Parsing the Administration’s New Position in the HHS Controversy

The Administration says this in its announcement:

Under the new policy to be announced today, women will have free preventive care that includes contraceptive services no matter where she [sic] works.  The policy also ensures that if a woman works for a religious employer with objections to providing contraceptive services as part of its health plan, the religious employer will not be required to provide, pay for or refer for contraception coverage, but her insurance company will be required to directly offer her contraceptive care free of charge.

And some of the bullet points say this:

o Religious organizations will not have to provide contraceptive coverage or refer their employees to organizations that provide contraception.

o Religious organizations will not be required to subsidize the cost of contraception.

o Contraception coverage will be offered to women by their employers’ insurance companies directly, with no role for religious employers who oppose contraception. 

o Insurance companies will be required to provide contraception coverage to these women free of charge.

Some thoughts after the jump.

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Education & Belief: Citizenship

“A high level of shared education is essential to a free, democratic society and to the fostering of a common culture, especially in a country that prides itself on pluralism and individual freedom.” (A Nation at Risk, 1983)

One of the main justifications for a uniform system of schooling, first articulated by Horace Mann and others in the 1830s and ‘40s, is that a common educational experience is necessary to make one people out of a nation of immigrants with different languages, religions and cultures.

Forming democratic citizens capable of self-rule had been a goal of education since Revolutionary times. Nearly all of the Revolutionary leaders wrote about the important role of a liberal arts education in encouraging attachment to republican principles and in energizing social mobility. Many of them opened schools and designed curricula for this purpose, resulting in high rates of literacy in the former colonies, particularly in New England (Pangle & Pangle in The Learning of Liberty). Mann’s contribution was to argue that state-enforced uniformity could do this more efficiently than the ad hoc network of schools that prevailed in his day.

The drive for uniform, state-sponsored schooling initially was resisted on political and religious grounds. However, as the 19th century progressed, the United States experienced large-scale immigration of European Catholics. Read more

An Uncertain Development in the HHS Mandate

As Mark reports below, President Obama announced this afternoon that the Administration is reversing the decision to require religious employers to pay for health plans which cover contraceptives and abortifacients.  The insurers will instead be required to cover them for free.  [UPDATE: I have amended the title of this post and stricken out the material above because at this point, given the first question that I raise below, I am deeply uncertain exactly what this change means.  More soon.]  There remains the issue of what the religious institutions will be required to tell their employees about the availability of these products and services.

ADDENDUM: Some additional questions beyond the issue of what religious institutions will need to say to their employees about the availability of contraceptives through their insurer: (1) Won’t the insurer simply pass the cost of the products and services which it is being compelled provide onto the insureds, including the religious institutions?; (2) What happens when a religious institution is self-insured?; (3) Exactly who qualifies for exemption under the rule?

Contraceptives and the Complexities of American Catholicism

There’s word this morning that the Obama Administration plans to announce a compromise on the new HHS regs that require religiously-affiliated entities to cover contraceptives, sterilization, and abortifacients in employee health insurance plans. (When stories start to leak about how the Vice President opposed the regs, you know the White House is in political trouble). It’s not clear what the compromise is, exactly, or whether it will satisfy religious leaders.

For the moment, though, I’d like to focus on something this crisis reveals about American Catholicism. Some proponents of the HHS regs have been shocked at the negative reaction from many American Catholics, large numbers of whom use artificial birth control. Surely Catholics who use artificial birth control should have rallied to the Administration’s side. As Ross Douthat points out in an insightful column, however, religious belief and practice are rarely so clear-cut. One should not, he says,

gloss[] over the complexities of religious faith and practice, which ensure that many Catholics’ relationship to the teachings of their Church is more complicated than a simple “agree or disagree.” There are Catholics who accept the Church’s view on contraception but simply don’t live up to it. There are Catholics who respect the general point of the teaching while questioning its application to every individual case…. There are many American Catholics, as Daniel McCarthy noted in a perceptive interview recently, who are neither devout nor dissidents — Catholics who practice their faith intermittently, drifting away and then being tugged back, without having any particular desire to see its teachings changed to suit their lifestyles. And then there are Catholics (and this is a large category) who do explicitly dissent from Church teaching, but who also don’t want to see secular governments set the rules for what Catholic institutions can and cannot do…. If this issue a matter of conscience only for the “formal hierarchy of the Catholic Church,” then why is the White House taking so much criticism from Catholics with a reputation for disagreeing with the hierarchy — from Commonweal Catholics and National Catholic Reporter Catholics, from famous Catholic liberals like E.J. Dionne and Chris Matthews, Catholic Democrats like Tim Kaine and Bob Casey, Jr., and so on? The answer can’t be that they’re all afraid of the bishops, since we’ve just established that most Catholics don’t agree with the bishops on this issue. Something else is going on here.

“Neither devout nor dissident” — that phrase probably captures the way most people feel, most of the time, about their faith traditions. It surely describes many American Catholics today. When one takes into account the complex social reality of American Catholicism, and the still-profound sense Americans have that government should not interfere with religious conscience, the reaction to the new HHS regs is not too surprising, after all.