Nashville Catholic Organizations Raring to Go Back to Court



Long story short: Last year, a bunch of Catholic organizations in Nashville went to court because they oppose the birth control mandate part of Obamacare, and the court told most of them that they had no standing because they hadn't yet been harmed by the law, however it is that this might constitute harm.

On Thursday, they announced that they're going to continue fighting this.

According to The Tennessean, that's because:

[Becket's Fund communication director Emily] Hardman said the aim of the suits is to make sure those rules provide adequate protection for religious beliefs.

“What we are asking for is to have the conscience of every American protected,” she said.

We are now officially in the Land of Makes-No-Sense. Protected from what?

When someone goes to work for you, the two of you sit down and agree to compensation — this includes pay and benefits. You don't get to tell your employees where they can spend their money. You can't say "I'll pay you $50,000 to work for me, but know this — that $50,000 is mine and I think it's immoral for you to use it on birth control so I forbid you to use the salary I give you to pay for it." I mean, you can say that, but your employees would have a couple of objections — namely, about whose money it is and to who gets to decide where it's spent.

It's the same deal with your health insurance, though I guess we don't often think of it this way. If your employer agrees to compensate you for your work, in part, by providing you with health insurance, that's yours. It should be just as weird to us that employers now want to say, "But we don't want to pay for birth control through insurance." After all, that's our insurance. That's part of our compensation. No one is forcing the Catholic church to physically buy birth control and hand it out to employees.

But the problem is a little stranger than that. After all, the Catholic church seems well aware that its employees are using birth control. In The Tennessean's story, Rick Musacchio, spokesman for the diocese, says, "We don’t object to the availability of birth control. We do object to having to pay for it."

You see the oddness of this? A salary and benefits are all compensation for work. And yet, Musacchio seems to be saying that it's cool if Catholic employees use money the church pays them to get birth control, but it would be violating Catholic beliefs for employees to use the benefits the church compensates them with to get birth control.

Why should that be the case? If it violates an employer's religious conscience to "provide" birth control for his employees, shouldn't his conscience be violated in both cases — whether birth control is purchased with the money he's paid them, or through the benefits he's compensated them with?

I suspect that the truth is that it in fact does bug some religious organizations that the money they pay employees goes toward doing things they find immoral. But I also suspect that they know if they came out and said, "You cannot buy birth control (or other things that offend us religiously) with the money we pay you," they'd be limiting their employee pool to the subset of people who both agreed with them and thought it was OK for an employer to dictate how an employee spends his or her salary.

And so, I think they're exploiting the weird way we differentiate between "salary" and "benefits." They don't dare tell employees how to spend their hard-earned money, but they see an opportunity to get the right tell employees how they may utilize their hard-earned benefits.

After all, under the new law, most religious organizations aren't actually paying for birth control at all. As The New York Times explains:

Mr. Obama announced that rather than requiring religiously affiliated charities and universities to pay for contraceptives for their employees, the cost would be shifted to health insurance companies.

It's hard to see how they could be any better protected from having to pay for contraceptives, since they literally do not have to pay for contraceptives. Which leads me to think the reason they're still so unhappy is that they want the right to tell their employees how they can make use of their compensation, but they know it'd be hugely unpopular to make that argument in public, so they're publicly having a different fight.

I think there's a word for "claiming you're doing one thing when you're really doing another" — I feel like God might have even said not to do it — but it's just not coming to mind. Oh, well, I guess if it were important, it'd be guiding the actions of these religious groups, right?

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