HHS rule is not simply a violation against specifically religious organizations. It is also a violation of the religious liberty of the individual business owner, Catholic or otherwise. As a Catholic, the owner of a private business cannot, under the Constitution, be compelled by the government to pay for “medical” services that violate his or her faith, including contraceptives and sterilizations. This applies not only to those companies that have a religious mission, such as EWTN or the Knights of Columbus, but also to the owner of a chain of restaurants, a manufacturing form, or an publishing company. Further, it also applies to the faithful Catholic owner of a medical insurance company. Forcing the insurance company to provide coverage for these services despite religious beliefs, is a clear violation of the protection guaranteed under the First Amendment.
My fear is simple. If the conversation focusses exclusively on those organizations for which Bishops have direct involvement, we may very well see further “compromise” between the Obama administration and the USCCB, but tens of thousands of other Catholic business owners will be lost in the shuffle. In fact, I will go so far as to say that even if the HHS does a complete 180 on the current issue, i.e. incorporating Catholic hospitals and universities in the exemption clause without the bogus compromise that forces the insurance companies to cover the costs and services … even then, the fight is not over. Because even then there will be thousands of businesses who are not included in the exemption clause because business activities have no specifically religious purpose. Yet these owners too have the right to practice their religion, and hence should not and cannot be compelled to act in a way contrary to their faith.
That being said, there is admittedly a certain advantage in focussing on overtly Catholic organizations like hospitals and universities. First, they are the most obvious cases of government intrusion in the religious sphere. Second, they have high profile leaders, i.e. the episcopacy, that will be forced to take a stand. Yet still, we should not for a minute think that the battle ends with these organizations. Each and every one of us is entitled to religious liberty as an American citizen, and forcing a Catholic (or other religious) business owners to pay for plans that include contraception and sterilization is very much a violation of this liberty. The problem is compounded, of course, if the business is a medical insurance company.
2. There is a Silver Lining.
The felix culpa effect never ceases to amaze me. God can bring good out of the most heinous evils, the case and point being the crucifixion. The silver lining to the current HHS tragedy is the unified effort of the Catholic Episcopacy. While the thought that the Obama administration feels that it can abuse its power in this manner terrifies me, the response by the Bishops has given me great cause for joy. When the Bishop’s letter was read from the pulpit two weeks ago, the congregation applauded. It is a powerful moment for the Church.
Our Church, after all, thrives on persecution. It is precisely in the midst of being “kept down” that we can rise up against tyranny. Such is the lesson of the Cross. There is a quote from 2010 that has been circulating recently, in which Cardinal George of Chicago says, “I expect to die in bed, my successor will die in prison, and his successor will die a martyr in the public square.” Whether or not the Cardinal is prophetic remains to be seen, but such an “exaggeration” may not be so exaggerated after all.
In light of this, I would encourage those whose Bishop was one of the hundreds that wrote a letter and had it read to send a note of gratitude. Yes, it was a coordinated effort, but it was the coordination that made it so powerful and effective. While Friday’s “compromise” is manipulative and nothing really close to a compromise, it seems clear that even this minimal response would not have happened had it not been for the organized outcry.
3. “Health Care” is Being Redefined.
My final point has been mentioned by several others, but it warrants reiteration. There is a not-so-subtle redefinition of “health care” in this whole debate. There is a certain amount of irony that under the president’s health care bill and the accompanying HHS ruling, I will not be able to receive Tylenol or toothpaste for free, but women will be able to receive birth control and abortifacients for free. Tylenol is a drug that actually tries to cure something that is “wrong” with the body, and toothpaste is authentically “preventative” in terms of dental health problems. Yet birth control and abortifacients have little to do with the health of the body. In fact, they are often used for reproductive systems that are otherwise heathy. They are designed to take a perfectly healthy and well-functioning bodily system and stop it from functioning how it should. Since when did fertility and pregnancy become a disease? Since when is birth control more “preventative” than toothpaste and abortifacients more of a “cure” than Tylenol.
Whether we agree or disagree on the morality of birth control is not the relevant question here, nor is whether or not we agree or disagree on the “right” of a woman to take these drugs. The Catholic Church has always been clear on this, but it seems to me that there is something else at issue here. Even for those who condone the consumption of these drug, it is a rather large leap to insist that someone else pays for it.
Let me give an analogy. I believe firmly in the right to bear arms. However, I do not believe the the government should provide a gun to every citizen who wants one. Moreover, I don’t believe that my business owner should be forced to provide each of its employees with a gun. Yet this is precisely what is happening with the HHS rule. Even if an individual thinks they should have the right to use oral contraceptives, how does that translate to insisting that the government forcing employers and insurance companies to pay for it? The only answer is to misclassify the contraceptives as “health care.”
I have two clarifications before I sign off, mostly to ensure that I am not misunderstood. First, I understand quite clearly that oral contraceptives are occasionally prescribed for reasons not having to do with birth control. This is emphatically not what I am talking about, and such an issue requires a separate conversation. For my own part, I am of the firm belief that non-contraceptive methods such as NaPro technology have had far more positive results at a cost that is a fraction of many of the contraceptive techniques in dealing with serious medical issues. Yet again, this is another topic for another time, and is not my intent here. However, the media has successfully and unfortunately recast the debate in this light, causing a decent amount of public confusion over the issue. (In a way it reminds me of a person who believes in abortion on demand up until the cutting of the umbilical cord who insists of focussing the debate on the “hard” cases of rape and incest. In the HHS debate we have people who believe that the government can force employers to cover contraceptive for every purpose but insist of focussing just on those cases where they are not being prescribed for contraceptive purposes. It is both misleading and disingenuous.)
Second, I am in no way claiming that an individual does have the right to use contraceptives (for reasons of birth control), less so abortifacients. For my own part, given the objective immorality of such acts, such a “right” would be in direct contradiction of the natural law in which we were created. My point was only that even if one believes in the right to birth control, it still doesn’t mean that employers or insurance companies should be forced to provide it anymore than they should be forced to provide their employees with firearms.
The main point is simple: birth control is not health care because fertility is not a disease.
While most Catholics with at least two brain cells to rub together realize that the HHS Mandate “compromise” is a transparent fraud, the usual suspects among the Obama-uber-alles branch of Catholics in this country have been hailing it.
Richard Rich Doug Kmiec is back on board the Obama bus (and demonstrates again the truth of the Socrates adage that an unexamined life is a tragedy):
Sister Carol Keehan, head of the Catholic Health Association, last seen getting a pen from Obama for her support in passing ObamaCare, loves the compromise. She was actually supporting it before it was announced, indicating that the Obama administration slipped her advance knowledge. The administration is aware of the tame Catholics they can rely on.
And, mirabile dictu!, Morning’s Minion at Vox Nova gives the “compromise” a thumbs up!
Streiff over at Red State sums up this phenomenon of Catholics who can always be counted upon to carry Obama’s water for him in any dispute with the Church: Continue reading
Something for the weekend. A very powerful rendition of I’m On My Way to Canaan Land from the film Elmer Gantry (1961).
A rendition in a completely different style from Flatt and Scruggs and the Foggy Mountain Boys: Continue reading
Rick Santorum’s speech at the Conservative Political Action Conference convention this week. According to The Hill, the impact of the speech on the conservative audience was electric. Go here to read the story. Coming off his trifecta wins on Tuesday, Santorum is now neck and neck with Romney in national polls, and is beginning to see poll results where he outpolls Romney against Obama. We may be witnessing one of the greatest comebacks in American political history. Continue reading
So the Obama Administration released a proposed compromise today on the recent contentious HHS rule and there was good news: The Administration is now saying that Catholic institutions will not need to pay for abortifacients, sterilization, and contraception for their employees. The bad news is that the good news is a lie. Catholic institutions will still be paying for these things, but health insurance companies will be instructed to tell Catholic institutions that they are free.
It’s possible that this will provide the Administration with enough cover to defuse the issue; it is clever in its own way. “Obama Administration requires Church to pay for abortifacients” is a straight forward story that even a reporter can understand. “Obama Administration uses accounting gimmick to force Church to pay for abortifacients, while assuring them they are free” is harder to explain. A little misdirection can go a long way with a sympathetic press. But, for Catholics, I think the takeaway is clear enough: this is no compromise at all. The Obama Administration has decided to double down on the mandate, and Catholics can no longer expect him to deal in good faith with Catholic institutions and their leaders.
I don’t have much to add to what’s already been said on the subject other than to express my wonder at who President Obama thinks he is fooling. Granted I’ve already encountered vacuous leftists using the “but they don’t have to pay for it” talking point, but these are the types of people content to loyally follow Obama over the cliff anyway.
I just wanted to use this space to highlight a few other blogs that have written copiously about this subject. Ron Kozar thinks this has been something of a missed opportunity for Catholics.
One point, which cries out to be made but isn’t being made, is how stupid it is to buy insurance for something as inexpensive as contraception, even if one has no moral objection to it.
It’s like requiring your auto insurer to cover an oil change, with no deductible. Thus, rather than simply collecting the money from the consumer, the oil-change mechanic would have to employ a clerk to “process” your insurance and await an eventual check from your auto insurer. This kind of nonsense – mandating coverage for routine, inexpensive procedures, and relieving the consumer of the need to pay – is one of the larger reasons why the healthcare and health-insurance systems are so utterly out of control.
Another point that cries out to be made but isn’t being made is that the government shouldn’t be dictating the terms of health-insurance benefits to employers in the first place, regardless of the employer’s religion. The debate is being framed as a question about which package of coverages the federal government should mandate, rather than about whether the feds, or any government, should be dictating any terms at all.
Meanwhile, Jay Anderson has been on fire lately. He has several blogposts this week worth reading, so just read his blog. Needless to say, I agree that it is time to disinvite certain so-called Catholics to the supper feast of the lamb.
Finally, if you’re not reading Jeff Goldstein’s blog Protein Wisdom, you should be. Jeff is a Jewish, Santorum supporting, libertarian-conservative, and he’s done just as good a job of getting at why Obama’s actions are so tyrannical as anyone else. Here’s his take on the compromise.
The problem is, rules or laws that provide exemptions to specific identity groups are ripe for corruption — and there’s no more reason that the federal government should be able to direct insurance companies to provide free contraception that it should the Catholic church. And by making the accomodation a waiver or derivation, Obama is still asserting his own Executive authority to tell private companies how they must spend.
Catholics shouldn’t have to go on bended knee before the State and beg for a conscience exemption for providing the kind of coverage it wishes to provide. And the State should not have the arbitrary power to pick and choose who must follow laws, who gets waivers and exemptions, and so on.
Obama’s “accommodation” is meant solely to hide his underlying power grab: namely, the unstated authority of the State to set these kind of dictatorial demands on private industry, and by extension, on individuals.
Update III: The USCCB Pro-Life Director Richard Doerflinger and Congressman Chris Smith of New Jersey agree with me that this “accommodation” or “compromise” is unacceptable. Sadly Sr. Keehan of the the Catholic Health Associate found this “satisfactory”. It looks like Obama will be happy that Sr. Keehan is on board. Of course, Planned Parenthood and Sr. Keehan agree.
Update II: Rumor confirmed. Insurance, that Religious Institutions pay into, will provide contraception, ie, it is still a violation of the First Amendment.
Update I: Rumor is that “Hawaii” compromise will be offered, but the bishops have already rejected this. So basically it’s a poor attempt at stalling and not really offering a solution.
The buzz this morning is that Obama is “caving in” to the pressure and will announce a “compromise” today at 12:15pm Eastern.
The news reports are saying that Religious Organizations won’t have to offer birth control, only the insurance companies that these Religious Organizations provide will offer birth control.
Yeah, that’s the compromise.
If these reports are true, this is dead on arrival. Changing the meaning of the words won’t do it.
My friend Dale Price is posting again regularly at his blog Dyspeptic Mutterings after something of a hiatus. Go here to have a gander at his blog. Dale has long written some of the sharpest commentary on Saint Blog’s. I stop in every day looking for blogging topics to
steal borrow, and I rejoice that he is writing frequently again.
I must confess that I have never been a great fan of Ecumenism, as a drive for greater Christian unity, as it has played out in the Catholic Church since Vatican II. Too often it has resulted in “dialogues” with non-Catholic faiths that seek to paper over theological chasms that divide us from them. If the price of Ecumenism is any watering down of the Catholic Faith, please count me out.
However, there is a true Ecumenism which I interpret as the banding together of people of different faiths to accomplish some great good in the name of God. A striking example of what I am referring to was the action of the four chaplains of the USS Dorchester on January 22, 1943, a Catholic priest, two Protestant ministers, and a Jewish rabbi, who gave up their life jackets so other men could live, and died together, arms linked, praising God to the end. Go here to read their story.
In my 29 years of work in the pro-life cause, I have often encountered such true Ecumenism. Each month I pray with members of the board of directors at the crisis pregnancy center which I have had the honor to be the Chairman of for over a decade. I am the only Catholic on the board and I have found much to inspire me by the faith and the goods works of the evangelicals and other Protestants I have encountered and worked with over the years.
In the face of the HHS mandate in regard to contraception and abortifacients, I have been heartened to see how many people of good will have been standing shoulder to shoulder with the Church in opposition to this villainous assault on our common heritage as Americans of religious liberty. Continue reading
Most TAC readers are familiar with Winston Churchill, the British statesman. But they may not be familiar with another Winston Churchill whose fame, at one time, eclipsed that of his British counterpart.
The “other” Winston Churchill was an American novelist of the late 19th and early 20th centuries. He wrote several best-selling historical novels, including one (which I will discuss later) that provides a fascinating glimpse into the Civil War era and the rise of Abraham Lincoln.
The American Churchill was born Nov. 10, 1871, in St. Louis, Mo., three years and 20 days before the British Churchill. After attending primary and secondary schools in St. Louis, he entered the U.S. Naval Academy at Annapolis, graduating in 1894. Less than a year after receiving his commission, he resigned to pursue a literary career. In 1895 he became managing editor of The Cosmopolitan magazine — at that time a literary periodical nothing like its modern incarnation. Then he gave up that post to devote himself to writing his own novels, poems, and essays.
His first novel, The Celebrity, was published in 1898, but his second, Richard Carvel (1899) proved to be his most popular. Richard Carvel tells the story of an orphaned descendant of English nobility who grows up in colonial Maryland, journeys to England in pursuit of the woman he loves, then returns to America just in time to join the American Revolution. It was a huge hit, selling over 2 million copies in a nation of only 76 million citizens at the time.
His next book, The Crisis (1901), which can be read online at this link, is set in his native St. Louis in the years 1857 to 1865. The third of Churchill’s popular historical novels was The Crossing (1904), which recounts the settlement of Kentucky and the conquest of the Illinois Country during the American Revolution. Continue reading
Over at National Review Online, Father Robert Barron has, as usual, a perceptive take on what the HHS Mandate means:
The secularist state wants Catholicism off the public stage and relegated to a private realm where it cannot interfere with secularism’s totalitarian agenda. I realize that in using that particular term, I’m dropping a rhetorical bomb, but I am not doing so casually. A more tolerant liberalism allows, not only for freedom of worship, but also for real freedom of religion, which is to say, the expression of religious values in the public square and the free play of religious ideas in the public conversation. Most of our founding fathers advocated just this type of liberalism. But there is another modality of secularism — sadly on display in the current administration — that is actively aggressive toward religion, precisely because it sees religion as its primary rival in the public arena. Continue reading
At The American Catholic we get almost daily comments submitted by anti-Catholic bigots. We routinely place them in our trash file as unworthy of the effort to respond to. However, I thought that our readers might be amused to see the typical type of rant we receive from these individuals. This one was submitted in response to my post about Eric Metaxas, a Dietrich Bonhoeffer biographer and a non-Catholic, comparing the contraceptive mandate of the Obama administration to the initial moves of Nazi Germany against the German churches in the Thirties of the last century.
If the Catholics want to get into a political battle then don’t whine. That’s Politics. Chaplains want to use their positions to push their political ideology from Rome. That not their job. Use your own time not USA;s time. For a Catholic to talk about freedom of speech and liberty with their history of killing people, persecution, and enslaving western civilized is and utter joke. Hate is what the Catholic showed to all non Catholics. Catholics want a political fight then lets fight. Significant number of priests are gay or child rapists, then your church shopped them around. This is been going on since the 1100?s. The Church’s political views against women health will alienate women. How about shinning a light on church supporting fascist counties in WW2. Germany, Italy, Spain, Argentina, and Croatia. The pope told all of their leaders they were Christ defenders. Your religion killed our ancestors civilization (Greek and Roman) and produced the Dark ages. That is the politics of pain and suffering and I will proudly fight against it.
Well, let’s examine this screed shall we? Continue reading
Hattip to Matthew Archbold at Creative Minority Report. Eric Metaxas, biographer of Dietrich Bonhoeffer, a Protestant minister and theologian martyred by the Nazis, compares the contraceptive mandate to steps taken by the Nazis against the churches in the thirties.
“I met the president. I gave him a copy of my book on Dietrich Bonhoeffer, which he said he’s going to read,” Metaxas said during the interview. “In that book, you read about what happened to an amazingly great country called Germany…”
“In the beginning, it always starts really, really small. We need to understand as Americans — if we do not see this as a bright line in the sand — if you’re not a Catholic, if you use contraception — doesn’t matter. Because eventually, this kind of government overreach will affect you.” Continue reading
Last night in Missouri Rick Santorum finally got to go one on one against Romney, since Gingrich did not bother to get on the ballot, and the results were devastating to the Weathervane. Santorum won two to one, garnering 55% of the vote to 25% for Romney, with Ron Paul bringing up the rear with 12%. Santorum won every county in the state. The Romney camp will claim that since this was a non-binding beauty contest and that Romney did little campaigning in the state, this is meaningless. Rubbish! What does it say about the Romney campaign and its appeal to Republican voters that they lost this badly in a state that has been a bellweather of the nation in most Presidential elections?
However, Missouri was not the end of the bad news for Romney last night. In the Minnesota caucuses Santorum came in first with a stunning 45% and second was, wait for it, Ron Paul with 27%. Romney, who won the caucuses by 20 points in 2008, came in third at 17% with Gingrich being Tail-end-Newt with 11%
To complete the trifecta of woe for the Weathervane last night, we turn to Colorado, a state Romney was supposed to win according to the polls. In the caucuses, Santorum came in first with 40%, Romney took second at 35%, Gingrich a very distant third at 13%, just edging out Paul at 12%.
So, the night couldn’t have been better for Santorum or worse for Romney, but what does it all mean? Continue reading
Rick Santorum has won two of the three election contests tonight, and as of the time I write this is dead even with Mitt Romney in a state that had been all but conceded to Romney before this weekend. Santorum has now won three of the eight primaries/caucuses that have been held thus far, and possibly four. That puts him about even with Romney, and comfortably ahead of Gingrich and Paul in states won.
Admittedly he will be behind Romney in the delegate count, especially considering that no delegates were up for grabs in Missouri. But 200,000 people went to the polls in Missouri, and a majority of them voted for Santorum (and again, I’ll admit that Gingrich was not on the ballot there). He drubbed Romney in Minnesota as well.
This primary season has been a wild one, and who knows what will happen in the coming weeks. The Romney sleaze machine* is already out in full force hitting Santorum. Santorum is radically underfunded compared to Romney and even Newt, although that makes his victories thus far that much more impressive. Right now it is looking like a two-man race, but it’s not between Newt and Romney but rather Romney and Santorum.
*: I wrote a post a few weeks back in which I said that Newt was and perhaps still is a jerk. For the record, Mitt is kind of a jerk, and over two election cycles has proven himself to be a rather despicable campaigner. For those of you who would vote for Romney in the general election, I suppose the silver lining is that the man is willing to fight dirty. So at least he’s got that going for him. Which is nice.
President Obama’s decision to accept Super PAC funding is neither surprising or even all that upsetting. Even though he railed against the Citizens United decision, going so far as to call out the Supreme Court Justices during his State of the Union address in a pique of feigned outrage, nobody who actually has any understanding of who Barack Obama is (meaning people smarter or at least less naive than, say, Doug Kmiec and Kathy Dahlkemper) ever doubted for one moment that he would completely reverse course on yet another promise.
Honestly, there is nothing wrong with Obama’s decision. Not only did the Supreme Court get it right in the Citizens United case, I think that most of the campaign finance restrictions in this country are either unconstitutional or are simply bad policy choices that actually exacerbate the problems with how campaigns are financed. Every new regulation only creates some other entity that further eliminates transparency from the process and merely complicates things unnecessarily.
What is amusing is the blatant hypocrisy, and this is one of those rare times when the term actually applies. The word hypocrite is often thrown around incorrectly. Jonah Goldberg has been one of the foremost crusaders against the incorrect usage of the term. A hypocrite is not someone who claims to uphold a certain principle and then falls short of meeting the ideal. If that were the meaning of hypocrisy, then all sin is hypocrisy. No, a hypocrite is one who pretends to have certain virtues but who, in fact, does not posses said virtues. We all fail to live up to our own moral standards from time to time, but the point is that we are at least trying. Does anyone for one second really believe that Barack Obama truly doesn’t want to receive funding from corporations or wealthy donors? Of course not. It was a populist front meant to distract attention away from the failings of his own administration. He was absolutely insincere at the State of the Union, and he’s been insincere on this issue from day one. This is a guy who raked in more money from Wall Street and other financial institutions than his Republican competitor in 2008, who still collects a hefty amount from this sector, and yet who pretends to be absolutely appalled that these groups have the temerity to influence elections through their campaign contributions.
Yet there are still going to be those who act shocked – SHOCKED! – that Obama could betray his stated principles. As the examples of Doug Kmiec and Kathy Dahlkemper show, never discount the blindness of those who just want to believe. Darwin’s already covered this ground earlier, so I won’t belabor the point. It just astounds me that a man can be so transparently dishonest time and time and time again, and yet there will always be obedient lapdogs ready to be fooled again.
Every so often one hears about people doing the “food stamp diet” in order to see what it’s like to be poor in America. The idea is to subsist for some period of time (often a week) on the amount typically given to members of the “food stamp” program. Here’s one example, prepared by the Food Research and Action Center back in 2007. That one challenges you to live on $21/week. Here’s an annual challenge run by the San Francisco Food Bank. There the amount is $33.04 per person per week.
These amounts vary not only due to region and inflation over time (food inflation has actually been pretty high over the last five years, grocery store prices are up 6% from last year) but also because these are different attempts to model how the food stamp program works. Food stamp benefits are based on the idea of supplementing a family’s income so that the family can (according to the program’s rationale) afford to consume the amount of food budgeted according to the “thrifty plan” from the USDA “cost of food at home” guidelines. Of course, since food stamps can’t be used for anything other than approved food items, and they’re given to people who are already very short of money, the effective result is that people are often trying to get all their food off just the food stamp amount, even if the program is assuming it’s only a supplement.
What got me thinking about the topic is that I saw one of these “hunger challenges” linked to some time ago, via some Catholic organization which was encouraging people to take part “in solidarity with the poor”. I saw the amount mentioned in the San Francisco challenge of $33 per person per week and thought, “Wait a minute, for our family of seven that would be $231. That’s more than we spend per week on food, and we’re around the top 20% line in family income.” In normal times, we were spending around $200/wk on food. Since we’ve been on a tight budget paying off the boiler, we’ve managed to get that down to $100-$150 depending on the week (including household cleaners, diapers, toilet paper, paper towels, etc.)
So, is being on food stamps really cushy? Are these challenges just designed wrong? Being a chronic number cruncher, I had to get into it a bit. Continue reading