Tuesday, March 27, 2012


In connection with the Catholic Church speaking out against the new health care law's requirement that health plans provide contraception coverage, there has been some outcry on the internet and in social media circles about churches staying out of the political arena.  It is not a new issue, but it has gained some recent steam.

In reality, churches are not prohibited from speaking out on anything of a political bent.  The Internal Revenue Code prohibits them from getting involved in a particular candidates campaign, donating to a campaign, or openly advocating a particular candidate for political office.  However, many issues overlap.  Things the church considers to be of spiritual concern may also be of political concern.  The church is within its rights to preach, teach or speak out in regard to its opinion on such subjects.  In fact, tax-exempt organizations are even permitted to engage in limited lobbying activity, so long as that activity does not rise to what the IRS defines as a "substantial" level.

More than anything, I would like to see consistency on both sides.  For example, were those who currently believe the church should be silent on the "political" issue of contraception equally incensed when the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops wrote a letter in 2010 to the United States House of Representatives urging the passing of President Obama's proposed health care reform law (http://old.usccb.org/healthcare/HC-Letter-to-Congress-012610.pdf)?  Did they speak out against the United Church of Christ passing a resolution in 2005 aimed at "affirming marriage equality, affirming the civil rights of gay - of same-gender - couples to have their relationships recognized as marriages by the state, and encouraging our local churches to celebrate those marriages" (http://www.nytimes.com/2005/07/05/national/05church.html?_r=1)?  Did they object when the United Methodist Church urged the passing of health care legislation in the House of Representatives and opposed an amendment that would prohibit including abortion services (http://www.umc-gbcs.org/c.frLJK2PKLqF/b.3634159/siteapps/advocacy/ActionItem.aspx?aid=13356)?

We cannot "have our cake and eat it too."  If churches must remain completely out of the political arena, then all churches must do so.  We cannot pick and choose when we decide to raise the objection based upon whether we happen to agree with the stance the church is taking in any particular instance.

This is more an observation about human nature than anything else.  That which we condemn when it stands in opposition to our views we are all too often willing to give a blind eye when it works in our favor.  This principle applies far beyond this particular illustration and it is my prayer that we can all strive to seek consistency in our daily lives.


Moving London said...

I am also surprised why church wants to interfere the question of family planning - this is a personal right and obligation to make a good plan!

Ten Minas Ministries said...

Moving London:

Thank you for your thoughts. The main point of this post dealt more with the right of tax-exempt organizations to offer their voice in the political process, so I did not delve too deeply into the details of the objection to mandated contraception coverage. For clarification, the church does not want to interfere with the question of family planning. In fact, the Roman Catholic Church, which provides the primary voice against the required provision of contraception coverage, mandates a family planning course for any couples intending to get married in their Church. The question is not whether family planning in general is appropriate, but rather what means of family planning are appropriate and whether the Catholic Church can be Constitutionally required to provide means to which they theologically object.

The Catholic Church is not seeking to interfere with any couple's personal decision as to what contraception methods to use. Their objection stems from the requirement of the law that would make them an active participant in the provision of methods of contraception with which they disagree.

Logically speaking, it is similar to mandating an atheist to contribute money to a faith-based organization that provides immunizations to low-income individuals because there is a public health benefit. This would be a violation of the Establishment Clause just as the mandated coverage is alleged to violate the Free Exercise Clause.

Personally, I do not have any religious or philosophical issues with the use of pre-conception contraception. However, I defend the Catholic Church's right to object to laws such as this that would require them to take a personal and active role in activities that are opposed to their religious beliefs.

I would venture a guess that those speaking out in favor of this law would loudly object if a conservative President and Congress attempted to pass a mandate similar to the one I described for the atheist above, and they would be absolutely correct. However, in favoring one law and opposing the other, they would be acting in a logically inconsistent manner. That is where I think all people need to engage in some personal reflection.

Thank you again.

Ken Coughlan