USCCB To VP Biden: Check your facts.

The USCCB  (The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops) does not mince their words, make flippant remarks, nor do they often outright deny the truth of statements a high ranking political figure unequivocally stated as fact a few hours after the “facts” were spoken.

The Catholic Bishops have been very clear that there is indeed a distinct disagreement with the us gov. regarding the proposed sterilization and contraception laws (to the tune of 43 lawsuits filed by various groups), though the VP would have you think otherwise. The Bishops even tweeted their thoughts.

Here is a quote directly from the Bishops statement (emphasis mine):

Last night, the following statement was made during the Vice Presidential debate regarding the decision of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) to force virtually all employers to include sterilization and contraception, including drugs that may cause abortion, in the health insurance coverage they provide their employees:

“With regard to the assault on the Catholic Church, let me make it absolutely clear. No religious institution—Catholic or otherwise, including Catholic social services, Georgetown hospital, Mercy hospital, any hospital—none has to either refer contraception, none has to pay for contraception, none has to be a vehicle to get contraception in any insurance policy they provide. That is a fact. That is a fact.

This is not a fact. The HHS mandate contains a narrow, four-part exemption for certain “religious employers.” That exemption was made final in February and does not extend to “Catholic social services, Georgetown hospital, Mercy hospital, any hospital,” or any other religious charity that offers its services to all, regardless of the faith of those served.

When 43 separate Catholic Hospitals, Schools, and Churches sue you, they don’t agree with you. If you disagree with the Catholic Church’s position, just say it. Disagreement is fine. Heck, you wouldn’t be the first to disagree with the Catholic Church. Not by a long shot. However, not acknowledging a disagreement when there is clearly one present makes it hard to move forward.

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9 thoughts on “USCCB To VP Biden: Check your facts.

  1. Actually, it is the bishops that have it wrong. Their claims that the health law violates religious liberty are based on a “big lie”–a gross falsification constantly repeated and embellished to lend credibility. Notwithstanding claims to the contrary, the health care law does not force employers to act contrary to their consciences.

    Employers may comply with the law by choosing either of two options: (1) provide qualifying health insurance plans or (2) do not provide such plans and instead pay assessments to the government. Unless one supposes that the employers’ religions forbid payments of money to the government, the law does not compel them to act contrary to their beliefs.

    The second choice does not amount to “violating” the law and paying a “fine,” as some suppose. As the law “does not explicitly mandate an employer to offer employees acceptable health insurance”
    (http://www.ncsl.org/documents/health/EmployerPenalties.pdf), there is no such “mandate” to “violate.” Rather, the law affords employers two options, either of which is as lawful as the other.

    Nor are the assessments set so high that paying them would drive employers out of business, as some speculate. The law provides that if a “large employer” (i.e., one with at least 50 employees) chooses not to provide health insurance, it must pay assessments of $2,000 per year per employee after the first 30 employees. That is much less than an employer typically would pay for health insurance. Small employers would pay no assessments at all. Because of this potential saving and because the law affords individuals realistic opportunities to obtain insurance on their own, many employers are considering this option–for reasons entirely unrelated to religion.
    (http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10000872396390443437504577545770682810842.html)

    In recently issued commentary on the various options of employers, the National Catholic Bioethics Center acknowledges, albeit grudgingly, that the option of not providing health insurance and instead paying assessments is “morally sound.” While also considering this option “unfortunate” in that the insurance employees would find on their own would include coverage the Center deems objectionable, the Center concludes that the employers’ “moral connection” to that coverage would be “remote.” https://ncbcenter.org/document.doc?id=450&erid=194821

    Bottom line: Employers are not forced by the law to act contrary to their consciences. Rather, as recognized by even those who object to some aspects of the insurance the law makes available, the law affords employers with similar objections the morally sound option of not providing such insurance and paying assessments instead.

  2. Hi @dougindeep

    Thanks for stopping by and being civil! I really appreciate your comments, and the citations. It’s entirely too easy to let emotions take hold in the combox. So thanks for that.

    I respectfully disagree with you and here is why.

    So there are two options you have laid out for us. 1 – Provide health insurance that one finds morally compromising, or 2 – pay a fine for not violating your conscience (option 1). I am not opposed to taxes on principle, so that is a non-issue with me.

    I agree with you that the second option does not compel an employer to provide services that violate their conscience. It’s pretty clear that the fine is indirect, but the lawfulness of said laws is precisely what is being debated here.

    Thought experiment. I’ll exaggerate to make a point. You find slavery morally unconscionable. You can see where this is going pretty quickly. So is paying a fine for not complying with the slavery mandate still a compromise on some level? Maybe that is a misuse of the metaphor. Maybe not. This seems pretty straight forward to me. If you would still like to discuss please send a follow up comment. And in regards to the amount being financially problematic for businesses, for me the issue is the moral quality of the fine, not so much if breaks the bank. If I am being fined a dollar a year, which I can easily pay, but it is for something I disagree with, I take issue.

    And in response to the National Catholic Bioethics Center’s statement, (which I’m glad you brought up as I have not seen it yet) I believe you are framing their statements inaccurately. You make it sound as if there are a bunch of deflated old men who are begrudgingly waving a white flag, but I don’t see it as such.

    They outline four options:
    1) Willing assent – the one option they say is morally impermissible
    2) Provide morally non-objectionable insurance – self explanatory
    3) Drop all coverage – where they go through repercussions such as increasing salaries of employees and dealing with the fine for non-compliance with the HHS mandate.
    4) Temporarily comply under protest – Where they say one should “Refuse to fully comply while voicing opposition to the unjust mandate, actively pursuing legal avenues (the 43 lawsuits mentioned in the post above) to eliminate its substantial burden on the free exercise of religion, and tolerating a group health plan that contains the morally objectionable coverage only until January 2014, at which time employees in every state will have access to affordable insurance exchanges.”

    On the paragraph starting at the bottom of the left column on page three the statement on complying by paying the fine reads as the following:

    “Here the employer would comply with the mandate on a temporary basis on the grounds that he cannot feasibly or in good conscience, based on specific prudential assessments, replace his employees’ insurance coverage with fair compensation. Employer-provided insurance coverage is often a life-saving measure, since employers can purchase better coverage at a lower cost for their employees than employees can purchase privately. Many employees depend on access to medications and treatments that are necessary to preserve their health or even their lives. When the federal government forces employers and individuals to violate their own moral convictions, it puts the health and very lives of its citizens at risk. Employers are asked to choose between the rights of conscience and the well-being of those who are in their employ. Forcing such a terrible choice on people of conscience is a grave injustice, which underscores the unjust nature of the mandate.”

    So it reads no so much the NCBC saying “unfortunately, it’s morally ok”, than it does them saying that when an employer’s hand is being forced to either drop coverage for employees he knows vitally depend on, or comply with a mandate he knows he finds morally unconscionable he must decide what is best. And that it is possible that he could comply temporarily, under protest (read 43 lawsuits), not submitting to paying permanently. I think that may be the issue, the implication you are making that paying the fine comes without objection, without moral compromise, and submitting to the payment indefinitely. In the last paragraph titled “Measure of Last Resort”, the NCBC is clear in stating that the compliance has to come with a definite end attached to it. They say 2014 when coverage for individuals will be made more readily available. (I have to admit I’m not entirely clear on why in 2014 programs will be in place, save that it will simply give more time for their establishment.)

    I’m no specialist in Ethics, Catholic Theology, or Politics. I’m just a guy with a blog who cares. But this seems like a simple idea. Seek the path of least harm, evil, or moral compromise. Or do the highest good. Frame it however you want, these situations are highly circumstantial. The NCBC says don’t blindly drop insurance for your employees before thoroughly examining the situation.

    Thanks again for the thoughtful comment.

  3. i see this issue as one more checkbox leading to the end of employer-paid health insurance. once one or two of the big employers drop coverage (which as you mention could save millions or billions off a company’s bottom line), many others will follow suit. at that point, we will then have options of buying health insurance on the open market (kind of like we do for car, life and homeowners insurance) or buying coverage from the federal government through one of these insurance exchanges (which texas and many other states have stated a refusal to create). nobody in the world knows how the dominoes will fall if/when it comes to that point but if we still have government leaders obsessed with intervening in every “problem”, i don’t see them standing idly by to let the market find a solution. as a fan of limited (a.k.a. affordable) government and personal liberties, i shudder to think what that will mean for us and our children.

  4. Chris,

    I appreciate your reasoned approach and civil manner as well.

    Confronted by questions about the government requiring or prohibiting something that conflicts with someone’s faith, the courts have generally ruled that under the Constitution the government cannot enact laws specifically aimed at a particular religion (which would be regarded a constraint on religious liberty contrary to the First Amendment), but can enact laws generally applicable to everyone or at least broad classes of people (e.g., laws concerning pollution, contracts, torts, crimes, discrimination, employment, etc.) and can require everyone, including those who may object on religious grounds, to abide by them. (E.g., http://supreme.justia.com/cases/federal/us/494/872/case.html)

    When the legislature anticipates that application of such laws may put some individuals in moral binds, the legislature may, as a matter of grace (not constitutional compulsion), provide exemptions or otherwise accommodate conscientious objectors. In doing so, the legislature need not offer the objectors a free pass. It may require them to pay or do something instead. For instance, in years past, we have not allowed conscientious objectors simply to skip military service for “free”; rather, we have required them to provide alternative service in noncombatant roles or useful civilian work.

    The real question here then is not so much whether the First Amendment precludes the government from enacting and enforcing the generally applicable laws regarding availability of health insurance (it does not), but rather whether there is any need to exempt some employers in order to avoid forcing them to act contrary to their consciences. Since the law already affords employers choices by which they can avoid acting contrary to their consciences, there is no need for such an exemption.

    They may not like paying money to the government and they may not like what the government does with the money, but those are garden variety gripes common to most taxpayers. Such gripes hardly amount to being forced to act contrary to one’s conscience. Should each of us be exempted from paying some portion(s) of our taxes so we aren’t thereby “forced” to pay for making war, providing health care, teaching evolution, or whatever else each of us may consider wrong or even immoral? If each of us could opt out of this or that law or tax with the excuse that our religion requires or allows it, the government and the rule of law could hardly operate.

    1. Thanks for the cogent and clear follow up Doug.

      I believe we agree on every point you just made except one: that the exemption really allows one to avoid violating their conscience.

      The way I understand it, the lawsuits (somewhere upwards of 40) filed against the US gov. are arguing that the exemptions in place are too narrow and still require some to violate their consciences. – Yes some very narrow exemptions are in place. No, they do not actually provide what the dissenting organizations would say is the ability to act in accord with their conscience.

      Hence the litany of lawsuits.

      1. Chris,

        My point is not predicated on the law’s exemption for religious organizations. Organizations qualifying for the exemption don’t have to bother with any of this. I understand that some would prefer a broader exemption, but that has little to do with my point.

        I’m saying that the law does not force even nonexempt employers to act contrary to their consciences. Nonexempt employers who don’t want to provide health insurance with contraception coverage to their employees are not required to do so by the law. They may comply with the law by choosing not to provide any such insurance and (if they have over 50 employees) pay assessments to the government instead. Those with under 50 employees need not pay anything. While some employers may wish they had other choices as well, that choice at least allows them to comply with the law without violating their religious beliefs.

        1. Doug,

          I think I understand your point, but can you tell someone what act if performed, would be contrary to their consciences? Could paying a fine for not participating in something be considered some sort of tacit approval?

          I’ll try to be as clear as possible. You say the following…

          “I’m saying that the law does not force even nonexempt employers to act contrary to their consciences. [I’m saying it does] Nonexempt employers who don’t want to provide health insurance with contraception coverage to their employees are not required to do so by the law. [agreed] They may comply with the law by choosing not to provide any such insurance and (if they have over 50 employees) pay assessments to the government instead. [agreed, this would make them compliant with the law, but they would be doing so in violation of their consciences] Those with under 50 employees need not pay anything. While some employers may wish they had other choices as well, that choice at least allows them to comply with the law without violating their religious beliefs. [disagreed, as stated prior]”

          I think the slavery example I mentioned provides a clear case in which paying a fine for something you can in no way condone paints a pretty clear picture of the point I am trying to make.

          [Side note: Though you may not, I do take issue with the religious exemption precisely because that is what defines who, if one elects not to provide certain coverage, is required to pay the fine. It is incredibly narrow and allows the government to decide who is religious enough in their eyes to be allowed conscience protection. You have to (1) primarily employ people of their own faith; (2) primarily serve people of their own faith; (3) qualify under Section 6033 of the Internal Revenue Code as a “church”; and (4) have as their “purpose” the inculcation of religious belief. Hospitals, colleges, universities, religious schools, soup kitchens, and charities who serve people outside their faith don’t qualify. But that isn’t what you are concerned with, so I suppose that is another conversation for another time.]

          1. Chris,

            I have enjoyed our discussion–and think we’ve come full circle and can just agree to disagree.

            The law allows an employer to not provide insurance he or she finds offensive and instead pay an assessment to the government. That much is given. While some may characterize that as a “fine” for following one’s religion and suppose that such a fine is an infringement of religious liberty, the law is simply otherwise. First, the assessment is not a fine for violating the law. Second, the assessment is not a fine “for” following one’s religion. Rather, it is a payment to the government required of those employers who choose not to provide qualifying health insurance to their employees. Third, under the Constitution, the government may enact laws generally applicable to everyone or broad classes of people (e.g., a law generally requiring employers to provide health insurance or otherwise pay assessments) and require everyone, including those who object on religious grounds, to comply with them.

            While the Constitution thus allows the government to enact and enforce this law, the question may nonetheless be asked whether it would be a good idea for the government, as a matter of grace, to expand the exemption in order to avoid forcing anyone to act in violation of his or her conscience. My point is that that is unnecessary since the law, in the end, requires objecting employers merely to pay money to the government and does not require them to do anything with respect to contraception and, thus, does not force them to act contrary to their consciences. Even though they may not like paying money and they may not like what the government does with the money, there is a world of difference between disliking that and being forced to take actions contrary to their consciences.

            I recognize that some oppose the law’s policy of making contraception widely available. I think some who oppose the law on that ground have generated all the hoo-ha about religious liberty simply to stir up political opposition to a law they don’t like in the hope of undoing or at least limiting it.

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