Why does the Roman Catholic Church care about condoms? On Feb. 7, the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) objected to President Obama’s “compromise” regarding the Health and Human Services Mandate on the grounds that it did not provide adequate exemptions for organizations which self-identify as Catholic but are not legally deemed “religious employers.” The compromise defined an “eligible organization to include nonprofit religious organizations, but not to include for-profit secular organizations.” This definition would make organizations such as EWTN (a Catholic television network) and businesses run by Catholic individuals ineligible for a religious exemption. They would still be legally obligated, in the words of the USCCB, to “fund and facilitate services such as contraceptives, including abortion-inducing drugs, and sterilizations that violate Catholic teaching.”
Under the current system, if an organization claims a religious exemption and it is granted, then the organization can provide its employees with a group insurance policy that does not cover contraception. However, that organization must give its employees a notice that it is not providing contraception to them, and an employee may then take that notice to his or her insurance agency and that agency must legally provide him or her with contraception free of charge. Under this policy, it is very likely that insurance agencies will simply increase the cost of group policies for religiously exempt organizations in order to offset the forced provision of contraception. More importantly, this policy is a token gesture towards religious exemption — it relieves the consciences of religious employers without enacting the actual intention behind their religious exemption.
Many liberals believe that the church is being unduly obstinate, and that Catholic opinions are outdated, fallacious or ridiculous. Opponents of the church seek to trivialize the church’s objection or make erroneous comparisons. What’s the big deal with providing people with condoms? If a religious employer can object to providing someone with condoms, can they also object to providing someone with a blood transfusion? The constitutionally correct Catholic objection is this: Religious employers should not have to provide — whether directly or indirectly — their employees with a service that they find abhorrent to their faith and morals, as long as their faith and morals do not actively harm others. There is no case to be made that not helping someone to pay for contraception constitutes active harm.
Catholic dogma teaches that contraception is a grave sin, and the church wants to prevent people from occasions of sin. If religious liberty means anything, it must mean freedom to believe, follow and practice the central tenets of one’s faith, even if that faith seems ridiculous or false to others. Most Americans and even most Catholics may not share the church hierarchy’s view that the use of contraception is a grave sin. But that does not mean that those people can force others who do share that view to provide them with free contraception. Americans cannot force people to contradict a core doctrine of their religion, and simultaneously uphold the constitutional right of religious liberty.
There is no meaningful respect in which the Catholic Church is imposing its dogma on those to whom it denies contraception. No one is forced to work for a Catholic institution, a Catholic-affiliated institution or a Catholic employer. Choosing to work for someone means accepting the conditions of employment and contract that the employer offers. If a Catholic employer decides that his or her institution does not want to pay for their employees’ contraception, that employee is not then denied access to contraception; they remain free to purchase contraception out of pocket, seek alternative insurance plans that would cover contraception or find a different employer who would offer an insurance plan that does cover contraception.
Those who demand that their employers finance their contraception or provide them with a health plan that covers it are imposing their view of contraception on others. No one has a right to force their employer to provide them with a service that the employer finds abhorrent to their faith and morals.
Religious liberty is essential to the idea of America. Violating Catholic rights on the issue of contraception will begin a precedent of constitutionally illicit violations in the future. Catholics may very well ask, how long will it be before Catholic hospitals are required to perform abortions?
Matthew Dernbach is a senior in Trumbull College. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org .