“It would be refreshing, though, if it were expressed honestly, without the “of course we respect religious freedom” facade…Say what you really think: that the exercise of our religion threatens all that’s good and decent, and that you’re going to use the levers of power to bend us to your will.” –Ross Douthat
In case this needs to be reiterated, again (yes, I know that’s redundant): the contraception mandate in ObamaCare is a blatant infringement on free exercise of religion. Why many of its advocates will not admit as much—even as opponents concede the First Amendment isn’t absolute—is as peculiar as it is telling. Many on the Left are operating on the premise that serious religion is a marginal facet of social life that has little bearing on the practical world of serious people. But as the Supreme Court reminds us in Employment Division v. Smith, we can have a productive conversation about the nature of justifiable infringements on religious expression.
The curious impasse lies in liberals’ agitation for a “War on Women” and conservatives’ fears of becoming casualties of that campaign. But really, this isn’t about religious freedom, or even primarily about abortion. It’s about the complexities of fiscal compulsion, the content of our social obligations, and, of course, healthcare.
Is there a difference between being compelled to finance activities abominable to your values (e.g. Thoreau’s tax dollars in the Mexican-American War) and perform said activities (e.g. Thoreau hypothetically being drafted in that war)? Further, what constitutes legitimate uses of tax dollars? What are the limits of acceptable coercion, public or otherwise? What constitutes a properly religious space (a house, a school, a nursery)? Why do Democrats whine more about wars than the French? These are all complex and thoughtful questions that require serious interlocutors committed to discussion in good faith.
Don’t care to get into all those meaningful objections that affect real people and stuff? You needn’t worry; we won’t get around to having this national conversation. Bumper-sticker carnage and the “War on Women” make for much better entertainment in the media. Never mind the fact that the debates over abortion and women’s health decisions—which should and will continue—are not identical to the matter of taxpayers footing the bill for somebody else’s contraception.
But I have one last inquiry I hope you consider. Why should everyone subsidize free contraception? If your answer is that birth control has separate medicinal properties, why not treat it, in that capacity, like any other medicine? If you will answer that we need to make sure everyone is healthy; I agree. Everyone should have nutritious food, clean clothing, and good hygiene products, but we ordinarily charge people for those. If you have such aplomb that you will admit the government should subsidize our sexual freedom, then tell me more about your thoughts on conscientious objection or not having your tax dollars go to abstinence-only education, even if it might work.
Dear proponents of the mandate, my conservative friends may stop beating you with the Constitution if you acknowledge the legitimate concerns that these issues raise. If not, then there will be war. Just don’t whine about being oppressed.