Silent no more: Coming out of my cloister to talk about the HHS mandate
I’ve been debating whether or not to publish this post. This election cycle has challenged me personally, intellectually, and emotionally like never before (and physically, too, since I’m staying up way too late tonight and have a very early running date with a friend tomorrow). After several months of not blogging and then returning to blog once a week, twice at the most, I was thoroughly enjoying my cloistered family life and limited social media interactions. Then after the vice presidential debates I jumped into a Facebook discourse with an alacrity that surprised me. Part of it had to do with the fact that my husband was working long hours and wasn’t around. There were also these embers of frustration that I couldn’t keep from igniting and bursting out of me. So I shared a few thoughts on everything from social justice to how I wish more people would talk about how women are also victims of abortion. (Later I saw this post from Simcha Fisher. Thank you.)
These thoughts of mine spurred many exchanges back and forth via Twitter direct messages and emails with a friend who has a very different worldview than I do. Amazingly, we always kept the conversation charitable and intellectual (and always have in the past, too). There were only a few minor snark attacks on both sides. In all seriousness, I really enjoyed having the discussion. I was engaged and challenged, but her arguments did nothing to diminish how I feel, but I knew this wasn’t because I was being stubborn or close-minded because we had had such a long, thoughtful discussion.
The other night I was feeling like I had more to say, but I wasn’t sure if I should do it since I’ve been staying up far too late engaging in all of the political banter. Then I went on Twitter to respond to yet another challenge and Elizabeth Foss’s most recent tweet popped up linking to this post, in which she says poured her heart into a long post explaining why she needed to cut back on blogging but then lost all of it just as she was about to hit publish. Ending up over at her space felt providential because I had just been debating whether I should keep up the social media discourse, and there was her post, which quite ironically linked to some of my past musings on the topic of taking a step back from blogging and being satisfied with this mothering life I’ve been given right now. I felt very sheepish. I felt confused, too, because I found myself wondering, when is it my duty to be silent no more and to speak up even if it causes me anxiety and means I spend a little less time with my kids? I don’t have any easy answers here.
I also want to add that after this post is published, I’m bowing out from this particular discourse. I’m intellectually, emotionally as well as physically spent after writing thousands – yes, thousands – of words with a handful of people who challenged me on my views on abortion, high taxation, social justice, and personal freedoms and personal accountability (President Obama, you should be paying more attention to your pension. We all should be.). I cannot and will not defend anything I say here. Call it a cop out. Call it a concession that you’re right if you leave a comment that challenges me on something. But it’s imperative I let others get the last word here – not because I don’t believe strongly in what I’m about to write about but because I’ve got to follow my own advice and reclaim the peace I had when I was away from all the social media buzz. But I invite others to do the talking for me.
So there you have it. Now here’s what I can’t keep silent about any longer.
I have both Catholic and non-Catholic readers. I also have a few non-religious readers as well as people from all different political backgrounds, and I try to make this a welcome, charitable place for everyone. Today I want to discuss something that might on the surface appear to be a Catholic issue but is, in fact, something we all need to understand: The HHS mandate. All I ask is that you stick with me here even if you feel your blood pressure rising and examine the facts, my position, and where you stand. (And if you agree with me, go ahead and say so if not for my ego, then for your love for the American brand of freedom.)
I continue to see many erroneous comments about why the Catholic Church is against the mandate, and I honestly feel it’s more than my moral duty but also my civic duty to clarify a few things.
After the vice presidential debate, there have been myriad articles exploring Ryan and Biden’s position on abortion. Ryan has been likened to a mullah (this excellent article made for a strong rebuttal), and I continue to wonder how so many people whose fingers are doggedly wagging at Ryan and other Catholics for wanting to impose our beliefs on others via legislation don’t also have a problem with the HHS mandate. Put very simply: A person can’t advocate for absolutely no blurring between church and state but then look the other way when it’s the state interfering with the freedoms of the church, especially when judicial precedent strongly supports that the whole “separation of church and state” ideology (which is generally first attributed to Thomas Jefferson; the phrase is not in the Constitution) is used to argue for protecting the church from the state, not the other way around. I was in law school long enough to arrive at this conclusion.
Some insist they can support the mandate on the basis that President Obama has now provided an exception provision, but let’s take a closer look at this because what Vice President Biden said during the VP debate with regards to the mandate simply was not true.
The Obama Administration’s exemption at most, only excludes the following religious institutions that:
1. primarily employ people of their own faith;
2. primarily serve people of their own faith;
3. qualify under Section 6033 of the Internal Revenue Code as a “church”;
4. have as their purpose the inculcation of religious belief.
Herein lies a big problem, this mandate will result in several unfortunate scenarios:
1. Catholic organizations will have to change their mission – which for most includes serving people of all color and creed without inculcating religious belief on them in order to be included under the exemption.
2. Catholics will have to drop all health care coverage or hire only Catholics (instead of hiring qualified employees regardless of their faith tradition) therefore adversely affecting their workforce and making it less competitive – i.e., well-qualified social workers, health care providers, teachers, etc. may be forced to not work for Catholic charities anymore because they aren’t Catholic or because it’s not that just their contraception that isn’t covered, but they have no health insurance whatsoever.
3. Or Catholic employers will be forced to give up their religious freedom protected by the Constitution and violate their conscience.
How can people – all Americans, not just Catholics – not see this as a problem? The government is effectively asking Catholic entities like hospitals to change their mission of helping anyone who needs it (and I thought all of this legislation was supposed to increase access to health care!) or alternatively, to violate their consciences. Archbishop of Washington describes the President’s ridiculous “accommodation” as such, “HHS’s conception of what constitutes the practice of religion is so narrow that even Mother Teresa would not have qualified.”
Let me digress for a moment and share a little story here. When my husband and I were first married, I had great health insurance through my job at a hospital and then later as a campaign manager for a charity, but then a dream job opportunity opened up for me to be a consumer editor/writer for a parenting publication. This was a job I was very excited about; however, we learned that the health insurance provided by the employer only covered a certain percentage of prenatal care (for bottom line reasons obviously, not moral ones). We knew there was a chance I could become pregnant and, in fact, I did, but I took the job any way. I just didn’t take the health insurance. Instead, we used the health insurance plan through my husband’s school since he was still a student, which had ridiculously high premiums but did cover my prenatal care. See the freedom was in the consumer/employee (me!) to not take a job that didn’t offer the coverage I wanted. No one was forcing me to take that job in which prenatal care would not be fully covered. I made the decision. Many people choose to work at Catholic institutions now even though their contraception is not paid for by their employer, but that might not be possible if the Catholic entity is forced to drop the health insurance completely. In this discussion, people continue to confuse access to services and medical care with forcing someone to pay for these services. The access to contraceptives, sterilization will still be there as it is now to employees of Catholic institutions; it just shouldn’t have to be paid for by their employer if they have moral reasons for being opposed to it.
But wait a minute! The Catholic Church’s views on contraception and the like are obsolete. There are plenty who would beg to differ, but that’s not the point. Please bear with me no matter your views on abortion or any of this.
I’ve seen all these tweets from women hurling vitriol at Ryan or other Catholics because we’re going to take away their contraception. I’m not sure I should even waste my energy addressing those people, but just to be clear once again: The Catholic Church is not arguing that Americans in this country do not have a right to these medical services or that they won’t continue to be freely available in the United States; however, the right to such services does not authorize the government to force religious entities to pay for them or to facilitate access to them for their employees.
If a person understands this yet still support the mandate, then he or she can’t possibly embrace the ethos that he or she doesn’t want a woman’s right to choice infringed upon by Catholic politicians. And if people continue to stand by this and support the mandate, then they’re incapable of separating their personal views about the Catholic Church’s “antiquated” and “antithetical” views about contraception, sterilization, and abortion from the argument at hand. The morality of these things is not up for debate with regards to the mandate. Nor is the morality of whether a religious group is denying that people have a legal right to these things in our country, which, again, the Catholic Church isn’t even trying to do. We are debating the question of whether the government should have the authority to force an entity to pay for these things for their employees. Having a legal right to access to these things is not the same as legally requiring someone else to pay for them. Imagine if the news was reporting about a government-sanctioned mandate in Ethiopia for hospitals and other entities that receive any government funding to pay for their employee’s coverage of female genital mutilation. The same people who see no problem with the mandate would be shaking their impassioned fists at the injustice of it, but since they don’t agree with the Church’s “backwards” moral stand on these things, they’re attempting to make it be about those crazy Catholics imposing our beliefs on others. The only one imposing here, though, is Uncle Sam.
This passage from the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops’ media page explains well why all Americans should be concerned about the mandate:
On January 20, HHS announced its decision to keep in place the frightening mandate in the health care law, with barely the slightest nod to religious concerns. HHS holds to the absurd rule it announced last August, that church ministries get a religious exemption only if they employ and serve primarily co-religionists.
Must Catholic hospitals, to be true to their identity, now turn away people of other faiths from their emergency rooms and fire non-Catholic employees? Currently, Catholic hospitals serve one out of six people who seek hospital care in our country. Must Catholic Charities hire and serve only Catholics in its food pantries and other social service agencies? Until today, you didn’t need a baptismal certificate for soup.
This egregious violation of religious freedom marks the first time in our history that the federal government is forcing religious people and groups to ante up for services that violate their consciences. Some claim this is all about access to contraceptives—but everyone knows how and where to get them, and get them cheaply. And the mandate also forces coverage of sterilization and abortion-causing drugs. This is about forcing the church to pay for all these things through insurance coverage, to sponsor these “benefits” that it considers immoral. This is, in other words, about freedom of religion, which is a foundation stone of U.S. democracy.
The government allows other religions to live out their beliefs. The Amish and Christian Scientists have a conscientious objection to health insurance, and so the law exempts them from buying it. The government acknowledges the right of these religious groups to live out their religious convictions in U.S. society. Why are beliefs of Catholics and others dismissed?
Thanks for sticking around. You don’t have to agree with me or my views, but you do have to understand why you don’t. Please, dear readers, just be informed, which I admit isn’t easy with all the he said, she said’s going around, the necessary fact-checking, and the empty rhetoric. For the mandate and every issue, escape the groupthink of your particular favored party and really consider the big picture and what it might mean to this country and our future, our children’s future. Resist the desire to discount anything someone says who you know has a different political ideology than you do. Respectfully listen, ponder, and draw your own conclusions. Don’t oversimplify things. Just because someone doesn’t agree with your political party’s solutions to poverty or unemployment doesn’t mean they are don’t care or they’re stupid or ignorant. Resist the desire to sequester yourself from people who think differently than you do. Ideological segregation won’t help you win arguments. Knowing the other side, where they come from, how they frame their arguments will help you more clearly understand your own position and why you believe what you do. And hey, you, who is so open-minded but can’t believe someone who wouldn’t circumcise her son, would nurse a preschooler, and is an educated, progressive parent would vote for the likes of Romney, think of how that open-minded that sounds. And to the nice individual, who after getting to know me and discuss issues with me, said, “Wow. When I found out you were religious, I thought you’d be judgmental,” that’s pretty judgmental there.
Above all, keep these words close – these words that I posted last week and need to read again and again:
“Never forget the distinction between the ideas that we have to defend and make others love, and ourselves, who represent them so badly; between the ideas professed by others, and those others themselves, who are our neighbors and who should be loved in spite of all. Treat with deep respect all that belongs to conscience. Never knowingly wound a sincere conviction. And yet adhere firmly, without capitulation, to what we consider truth or duty.”
I pray that live this during these weeks leading up to the election and always.