To the surprise of no one, the Catholic bishops have rejected President Obama's compromise on the contraception provision in the new health-care law. The administration had extended its exemption from the mandate to offer free contraception in health-care plans from churches to other religious organizations, like Catholic hospitals and charities. The president's proposal would still make access to contraception available to the employees of these institutions through separate insurance plans. In addition to the bishops' objections, some private businesses are also fighting the birth control provision and expressed dismay that the President did not exempt them.
As others have noted, the president's compromise, while attempting to be Solomonic in its crafting, was flawed. The refusal of churches and businesses to comply with widely-accepted social mores, as well as the law, is an attempt to impose their religious or secular beliefs on their employees. This intolerance is selective, and dangerous in its implications. For example, the Catholic Church believes homosexual feelings are okay, but homosexual sex is a sin. Despite this, the Catholic Church is now the world's largest provider of care to patients with HIV. But what if other more reactionary forces in the church were to take charge and say that since AIDS is the result of sinful behavior, it will no longer treat its victims? A stretch? Well, contraception is integral to women's health and by attempting to deny it, the Church is endangering women.
In addition to the inconsistencies, there is the slippery slope inherent in the logic of the church's opposition. What if Christian Scientists decided they wanted to go back to their original tenets and deny health-care to employees of their institutions? Or a church declared that its beliefs meant its members should no longer be required to pay taxes because our defense budget is a sin? Or if private businesses decided they didn’t want to hire or promote gays, Asians, whites or whomever, just because they found some aspect of their behavior sinful?
Fortunately, despite some longing to the contrary, the United States is not a theocracy. Individual conscience should always be respected. Certainly, the Catholic Church should freely preach whatever they like and guide their adherents to live by those rules. But we are also a nation of laws, and we should not apply them selectively.