What matters is that all of us have the right to make our own decisions about whether an act is morally permissible. Therefore, while much has been made of the approval of some of the president’s Catholic supporters, their views are completely irrelevant to the religious objections raised by other Catholics.
Our constitutional protection of religious liberty is not a least-common-denominator proposition, in which all Quakers would lose their right to conscientious objection to war just because some can be convinced to fight. Rather, our laws protect the right of each individual to his or her own religious beliefs, regardless of whether those beliefs are reasonable, consistent or widely shared with anyone else. The approval of some Catholics is not a license for the government to force other Catholics to violate their own beliefs.
The president argues that religious objectors should be fine pushing the button to force insurance companies to give out these drugs. But for millions of Americans, slamming the door in the face of the creepy guy with the box would be an easy moral call. Of course the president and his supporters are entitled to their own moral calculus on that question, but so too are the objectors.
And therein lies the problem with the president’s approach. He is trying to micromanage the rules by which individual Americans will make decisions of conscience. This is an impossible task and one our laws rightly put beyond the reach of government.
That is why the only proposal that will make the president’s religion problem go away is also the simplest one: a complete and unconditional religious exemption for anyone who objects to any type of involvement with these drugs.
Mark Rienzi is senior counsel at the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty and a professor of constitutional law at Catholic University of America.