Wednesday, May 23, 2012

NY Times Columnist Maureen Dowd Attacks Catholic Church, Says Government Should Decide Which Religious Views are Worthy of Protection under the First Amendment

Maureen Dowd
Today, Maureen Dowd pens a column in the New York Times about the Catholic lawsuit against the Obama policy that even religious institutions have to provide contraception coverage to their employees, even though artificial contraception is against the Church's tenets.  Here are some gems from that article:
One night at dinner with my mom, I ventured that the rhythm method had worked well for her, given that there were six years between my sister Peggy and my brother Kevin, and six more between Kevin and me. She arched an eyebrow. “Well, sometimes your father used something,” she said.  
After their first three kids, they sagely decided family planning was not soul-staining. So I wasn’t surprised to see the Gallup poll Tuesday showing that 82 percent of U.S. Catholics say birth control is morally acceptable. (Eighty-nine percent of all Americans and 90 percent of non-Catholics agreed.) ... 
The poll appeared on the same day as headlines about Catholic Church leaders fighting President Obama’s attempt to get insurance coverage for contraception for women who work or go to college at Catholic institutions. The church insists it’s an argument about religious freedom, not birth control. But, really, it’s about birth control, and women’s lower caste in the church. It’s about conservative bishops targeting Democratic candidates who support contraception and abortion rights as a matter of public policy. And it’s about a church that is obsessed with sex in ways it shouldn’t be, and not obsessed with sex in ways it should be.         
The bishops and the Vatican care passionately about putting women in chastity belts. Yet they let unchaste priests run wild for decades, unconcerned about the generations of children who were violated and raped and passed around like communion wine.    
The church leaders headed to court hope to undermine the president, but they may help him. Voters who think sex is only for procreation were not going to vote for Obama anyway. And the lawsuit reminds the rest that what the bishops portray as an attack on religion by the president is really an attack on women by the bishops. 
It seems contradictory that someone who so adamantly decries sexism in a newspaper column has no problem engaging in the worst sort of anti-Catholic bigotry in that same column.  But I digress.  The fact is that Dowd's argument, even if it is 100% accurate, is completely irrelevant to the merits of the  lawsuits.  It doesn't matter if the Catholic Church's belief regarding birth control and other issues might be considered sexist, it doesn't matter that most Catholics don't accept the Church's teaching on he artificial birth control, it doesn't matter that the Church has a supposed obsession about sex.  None of that affects the fact that religious beliefs are protected by the Free Exercise Clause of the First Amendment and that the Constitution requires government to make exceptions in its policies for those religious beliefs.  The Obama policy completely fails to do that.

Thank God, no pun intended, it is not the business of government to decide which religious views are acceptable, a position Dowd enthusiastically embraces.   Make no mistake about it, the Obama policy is an assault on religious freedom and the Catholic Church in particular.  Fortunately the First Amendment is on the side of the Church.


Morning Constitutional said...

The First Amendment, as interpreted by the Supreme Court, is indeed on the side of the Catholic Church, to a point. The question is how far the scope of what's core "church" and what's clearly in the stream of commerce, so that balancing of interests should take place. Could MacDonald's, if a majority of its shares were held by conservative Catholics, refuse to provide contraceptive coverage because its owners see an extension of Christ's mandate to feed the hungry? (I think that Indiana tribe whose views on peyote for religious use have an opinion on this one, too.)

Indy Rob said...

Maureen Dowd points to her mother's hypocrisy of wanting to be perceived as a devout catholic and yet using birth control show that practical reasons trump church doctrine. Ms. Dowd also says that 82% of Catholics feel that birth control is morally acceptable. If so, since these people disagree with church doctrine, why bother being a catholic?

Indy Rob said...

Why can't a private company be able to decide what benefits are provided to their employees? (I am not arguing about health insurance, specifically I am arguing about contraceptive coverage)

For example, Chick-fil-a made the decision that all of their stores should be closed on Sundays. Truett Cathy (chick-fil-a founder), made the decision to be closed on Sundays when he opened his first restaurant. He believes that all (franchised and non-franchised) Chick-fil-A employees should have an opportunity to rest, spend time with family and friends, and worship if they choose to do so.
Should the government force Trueet to open on Sundays?

Cato said...

Paul, please get the obituaries off your page. It's depressing.

Irishking23 said...

I'll have to stand by the church on this one and I am not even Catholic.

Jeff Cox said...


1. There is much more to church doctrine than birth control.

B. Catholics like me attribute the Church's current position on contraception as arising out of the myopia of the men leading the Church, not anything to do with the actual Church itself, not anything to do with the Catholic religion.

Danahearn said...

You misunderstand. Individual religious freedom is protected. Conscience is protected... The freedoms of employee and employer alike. Suppose that employee is an Episcopalian... Must she be forced to obey religious teaching not her own?

Ellen said...

Exactly, Danahearn!

Besides, contraception prohibitions are a rather new innovation in Catholic doctrine, arising just about a century ago (NOT from the teachings of Christ, or even the early Church fathers).

Morning Constitutional said...

One thing needs to remain clear in this type of discussion: The fact that a significant, if not overwealming number of Catholics disagree with their church on contraception or anything else is totally irrelevant. They have the freedom to establish their own denomination. The question remains how wide a net can the "religious freedom" net cast when a church does not a little dealings with Ceasar but resists rendering to Ceasar.

Jeff Cox said...


That's a bit of a mid characterization of the Church's position, don't you think? There is no "rendering unto Caesar" here. This is "Caesar telling the Church to violate its long-stated beliefs."

Note that I am merely using Caesar for metaphorical purposes. I will not insult the Caesars by comparing them to Obama.

Pete Boggs said...

What a funkin' Kacque!

marksmall2001 said...

There is a difference between religious practice and the dictates of a small number of men who have determined the bureaucracy of their corporation will take a stand counter to (1) as Jeff Cox points, out the history of the corporation and (2) the overwhelming majority of the corporation's adherents. On the other hand, when Catholic institutions accept Federal money, they cannot advance a religious agenda. That would be in violation of the Establishment Clause. Is this where Mike Pence's argument about Planned Parenthood---any financial aid ends up subsidizing the organization and therefore subsidizes abortion---enter? Notre Dame might accept funds for a physics program, but the school's money goes to maintenance of the golden dome and Touchdown Jesus, as well as pay for faculty who teach classes aimed at advancement of religious beliefs. Of course, if we brought in real healthcare reform, i.e. single payer, I think people would not complain so much (esp once they realized the advantages accrued).

marksmall2001 said...

And Paul, I agree with Cato on this: could you ditch the obits? We receive enough reminders each day of our mortality.

Ellen said...

This is "Caesar telling the Church to violate its long-stated beliefs."

Nope. The anti-contraception belief is new, very new, in the history of the church.

Jeff Cox said...


Actually, it isn't. It goes back to at least the Black Death in Europe. And, unexpectedly, it was part of the Inquisition.

Ellen said...

No, Jeff, you're wrong:

It was 1968.

Jeff Cox said...

Uh, no, Ellen, you're wrong.

(Yeah, I hate linking to Wikipedia but their explanation of the history of birth control and the Church is as good as any.)

The Humanae Vitae document dates from 1968, but the Church's position on birth control predates the Humanae Vitae by at least 700 years. The Church itself says it dates from the very early Church Not quite sure I buy that but that's their story.

After the Black Death the Church did have a good reason to oppose birth control, albeit not a religious one: to repopulate a Europe devastated by the Black Death. Artificial birth control was seen as "witchcraft" and was punished accordingly. Knowledge of herbal methods of birth control was completely destroyed.

I disagree vehemently with the Church's position on birth control. There are plenty of people today and no need to worry about the human race or the Church dying off. But theirs is not a new position.

Ellen said...

Gosh, Jeff: what have you been smoking?

"Knowledge of herbal methods of birth control was completely destroyed." Really?

Midwives throughout the centuries have always handed out birth control as well as providing abortions.

It wasn't until medicine was professionalized (and made a masculine province) about a century ago that things changed.

You've bought the church's (male) version of reality, which (as usual) is a rewrite of the actual.

Jeff Cox said...

Yo, Ellen. You're shooting at the wrong target. I'm on your side. I oppose the Church's stance on contraception, divorce, married priests and women priests. But you can't fight them if you don't understand the history of those issues. You obviously do not, not if you think the contraception issue started with the Humanae Vitae in 1968.

Midwives have indeed been around forever. But herbal birth control was deemed "witchcraft" by the Church. Any practitioner of it could be executed. It was later subject to the Universal Inquisition. The Church's effort was so successful that knowledge of how to make herbal birth control was lost in Europe before the Reformation revived it.

Losing knowledge is not unheard of. It was only in the late 19th century that medicine began to reach the levels it had during the Roman Empire. Much of what was preserved had been done so by the Church.

Again, the Church's position was based on the need to repopulate Europe. They did not say that though. Now there is no need to repopulate anything, but the Church refuses to accept that, because it would then mean that sex is for more than procreation, which a bunch of unmarried celibate priests are not likely to understand.

You want to fight the Church on these issues, fine. I'm with you. But get your facts straight or else you'll do more harm than good.

Ellen said...

Sure hope you're not teaching history to unsuspecting students, Jeff.

You're so off base it's laughable.

The church tried to suppress medical knowledge, it's true, but the knowledge didn't go away. It just went underground.

Midwives are traditionally expert at circumventing male authority.

As for medicine: the advances came from the Muslims in the medieval period, not the Catholics.

Hoosier in the Heartland said...

I'm with Ellen on this.

I can find no discussion of artificial birth control by the church before the '60s.

See this, for example:

Hoosier in the Heartland said...

and, PS, I don't consider the documented "hanging a bundle of herbs between your breasts" method of contraception alleged to have been used by an Albigensian in the 13th century to be artificial birth control!

Jeff Cox said...


Nothing in the inked op-ed contradicts anything I said. The op-ed deals with the Humanae Vitae and Pope Paul VI's ridiculous position on contraception, not the history of the Church's position.

Even Wikipedia says, "The Catholic Church has been opposed to contraception for as far back as one can historically trace." You want some examples? Try John Chrysostom, Jerome, Clement of Alexandria, Hippolytus of Rome and Augustine of Hippo, all of whom predate the 1968 Humanae Vitae by roughly 1800 years.

You want an official Church document condemning contraception? Check out Pope Innocent VIII’s 1484"Summis desiderantes affectibus" which directed the Inquisition to start "correcting, imprisoning, punishing and chastising" “witches,” who were explicitly accused of having "slain infants yet in the mother's womb" and of "hindering men from performing the sexual act and women from conceiving." The former is abortion, the latter is contraception. This, too, predates the 1968 Humanae Vitae by some 500 years.

I vehemently oppose the Church's position on contraception, a position that had been practical and is now political, but was never religious. Pope Paul VI was wrong in the Humanae Vitae. But don't mischaracterize the Church's position. It's not new. It's very, very old.

Jeff Cox said...


The feeling is mutual. The difference is that I can and have backed up my assertions with evidence. In your obvious zeal to bash the ROMAN Catholic Church, you apparently can't be bothered to do that.

Nevertheless I will point out two things:

1. I never said the Catholic Church advanced medical science. I said it preserved much of it from the Roman era. It's called the ROMAN Catholic Church for a reason.

2. Don't like the statement that the knowledge of herbal contraception in Europe was destroyed? Take it up with Professor John M. Riddle of North Carolina State, a specialist in the history of meedicine and author of "Eve's Herbs: A History of Contraception and Abortion in the West." He has an entire chapter about it titled "The Broken Chain of Knowledge." I'll let Wikipedia ( summarize it:

"In modern Europe, knowledge of herbal abortifacients and contraceptives to regulate fertility has largely been lost. Historian John M. Riddle found that this remarkable loss of basic knowledge can be attributed to attempts of the early modern European states to "repopulate" Europe after dramatic losses following the plague epidemics that started in 1348. According to Riddle, one of the policies implemented by the church and supported by feudal lords to destroy the knowledge of birth control included the initiation of witch hunts against midwives, who had knowledge of herbal abortifacients and contraceptives."

(If this sounds a mite familiar, it's because I told you this a few days ago. Scroll up.)

In between your anti-Catholic and anti-male rants, maybe you should give his book a look.

Ellen said...

I give up, Jeff.

Anyone whose main source is Wikipedia can't be expected to differentiate between contraception (think: rhythm method) and artificial contraception.

Jeff Cox said...


I gave you much more than Wikipedia. Even so, Wikipedia, while not always accurate, is better than nothing, which is precisely what you gave.

Ellen said...

"The real threat to religious liberty comes from the effort to impose one church’s doctrine on everyone."

Indy Rob said...

I want to thank you for your thoughtful, intelligent remarks to this discussion. I especially appreciate your willingness to cite sources, a common shortcoming of most posters.