Stephen Miller makes a good enough point, as far as it goes. But it doesn’t go very far.
He’s one of the last people I’d expect to use squishy liberal rhetoric, but there’s just no kinder way to describe that “free.” Only Pelosi-philes really think that insurance benefits are free just because you don’t pay for them at the point of service. Insurance is a product, and people buy it. The question is what and how much you’re paying for.
And that gets me to the main point. Steve is willing to accept the church’s position that any corporate structure they choose to devise is religion if they say so.
The government not only has no business interfering with the exercise of religion, I think that’s one of the most consequential and revolutionary aspects of our constitution. And that fully includes religious discrimination against lesbians and gay men.
But is the government required to be a sap about it? Like all other bureaucratic organizations, churches have been known to abuse power and privilege — and laws. And that is nowhere more true than when it comes to rules about sex. Catholics are free to accept their church leadership’s hypocrisy and cluelessness about sexual matters. But when the church selectively wishes to exempt itself from some laws (about contraception, say) while following others (about tax advantages) in its business operations in the private — not religious — sector, then I think it’s fair to question their lawfulness, and even their seriousness.
Their non-Catholic employees need health insurance as much as anyone else does. And those insurance policies are government regulated, whether any of us around here like it or not. Within the limits of its authority over actual believers, the church is free to be as extravagant in its hypocrisy as it wishes. But when it operates a business that is not limited to believers (and doesn’t even pretend to be), something different is at stake — the rule of law. This is a case where the Catholic hierarchy is simply using its power over its own believers (which they freely ignore) to make life more complicated for non-believers who work for them. And that is not any matter of conscience, it is a matter of naked power.
If any significant number of believing Catholics actually followed the church’s rules against contraception, this would be a somewhat harder case, I suppose. But it would still come down to the fact that the church has chosen to establish a secular corporation in the private sector to provide an inarguably valuable public good. Having chosen to do so, it is not free to pick and choose the laws that apply to it based on some flexible corporate notion of “conscience.” If churches have the power to make even non-believers subject to their rules, in ways that are entirely convenient to the church, then we have recreated the problem of religious establishment under an infinitely expandable version of religious exercise.
That cannot be right. It certainly isn’t what any of the founders would have imagined. This is not just the religious exemption that Steve has in mind. Church rules are appropriate for believers of that religion. But there is and should be no constitutional right for religions to bully nonbelievers. That principle is at the heart of this nation’s DNA, and it looks like the bishops want us to live through that battle again.