Student Debate: Taxing Conscience

By Alex Schrider, Intern

September’s Values Voters Summit included a “Student Mixer” that featured a debate between Blake Meadows, a student at Patrick Henry College, and John W. McCarthy, Chairman of Catholic University of America’s (CUA) College Democrats.  The debate focused on the HHS contraceptive mandate, against which numerous Christian institutions (including CUA), and even states, have filed suit, arguing that it infringes on the “free exercise” clause. 
Mr. McCarthy claimed two major things: 1) the Catholic Church’s teaching on contraception is something with which good Catholics can disagree, and 2) the fact that the pope made his decision contrary to the recommendation of his council of advisors somehow cheapens the contraception teaching of the Catholic Church.
The primary argument against the HHS mandate is that it compels individuals and organizations to act against the established teachings of their religion, a point that Catholic institutions have emphasized. But if the Catholic contraception position is optional, as McCarthy suggests, then on what basis can an institution “force” that position on its employees? Even a church couldn’t be exempt if that were true, as the matter becomes a question of personal choice, not religious doctrine.
Of course, this might have been a moot point if the robust conscience provisions left in place at the end of the Bush administration had remained in place. Instead, those provisions have been attacked (and, for the most part, gutted) by the same administration which is now mandating contraception coverage. Without an appeal to religious doctrine there is little left to protect the interests of objecting individuals, and nothing left to protect objecting institutions…even places of worship.
Except for one thing: Mr. McCarthy is wrong in his representation of Catholic teaching. The teaching of the Catholic Church (fecundity) is clearly laid out in its catechism, and is beyond contestation by the faithful (sec. 891 and 892). To compel a person or organization to be an accessory to an act contrary to deeply held religious belief goes against the core of American tradition. This trespass of government shouldn’t energize only Catholics, but every individual who believes in moral truth, particularly when the “benefit” from such a measure is undetectable.
As numerous individuals, including FRC’s Jeanne Monahan, have pointed out, the “need” for increased access to contraception is non-existent: there is already substantial government funding, many insurance companies already cover it, and it is readily available and affordable. So why the zealous push for an intrusive mandate?
MARRI has documented the effects of widespread contraceptive use: when birthrate decreases, the average age of a population increases, eventually leading to population decline. An aging and declining population is associated with economic problems, not the least of which is the substantial burden placed on the shoulders of the smaller, younger generation, which must provide for the disproportionately large elderly generation. There is no long-term economic benefit to be derived from coercing contraceptive use.
Beyond the cost-benefit analysis, however, it boils down to a question of principle and tradition. Until now, American government has generally erred on the side of religious freedom, and never has moral and religious conscience been taxed…until this administration. A fundamental shift in regulation of conscience has occurred: the traditional freedom of individuals to “practice what they preach” should be curbed to facilitate sweeping partisan policies.
I don’t know about you, but I would rather have the option to conscientiously disagree with the ruling party – without being fined for it.

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