To the Editor:
In her article “The War Obama Wanted” [May], Alana Goodman does not identify correctly whose religious liberties are at stake with regard to the rule requiring employers to cover birth control under their health-insurance plans. Ms. Goodman writes that certain “church-affiliated agencies (Catholic hospitals, social-service programs, and so on) were still mandated to provide coverage for birth control, emergency contraception, and sterilization, even if doing so was in direct violation of their religious beliefs.”
But to whose religious beliefs is Ms. Goodman referring? It cannot be those of the agencies, since only individual people are capable of holding beliefs—religious or otherwise. Goodman then writes that the complaint about the rule originates with the general counsel of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. Certainly it is not the bishops whose liberties are in question, for, although they object on theological grounds to anyone receiving the medical services in question, they themselves are not personally involved in the use or rejection of them. Rather, we have a case of ecclesiastical authorities attempting to influence decisions about services offered to the employees of church-affiliated agencies.
I will make two wagers. First, these employees were not asked whether or not they would like to have the option of receiving these benefits. Second, many of them would like to have such an option. Whose religious liberties are at play in this controversy?
and the Graduate School of CUNY
To the Editor:
Alana Goodman writes: “Today contraception can be purchased at the local pharmacy for the price of a pack of gum. Birth-control pills, even for women who don’t have insurance, are available for around $9 a month at Walmart.” The cost is minor, even to poor people; for the government, the expense is infinitesimal. The issue has nothing to do with questions related to taxation and spending.
Ms. Goodman hints at the core of the dispute when she informs us that “few conservatives today would welcome the return of archaic restrictions on birth control.” In fact, those who are pro-life ought to support contraception since it reduces the number of abortions. The reduction may be very small, but unlike questions concerning money, smallness is not an issue when considering life.
What is central to this issue, but has never been mentioned, is the position of the Catholic Church on contraception. The clergy and an occasional member of the laity—Rick Santorum for example—say that contraception is forbidden. The Catholic population of the United States simply ignores this question. Family size among Catholics is just as small as among most other groups. Only the Amish, the Orthodox Jewish community, and a few other strictly observant religious groups have large families nowadays.
Does the Catholic Church believe that one should obey the words of Exodus 22:18, “Thou shalt not suffer a witch to live”? It has never overturned its view on that commandment, but there is nobody today who supports the enforcement of that commandment (or others like it). Until Santorum introduced contraception into his unsuccessful race for the Republican presidential nomination, birth control was no more a part of Catholic belief than executing witches.
Now that opposing contraception is again a part of Catholic dogma, will a movement arise advocating capital punishment for witchcraft? Of course not. Let us ignore the ban on birth control just as we ignore the issue of sorcery.
New York City
To the Editor:
Alana Goodman’s article dismisses rather quickly the damage that the abortion issue will do to the Republican candidate in the November election—the one that really counts. A candidate who focuses on abortion, or even advocates very conservative views on the subject during the campaign, will surely lose the women’s vote and much of the desperately needed independent vote.
Social conservatives and many Republicans think the objective is to obtain a Republican nominee who is amenable to their views on conservative social issues. The real objective for the Republican Party should have been to nominate an electable candidate. Has too much damage already occurred?
Des Moines, Iowa
Alana Goodman writes:
Charles Landesman’s two wagers may be correct, but they are beside the point. Even in the scenario he outlines, it is not the employees’ religious liberties that are at stake. As I wrote in my article, the employees can still purchase contraceptive services; they just won’t have them subsidized by their employers’ insurance plans. Remember, it’s the employers who are both offering and paying for the insurance coverage, and they are the ones who are required to offer free contraceptive services that may be in violation of their religious beliefs.
Mr. Landesman also argues that agencies and companies cannot have their religious rights violated, because only individuals are capable of holding beliefs. But what is a company, at its core, if not a group of freely associating individuals? And who leads a company, if not individuals?
To answer Mr. Landesman’s question, the religious beliefs at stake are the employers’—the person (or group of people) who runs the company, controls the hiring, and offers the benefits. Many of these hospitals and social-service agencies are affiliated with the Catholic Church, receive funding from the Church, and are facilitated by the Church.
It is puzzling that George Jochnowitz would argue that modern Catholic opposition to birth control didn’t exist before Rick Santorum’s presidential campaign. The Catholic Church’s proscription against birth control is a fundamental part of Catholic teaching, even if many individual Catholics no longer adhere to it (just like observance of the Sabbath is an important part of Judaism, even if many American Jews are not shomer Shabbos). Further, the Catholic Church certainly does not endorse or support the execution of witches, but it does spend a great deal of time speaking out and advocating against the use of birth control. It is interesting that Mr. Jochnowitz asks whether the Catholic Church has explicitly disavowed the line in Exodus 22:18, “Thou shalt not suffer a witch to live.” The Torah also said rebellious offspring should be put to death through stoning, but Jews and Christians do not follow this decree today. Does that make their religious observances any less worthy of tolerance and respect? Of course not.
It is true, as Sheldon Rabinowitz says, that focusing on social issues such as abortion and birth control would be politically unhelpful for Republicans in the upcoming presidential election. Now that Mitt Romney has secured the Republican nomination, social issues have taken a back seat to economic policy. The spring debate over birth control doesn’t appear to have caused lasting damage for Romney, but it is evidence that social issues can at times be used as a powerful political weapon against Republicans.
Of course, there is a difference between campaigning on conservative social issues and working to protect religious liberties. And the latter is too important and intrinsic to American values to ignore out of political expediency.