Up Front and Personal

It’s About Religion, Not Contraception

by Stephen Kent

Spending a week with our two-year-old granddaughter reintroduced me to the experience of the insincere “whoops” or the impenitent “sorry.”

Neither represents penance nor a firm purpose of amendment.

There was a similar feeling to hear President Barack Obama offer his “revision,” “compromise” or “walking some parts back” to the mandate requiring religious institutions to pay for contraception, violating their conscience. While a “whoops” is cute in a toddler, it is not in a president.

He claimed to be revising the Department of Health and Human Services’ mandate, which required that all but the most narrowly exempted religious institutions provide contraception at no cost in their health insurance plans.

The revision was nothing more than a sleight of hand, repackaging the same offensive product.

Now it is the insurance companies that will be required to provide that coverage at no cost to the employee.

Who pays? The result is the same. Religious organizations are required to cooperate in providing something against conscience.

The issue is far from being clarified at this point, but it is sure to have a long life until resolution. At this time there are enough red herrings to stock a good-sized aquarium.

First: It is not about contraception. It is about a religion – not the government – being able to define its mission and ministry. To identify it solely as a contraception issue is a diversion from what’s at stake.

It is being cast as another round of the out-of-step church pushing a concept that is rejected in practice by a majority of its members. It is not the bishop bullies attempting to push their faith onto everyone. In fact, it is refreshing for once to hear the phrase “don’t impose your beliefs on us” said by the church to the secular world rather than vice versa.

This is not tangential to the faith such as zoning laws about where to build a church or a piece of art or a performance offensive to Catholic belief. This is more than prejudice or bigotry.

“It also raises an alarm about the overriding philosophical question about what right a bureau of the federal government has to tell a church how to define what it’s going to do and by whom it’s going to be done, which is scary and chilling for any thoughtful American,” said Cardinal Timothy M. Dolan, president of the nation’s bishops’ conference.

It is not about sex (or drugs and rock ‘n’ roll). It is not about contraception, the hierarchy or politics. That is the narrow view.

It is about the fundamental principle of freedom of religion.

It is more than anti-Catholic.

It is anti-American.

Stephen Kent, now retired, was editor of archdiocesan newspapers in Omaha and Seattle.