In the US, the so-called contraception mandate proposed by the Obama administration has been bitterly contested by the Catholic bishops and others—such as Steve Krason of the Society of Catholic Social Scientists in his “Call to Action“, and President William Fahey of Thomas More College in his “Open Letter“. Requiring Catholic employers to provide (or in the revised version at least indirectly support) contraception and sterilization services in employee health insurance plans seems a clear violation of conscience.
Furthermore, as Dr Fahey points out,
This mandate casts human life and pregnancy in the same category as diseases to be prevented, and it reduces the beauty and goodness of human sexuality to an individual, utilitarian, and dangerous act. If birth-control, sterilization, and abortion-inducing drugs are to be considered curative – as the administration desires – one must ask what is it that they ‘cure’ or ‘prevent’? Human life itself is now placed into a category of social burden, which the government now claims the competence and authority to control and define. Such an action undermines the very purpose of the Department of Health and Human Services.
The point is that, while the US Constitution enshrines a certain separation of Church and State, this does not make it into a secular state. On the contrary, the US has traditionally been highly religious, if predominantly Protestant, in character. The separation of powers simply means that churches or other religious groups cannot directly—that is, without the mediation of a democratic election—impose their social policies or particular way of life on non-members. On the other hand, Christians, along with Muslims, Buddhists, Mormons, and others, may seek to change the law and influence government policy provided they use acceptable methods of persuasion to do so, rather than imposing their views by force.
This arrangement worked tolerably well, provided there was a broad common ground or consensus between religious and non-religious Americans about the fundamentals of human nature and civilized behaviour. It presumed a certain agreement on matters of “natural law”, albeit increasingly redefined in terms of “human rights”. But during the twentieth century, even as the number of “rights” asserted by individuals proliferated, mainstream intellectual views on ethics and the nature of the human person began to diverge from those of the Roman Catholic Church on marriage, abortion, and bioethics. But these are not issues that concern Catholics or Christians only (like rules on fasting or religious observance). These are matters in which the Church and the Christian tradition—not to mention other traditions—claim to speak about human nature and the truth that is common to all men. To “privatize” such matters is to attempt to falsify our religious belief and desecrate our conscience.
Patrick J. Deneen of Front Porch Republic makes a similar point, as does Margaret McCarthy of the Center for Cultural and Pastoral Research in Washington. The point at issue is not really to do with religious liberty, but with the need to resist the imposition of an ideology that pretends to neutrality while imposing on everyone a false conception of the Good. Deneen writes: “The Catholic faith is, by definition, not ‘private’; it involves a conception of the human Good that in turn requires efforts to instantiate that understanding in the world. As such, Catholics represent a threat to the liberal order, which demands that people check their faith at the door…” The whole argument about liberalism is illuminated further by the the book I mentioned in a previous post: David L. Schindler’s Ordering Love.
Books related to the topic of this article may be found in The Imaginative Conservative Bookstore.
Published here by the gracious permission of the author, this post originally appeared in Beauty in Education.