Years ago, a good friend from medical school was complaining to me about her health insurance. Specifically, she was lamenting its lack of coverage for birth control. At the time she was a resident at a major medical center around our nation’s capital, one which happens to be a Catholic institution. She didn’t choose to do her residency there because of its religious affiliation, but because of its reputation for excellence, just as I didn’t choose where to do my fellowship in New York because of its history as a Jewish institution. As far as I am aware, the only way the institution’s Roman Catholic affiliation manifested itself in her work or life as an employee was to hinder her ability to have non-procreative sex.
Not that it should matter, but I may as well mention that my friend was married. And Hindu.
Now, I suppose one could argue that a truly optimally-informed person would have considered all the ramifications of her potential employers’ policies and histories and so forth, and composed her residency rank list accordingly. If one made that argument, it would follow that only potential employees who were willing to accept Catholic doctrine with regard not just to the way they functioned within the workplace (where it seems somewhat more reasonable to me) but also to the conduct of their personal lives to a certain degree as well need apply for jobs. They wouldn’t have to be Catholic, but would have to accept the Catholic Church’s beliefs about whether you should be having sex without the potential for conception. This would apply not only to employees of the Catholic Church as an explicitly religious institution (people employed directly by some diocese or church, for example), but also those who work for Catholic hospitals or universities — the janitor at Holy Family Hospital and the anthropology professor at Notre Dame, just the same as Father O’Donnell at Sacred Heart Parish.
While not outright religious discrimination, this is certainly religious interference. While the Roman Catholic church may believe that founding hospitals, universities and charities is an act of faith (for which it is to be sincerely appreciated and commended), by this point in the history of most of those institutions the religious nature of their founding is incidental to the professional lives of many (most?) of their employees. Working as a physician in a Catholic institution may in some way contribute to the Church’s worldwide mission, but her work there was strictly secular and professional. (Even though I am somewhat religious myself and to a certain extent chose my vocation because of a desire to do good works, I don’t really believe my work as a doctor fulfills Christ’s injunction to comfort the sick. Somehow it seems to cancel it out as charitable work if you get paid well to do it.)
When the Roman Catholic church asks to be exempted from federal regulations requiring insurers to provide contraceptives to women as part of their coverage, they are asking for the power to exert the force of their doctrine into the lives of people who have not empowered them to do so. They can propound whatever they want about their beliefs to whoever wishes to hear it. But they do not have the right to dictate or inhibit the private, personal choices of people whose only relationship with them is as secular employees. The President should respectfully ignore their request.