Sarah Posner at Religion Dispatches has written an excellent piece about just how thoroughly the Catholic bishops’ claims ignore a long history of court rulings that have defined the ways religious institutions interact with the state in various circumstances.
Now, I’m not saying that court rulings are always perfect – members of minority religions are well aware of how entrenched assumptions can affect even jurists’ ideas of what is reasonable or unreasonable. But each and every point that the bishops present as an example of infringement of religious liberty has been ruled against on substantive grounds based in the First Amendment. In short, religious institutions that accept taxpayer dollars have to abide by the same nondiscrimination laws that other institutions do. And religious employers have to provide the same benefits for their employees that nonreligious employers do.
This reinforces my point that it’s true this isn’t a “Catholic” matter – it’s a matter of religions with institutions. I have tremendous respect for the Catholic history and tradition of providing social services, including health care, child care, and education. If they see providing those as a fundamental part of practicing their faith, so much the better, and they should absolutely be allowed to do so. That’s guaranteed in the Free Exercise Clause. But the Establishment Clause still applies: the government is prohibited from supporting religion, even if that religion is trying to do good things. When Catholics insist that they won’t let gay couples adopt, or provide reproductive health care to victims of sex trafficking, they are practicing their religion – and enforcing it on others who didn’t voluntarily choose to be subject to Catholic dictates! That’s pretty much the definition of an establishment of religion, and the state has no business funding it.
As the “Fortnight of Freedom” approaches, Pagans should be aware of the tendentious arguments and ahistorical reasoning being used here; we can easily refute these “talking points” by having facts handy. Most importantly, we need to make it clear that these organizations are not being denied the opportunity to help others, just the chance to discriminate against others while receiving taxpayer funding.