It is interesting how much of a role religion is suddenly playing in American political life.
Orrin Hatch is upset that President Obama dared mention the obligations of being one's brother's keeper in the same context as our federal tax structure. Separation of church and state apparently demands that compassion for the last and least among us be kept very clear of any idea about a progressive tax system. Rick Santorum thinks not leaving his faith at the door means drug companies should make as much money as possible, because otherwise sick people would just buy extra iPads. And while we don't have an aristocracy in America, the "old boys club" of D. C. is very concerned about the hurt feelings of the princes of the Church.
The Bishops of the Roman Catholic church are upset that the Obama Administration is going to require all institutions, religiously affiliated or not, to abide by the same rules when it comes to health insurance for employees. The fact that this is already a requirement in 28 states does not blunt their outrage. To quote Cardinal John Ratzinger: "Standards of conduct appropriate to civil society or the workings of a democracy cannot be purely and simply applied to the Church." Or, if you want something more recent:
In a interview with Connecticut magazine published on the magazine’s Web site last week, a surprisingly frank Cardinal Egan said of the apology, “I never should have said that,” and added, “I don’t think we did anything wrong.”That is the Bishops' story, and they're sticking to it.
He said many more things in the interview, some of them seemingly at odds with the facts. He repeatedly denied that any sex abuse had occurred on his watch in Bridgeport. He said that even now, the church in Connecticut had no obligation to report sexual abuse accusations to the authorities. (A law on the books since the 1970s says otherwise.) And he described the Bridgeport diocese’s handling of sex-abuse cases as “incredibly good.”*
And their defenders eventually fall back (I've heard it twice now; a patch of ice doth not a winter make, but the irony that the argument is being made at all is keen, indeed) on the argument that employees don't have to work for employers like religiously affiliated institutions. Which is the same argument once used against the Civil Rights Act of 1964: after all, blacks don't have to eat at restaurants that won't serve them, or hotels that won't house them. The market will provide them with alternatives (and yes, this is a Title VII issue,).
Granted, that last line is a modern one. There wasn't much talk of "market alternatives" in 1964, because everybody knew they didn't exist. But the argument that someone doesn't have to patronize a place of business, or seek employment there, is as old as the civil rights struggle itself.
And I have heard, again twice now, that the Hosanna-Tabor decision means the Supreme Court agrees that the Obama administration is wrong on this one. I've decided anyone who makes that argument (and it's been made in conjunction with the "they don't have to work there" argument every time I've heard it raised) is not credible, because the Supreme Court did nothing more than recognize an exception to Title VII that has been used for 40 years now, and doesn't apply to non-clergy staff in religiously affiliated institutions.
What is being insisted upon is not religious liberty or even 1st Amendment rights. What is being insisted upon is a principle of power. Rick Santorum wants the power to ignore the poor, and even to demonize them. Orrin Hatch wants the power to direct tax policy without any messy moral considerations. The RC Bishops want the power to do as they please in the 22 states where they can still do that. Anthony Picarello, general counsel to the US Conference of Catholic Bishops, even argued that the problem with this new rule is that it's from the federal government, as if the only issue was that now, there's no escaping it at all. It isn't a moral issue, and it isn't a religious issue: it's a power issue. The Roman Catholic church has to conform to the law in 28 states; the Bishops don't want that rule extended to all 50, because...well, because they don't want to comply with it if they don't have to. Have they suffered in those other 28 states, or removed their presence there? Apparently not. Have they campaigned relentlessly to have the law overturned in those 28 states? Apparently not. So the moral issue is not the absolute here; it's the issue of a shift in power. What they don't want to give up, is any more power. They've lost this debate in 28 states; they don't want to lose it in the other 22.
As Sarah Lipton-Lubet of the ACLU points out: "There is a whole host of anti-discrimination and labor laws that institutions that operate in the public sphere like religiously affiliated hospitals and universities comply with, or are supposed to comply with." Tell me again how this one new rule is any different, or any more of an imposition on their principles, than any other.
Charles Pierce likes to point out that, if the Bishops don't like this rule, they can abandon the tax-free status of their institutions and keep their principles intact. Which is more important to them? If they don't get their way, and if they don't abandon their tax exempt status, we'll have our answer.
I had to read this more than a few times before I finally realized what it said:
That was no consolation to Catholic leaders. The White House is "all talk, no action" on moving toward compromise, said Anthony Picarello, general counsel for the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. "There has been a lot of talk in the last couple days about compromise, but it sounds to us like a way to turn down the heat, to placate people without doing anything in particular," Picarello said. "We're not going to do anything until this is fixed."In other words: repeal Title VII of the Civil Rights Act, because forcing a Catholic to comply with any provision that might conflict with the doctrines of the Church, should be verboten.
That means removing the provision from the health care law altogether, he said, not simply changing it for Catholic employers and their insurers. He cited the problem that would create for "good Catholic business people who can't in good conscience cooperate with this."
"If I quit this job and opened a Taco Bell, I'd be covered by the mandate," Picarello said.
I'll retire to Bedlam....
*Apropos of this hot-button issue, one should not make the mistake of thinking that the Roman Catholic Church is monolithic, even within its own hierarchy. The Vatican has told the Bishops it considers the reporting of crimes fundamental to their role as Bishops. So not everyone agrees with Cardinal Egan (who, being retired, may not be affected by this, either).