There seems to be a misunderstanding circulating that government and religion are somehow supposed to be a “two-way” street. Where has anyone gleaned that idea? The 1st Amendment is explicitly worded one-way: “Congress shall make no law…”
Still, most US adults of course are sensible too: they grasp that no right is absolute. One cannot put a rattlesnake into an infant’s crib to prove how, in avoiding being bitten, that is proof of “God’s love”. And most who support the “right to choose” do not feel “choosing” a male over a female baby should be a morally acceptable termination criterion. Even when it comes to abortion rights, the question is not is there a line, but what is the line?
Yet too many seem also to imagine flippant analogies may be tossed out to try to justify every “curtailment” effort. But freedom of religion gets first mention in the 1st Amendment precisely because it is unlike anything else. The Founders knew that religious rivalries tear apart societies, and had.
Faith (and even a lack thereof) has always also been a major part of our multiple layers of who we are as individuals. In the HHS mandate debate, we are seeing this aspect to that: we are enjoying at times the erudition of certain “Catholics” who use it as an opportunity to voice the predictable “I’m a Catholic, but…” whinge. Case in point, Joan Walsh, at Salon (via Bill):
…I have a couple of reactions to the bishops’ extremism. First of all, as someone raised Catholic, I wonder why they’ve never read letters about any of their social justice priorities: universal healthcare, increased protection for the poor, labor rights, or action to curb climate change? Why does this topic – not even the morally challenging issue of abortion, but the universally accepted practice of birth control – merit such a thundering reaction from the pulpit?
“Extremism” is now evidently to be defined as asserting a continuation of a church-state general understanding that has somehow existed since the ratification of the Bill of Rights in 1791. Until January 20, 2012, that is. On that day, the current Democratic administration decided it could not possibly stomach 220 years of precedent a moment longer.
The second part of the above caused yours truly also as a Catholic to wonder: if she does, where does Ms Walsh actually attend Mass weekly? Indeed, when is the last time many “raised Catholic” have? Or, as yours truly had put to a non-Catholic church liberal critic three years ago, regarding her disdain for what she considered the Church’s “dated ancient doctrines”, its “wealth” and its (she asserted) social justice shortcomings:
Does the priest still conduct the service only in Latin? Does he offer up “fire and brimstone” homilies after the Gospel reading? Is his papal intellectual “hero” Urban II?
If so, that would make him rather unfamiliar to us. Those churches we have been to regularly here in Britain, or in Ireland, or on the continent (in France and in Italy), and over in America (and I am an American and my wife is English), are staffed by priests who seemingly spend most of their time appealing to their congregations for “tolerance” of those who are different. At least when they aren’t constantly calling for more economic equality and an end to poverty, and beseeching listeners always to strive to work to bring peace to our divided (often hate-filled) world.
That is the same “big business” Catholic church which in America, due to its “ancient” doctrine regarding our common humanity, assists desperate illegal immigrants who have nowhere else to turn. Do Microsoft and GM do that? Moreover, how exactly does one do “social justice” while broke?
Our priest here presides over his share of happy occasions (marriages, baptisms, etc), but not only does he suddenly now find himself (likely when he has a moment free from pondering the church’s “very tarnished image,” that is) also devoting time to counselling the “credit crunched,” but there is never any escape (not even in “good times”) from having to try to comfort in some small ways the endless parade of dying and families of the recently deceased. Talk about a role sure to be psychologically wearying. That before even the raising of funds to aid the starving in the likes of Zimbabwe and the Congo.
And that’s just for starters. It sorta also puts the full stomach social frettings into a degree of better-placed perspective. Doesn’t it?
Then again, true, Catholic church (and Christian) doctrine doesn’t happen also to be too comfortable with debasing humanity or destroying human life wantonly. And regardless of whether such be as a consequence of abortion, or capital punishment, or war. Although, one supposes, yes, that that’s no longer a very “liberal” outlook to try to hold in our obviously increasingly moral and enlightened era.
Unsurprisingly, Ms Walsh’s complaint list goes on:
Second, as an American, I also wonder: How do they continue to demand tax-exempt status when they’re railing in their churches about blatantly political – and divisively partisan – public concerns? As the first writer on my remarkably sane Catholic tribalism letters thread remarked, their public support for the extremist GOP position makes me think they should register as a Republican political action committee rather than remain a tax-exempt religious institution outside the bounds of politics…
Second, insofar as this American understands, that is not how charitable tax-exemption works. The exemption is for charities, not religions per se. Even a quick glance at Wikipedia makes that clear:
…501(c)(3) exemptions apply to corporations, and any community chest, fund, cooperating association or foundation, organized and operated exclusively for religious, charitable, scientific, testing for public safety, literary, or educational purposes, to foster national or international amateur sports competition, to promote the arts, or for the prevention of cruelty to children or animals…
Under IRS rules, the Catholic Church falls under that 501 (c)(3) category. But being a charity does not ban charitable entities from having public policy opinions. For the exemption, the IRS demands the exempt charity must simply mostly exist for the purpose of doing charitable work.
Considering it has been the Executive branch that has chosen to attempt to direct the Catholic Church as to which state-decreed purpose it should spend tax-exempt plate collections, it then requires a particular gall also then to criticize the Church verbally disagreeing with that policy. Example, White House Press Secretary Jay Carney, February 13:
Nonprofit religious organizations won’t have to pay for it, and they will not have to refer their employees for contraceptive services. Churches and houses of worship, as you know, already were exempt and are exempt in this policy. And the organizations that will be most affected by this — Catholic Charities and the Catholic Health Association — have expressed their support for this policy, and we obviously appreciate that.
Now, we never set out with the assumption that everyone would be satisfied with this balanced approach, with this what we believe — approach that ensures that women get — all women, no matter where they work, get the preventive services they deserve and need, and that religious liberties are accommodated. And I would simply note with regard to the bishops that they never supported health care reform to begin with, of which this is an important element..
However, remember Ms Walsh also believes the Catholic Church should say nothing about that blatantly political statement from the administration spokesman. Well, yours truly will here. Because this writer had to read that beaut more than once to try actually to believe Mr Carney seriously said it.
Here, “I would simply note” that given how voluminous evidence to the contrary going back at least to Mr Carney’s teen years is easy enough to stumble on in a 5 second web search a kid could do, that has to rank as among one of the more arrogantly ignorant statements ever offered by a White House press secretary. Or it is a profoundly cynical attempt to manipulate and/or even lie. In either case, it causes one worryingly to reflect on this too: if Mr Carney could not be bothered to have glanced at some elementary research regarding such a sensitive matter, how can anyone take seriously that the administration really has any clue about the history underpinning our extremely complex relationship between religious liberty and the State? That administration vacuousness is unlikely to help breach the growing gulf of mistrust.
It is worth recalling also that while all this debate is going on, laboring in the background, every day, are Catholic clergy and staffers quietly doing what they always do. Away far from the media gaze, unseen by the trenchant commenters posting at the Huffington Post, and perhaps unnoticed by certain White House press secretaries, they actually do charitable work. That is what makes the Church a charitable organization eligible for the tax-exemption.
That is also the same exemption the similarly keyboard-tapping Ms Walsh appears to wish to see revoked … and evidently as vindictively as possible. Ms Walsh is hardly alone in holding that view. (How American politics has sunk. Where has Hubert Humphrey gone?) No doubt, though, Planned Parenthood’s 501 (c)(3) tax status does not bother her — and others who view politics as she does — nearly as much. From a PP web site:
Planned Parenthood Federation of America (PPFA) – the national office:
• gifts support national medical, communications, legal, and public affairs work
• a 501 (c)(3) not-for-profit organization
• tax exempt
• a national umbrella organization
• a resource for policymakers, media, and health care providers
Presumably Ms Walsh has never seen tax-exempt Planned Parenthood staff agitating about public policy? Or in an arguably partisan manner? Or have we all missed how PP is as equally comfortable power-lunching with “right to life” Republicans as it is with “pro-choice” Democrats?
Then again, maybe the Catholic Church would be willing to see the entire 501 (c)(3) category scrapped? You never know. Do we think Planned Parenthood might too?
Ms Walsh then wearyingly winds up where so many like her always seem to end up:
…I’ve written repeatedly that my inability to quit the Catholic Church entirely comes from the fact that its social teachings formed my social conscience, and to this day some of the people doing the most good for the poor and the excluded are devout Catholics. But the bishops are impossible to defend. Today, they are working on behalf of the Republican Party…
But don’t other Christian churches also do good social works? No one is forcing anyone to be a Roman Catholic. If one finds Catholic social teachings appalling, there is, for instance, always that pleasant Episcopal church down the street.
What that observation also reveals is how partisan scribblers and party politicians regularly profess admiration for the Church when it shares “their” point of view. Meaning yours truly does not now immediately recall those of Ms Walsh’s political outlook in the 1980s, penning columns demanding the Church’s charitable exemption be removed when it was criticizing Reagan administration support for the Nicaraguan Contras and El Salvador’s right-wing government? Or for the Church’s voicing desires for a “nuclear freeze“? More recently, where was the left-of-center outcry for the Church to be taxed owing to its opposing the 2003 invasion of Saddam’s Iraq? Or as a consequence of its statements that the U.S. move to deal with “climate change“? (Yes, it has.) Or over the Church’s perennial support for substantial “immigration reform“? Or for its calls to end the death penalty? Or for its overt sympathy for “Occupy Wall Street?” Or even due to the U.S. parish priest we heard calling for, during bidding prayers (yes, really), “universal healthcare“?
With the likes of those policy prescriptions, the Church’s views “miraculously” seem to become quite “possible to defend” and cease to be “divisively partisan.” Remarkable. Stunning how much-despised, and otherwise regularly mocked clergy, morph overnight into much-respected sources of sublime, moral gravitas and national conscience … when, conveniently, you agree with them? Isn’t it?