But there is a second viewpoint that also confuses me. Over 220 years ago, when our Founding Fathers set forth the Constitution, and the much debated Bill of Rights was instituted, the free exercise of religion was established. At the time, Catholics were certainly a minority in the United States. But they were there. Charles Carroll, a Catholic, signed the Declaration of Independence. Daniel Carroll, a Catholic, signed the Articles of Confederation, and the Constitution, along with Thomas Fitsimons from Pennsylvania. And many Catholics were integral in the Revolutionary War. So when the First Amendment of the Bill of Rights was ratified expressly protecting religious practices, it’s safe to say that the authors knew what they were getting into with regard to those Catholics, and their anti-contraceptive, sterilization beliefs, which at the time looked a lot like their Protestant brothers and sisters. Although some may argue that these were different times, it does not change the fact that the originators of the much debated religious rights knew exactly what they were agreeing to when they said we could practice our religion freely, just as we do today.
But before we Catholics quickly jump on the political bandwagon and throw stones, there is one last reality that I cannot ignore, and has been gnawing at me for a while. It almost never makes it to the pews. All of HHS controversy would have never have happened if for not one thing: almost all Catholics apparently believe that birth control is okay, and their practices reflect this. Statistics indicate that 90-95 percent of Catholics use some form of contraception. If it wasn’t for my wife, I would have been one of them. If even 50 percent of Catholics actually followed this church teaching, the HHS mandates would have been nothing short of political suicide. And we know it. The only reason this ruling ever had a chance was because most Catholics have foregone this seemingly inconvenient belief, and the current administration sensed that most of these people would remain quiet, and even silently (or not so silently) support the mandate. It seems we may have ourselves largely to blame for this conundrum.
But just like many other topics, the emotional reaction regarding the experience (or perceived experience) became synonymous with analysis of the topic. They are not the same, and at times, are not even in the same arena. From my humble vantage point, it is not really that controversial of an issue. People cry that the recent ruling prevents adequate health care. What they really mean to say is that it forces some people to spend more money to live the way they want to. People cry that religious employers should not infringe on the basic rights of the people. What they really mean to say is that people’s desires of today should supersede religious beliefs that have stood for millennia. And people cry (often silently) that the Catholic teachings regarding birth control are out of step, and unfair, with regards to current societal trends. What they really mean is that following the teachings seems too hard, too uncertain, too scary, too expensive, and too inconvenient in a world where we all want to be assured that things will be just fine, even as (ironically) our country is on the verge of being below replacement standards because we are not having enough kids. The basics of this discussion seem rather straightforward. (Although I realize that some people will cite certain exceptions to contradict what I have said.) The human reaction and condition, regarding the potential ramifications in this area are, as always, anything but clear. But it seems we shouldn’t confuse the two as being interchangeable when it comes time to really approach this topic from a legal and religious standpoint.