Megan McArdle doesn’t get why so many people, including fellow seculars, are willing to double down on forcing the Catholic Church to pay for contraception as part of its employee insurance. Excerpt:

I’ve seen several versions of Kevin’s complaint on the interwebs, and everyone makes it seems to assume that we’re doing the Catholic Church a big old favor by allowing them to provide health care and other social services to a needy public.  Why, we’re really coddling them, and it’s about time they started acting a little grateful for everything we’ve done for them!

These people seem to be living in an alternate universe that I don’t have access to, where there’s a positive glut of secular organizations who are just dying to provide top-notch care for the sick, the poor, and the dispossessed.


And I’m fairly certain that if I wanted to stage a confrontation with Catholic charities, it would not be over something as trivial as forcing them to provide birth control coverage to their employees.  Preventing pregnancy is not a low-frequency, high cost event, and thus it is not really insurable.  It’s just a backdoor transfer from wages to birth control consumption.

This seems particularly stupid because the Catholic Church will almost certainly be granted an exemption by Republicans if they get even a little bit more power.  So I’m not sure I see the benefit in going out of your way just to tell the Church you’d like them to, well, go to hell.

Well said. Here’s the thing: in an abstract world, they might have a point about the confusion that would result if every religious employer demanded exemptions from every federal regulation that even slightly impinged upon its conscience. But we do not live in that world. We live in a world in which a concrete entity, the Roman Catholic Church, runs, more or less, a large number of medical, educational, and other charity-oriented institutions As McArdle says, many of these facilities and institutions serve the poor. Where are the secular liberal organizations running schools for inner-city kids, in many cases not even Catholic kids, and offering them the best chance they have at a decent education? On the trivial matter of providing for a relatively cheap and easy to obtain product — contraception — the Obama administration is going to frog-march this invaluable institution forward into a progressive future, and put all that it does for the poor — things that nobody else can do — at risk?

It makes no sense, morally or politically. So you don’t like the Church’s position on birth control, and don’t understand why it’s such a big deal to the Church. So what! Whether or not you, Obama Administration, understand this or not, it is a very big deal to the Church. We now know that this Administration is prepared to push around religious institutions in very serious ways for trivial reasons. The overwhelming majority of Americans — even Catholic Americans — reject the Catholic Church’s teaching on contraception. But they I believe a non-trivial number of them know a significant threat to religious liberty when they see it. And they’re not going to forget it this fall. Again, from a matter of practical politics, this thing is absolutely baffling, because so unnecessary, except that at some point, some folks within the Administration — including Sebelius, the Catholic HHS Secretary — decided that they were going to stick it to the Church on this minor issue.

A thought experiment. You are the Mayor of Popperville. In your town lives a small number of Orthodox Jews, who, because of their hard-to-understand (to you, at least) religious rules, have to walk to their synagogue on the Sabbath. For some reason — again, this is a thought experiment — it becomes clear that the great majority of Poppervillians would benefit ever so slightly from a change in the law that would prohibit pedestrian traffic through a certain area of town. This rule change would make it easier for most Poppervillians to go about their business. But this happens to be the only path open to the town’s Orthodox Jews. You are considering a proposal that would ban walking in that part of town on Saturdays, for the ease and convenience of the vast majority. The Orthodox Jews object. “I know this doesn’t make sense to you,” their rabbi says, “but it’s very important to us. Can’t you be more tolerant?”

You say, “But there are only a few of you. Most of the Jews in this town drive to their synagogues. You are asking the majority to accomodate your strange rules. Why should we let you do that? If we do, what will other religions demand?”

And the rabbi says, “Most Jews don’t observe this practice, it is true. But we do, and it’s very important to us. If Popperville changes this law, our community is going to have to move to another town. We can’t violate our consciences.”

You say, “Well, I’m sorry you feel that way, but we can’t compromise. You’re still going to keep operating the Mt. Sinai hospital your community funds, right? So many people depend on it.”

“Well, no,” says the rabbi. “We cannot in good conscience do that. We will have to close the hospital.”

“But that’s not fair to all the people who depend on it!”

“Mr. Mayor, if you pass this law, you will give us no choice. The people of our town have been able to get where they want to go with minimal inconvenience until now. It is not unreasonable for the town to accomodate our practice, as strange as it may seem to you. If you will not, then we have no choice but to withdraw — not out of meanness, but because we cannot do what we believe is evil in the sight of God.”

“But it’s just … walking? I don’t understand.”

“I see that you don’t understand,” says the rabbi. “You are not asked to understand why we believe what we do. You are only asked to accept that it is extremely important to us, and to make a reasonable accommodation for our practice, which, let’s be honest, has never been a problem in this town.”

You’re the Mayor of Popperville. What do you do?

[Advice to potential commenters: I’m not going to post anything that makes the false claim that this issue has anything to do with Church institutions taking federal money. It does not. This HHS rule applies to organizations that take federal dollars, and those that do not. So don’t confuse the issue.]