In journalism, a “standing hed” is a headline that can be used over and over because the event it describes is recurring. My favorite standing hed is “Pope Prays for Peace,” but the New York Times this week had one that is becoming equally familiar: “Bishops Reject Birth Control Compromise.”
The main point of the story was that the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops had rejected the Obama administration’s latest tinkering with its mandate that companies include contraception in their employee health plans. The revamped rule would spare religious colleges and hospitals, including self-insured institutions, from having to pay for services that offended their religious beliefs; instead, the tab would be picked up by insurance companies or third-party administrators.
Cardinal Timothy Dolan, the head of the Bishops Conference, complained that under the latest version of the rule, “ministries may yet be forced to fund and facilitate such morally illicit activities."
So the church still won’t take “mostly yes” for an answer when it comes to religious employers, and the dispute over coverage for religious employers continues. (My colleague Jon Healey has some thoughts about how Congress could have avoided the controversy.)
But Dolan’s statement reiterated that the Roman Catholic Church is equally adamant that nonreligious employers should be free to ignore the mandate. As Dolan puts it: "In obedience to our Judeo-Christian heritage, we have consistently taught our people to live their lives during the week to reflect the same beliefs that they proclaim on the Sabbath. We cannot now abandon them to be forced to violate their morally well-informed consciences.”
But do the bishops really believe that owners of hardware stores and coffee shops have a right to opt out of Obamacare -- or other laws -- because of their personal religious convictions? Suppose, as one of my colleagues suggested, a Jehovah’s Witness who ran a business didn’t want to pay for an employee health insurance plan that covered blood transfusions. Should he be able to claim a conscience exemption? What about an employer who subscribes to the view of some Christian fundamentalists that a woman’s work is exclusively in the home. Can he refuse to hire a woman and thumb his nose at the Civil Rights Act?
Someone ought to ask Dolan whether forcing those employers to obey the law is also a monstrous violation of religious liberty.