A belated happy Valentines day to all our readers. How fitting that the debate over contraception erupted just as we were approaching the week of the holiday of love?
This story first entered the mainstream about two weeks ago, within a week Obama had announced a “compromise.” Some of the smartest talking heads were left confused as to why Obama had chosen to announce the move in the way they did. Republican’s reaction to this story have generally boiled down to claiming that this move was Obama continuing a war on religion. No matter your opinion on the issue of the federal government respecting a Catholic claim of “conscience clause” violation, some of the rhetoric used has been without shame.
On “This Week” Mitch McConnell did, as expected, an tremendous job at explicitly stating the rhetoric which is generally only implicitly referenced by his like because of how indefensible it is.
He said, “the government dosn’t get to decide what religious people what their religious beliefs are, they get to decide that…this is about the free exercise of religion.” Somehow, for McConnell, a religious organization paying an insurance for contraceptives for its employees is equal to the government dictating religious beliefs. This kind of rhetoric begs the question – what he would say about a theocracy that actually dictates religious beliefs? Mr. McConnell’s willingness to be so loose in his portrayal of this issue is a perfect example of how legitimate discussions often devolve into zealotry and mud slinging. I suspect Mr. McConnell is making this claim because he knows that if the debate is about contraception he will lose, but if it is about religious freedom he can win it.
On the other hand, those lamenting this as what you get when you have a national healthcare system actually have a case to make. Indeed, national standards in health care mean precisely that everyone’s health care coverage will be in some way standardized. This means a base line that not everyone will agree with. Where that baseline should be is definitely up for debate, and whether or not we should even have that baseline is an important budgetary and moral discussion.
However, notion that there exists a widely acknoledged constitutional “conscience clause” principal is patently false. During the Bush administration, laws were passed that specifically allowed for conscience clause like benefits for Catholic institutions. These laws would have been unnecessary if such a right existed in our constitution. But, even the republicans know, there is no constitutional right not to follow federal law because you have a religious or moral objection to it. This kind of provision is only done on a case by case basis because as a potential constitutional principal it is horribly problematic. That, and the small fact that it is simply NOT within the constitution.