Contraception, Catholics, and the old Kosher Deli

Yesterday’s story was of a mostly-testosterone-y panel of witnesses on Capital Hill at the birth-control-benefit hearings (walked out of, in protest, of by Congresswomen Carolyn Maloney [D-N.Y.] and Eleanor Holmes Norton [D-D.C.]) It led Katie Halper to muse that the “hearing was good, but having it in Salem in the 17th century would have made it even better.”

Anyway, Most Rev. William E. Lori, Bishop of Bridgeport, Conn., (he of the testosterone brigade) made midrashic through the Parable of the Kosher Deli, in which he imagines that a deli is forced to sell ham sandwiches and thus to contravene its deepest conscience. Lori parabolically concludes:

The government recognized that it is absurd for someone to come into a kosher deli and demand a ham sandwich; that it is beyond absurd for that private demand to be backed with the coercive power of the state; that it is downright surreal to apply this coercive power when the customer can get the same sandwich cheaply, or even free, just a few doors down.

Mark Silk responds:

…let’s imagine a more accurate analogy–one in which, for reasons of scarcity, say, places of employment were required to provide food stamps for their employees to obtain what they needed to eat. And let’s say that, as in the real world, such stamps did not cover all foodstuffs: no to Twinkies but yes to pork. Would our deli owners have any objection to providing stamps that their employees could take next door to Paddy’s Irish Pub and order a ham sandwich, or for that matter a traif plate of corned beef and cabbage? Of course not.

And that’s the point. Orthodox Jews understand the requirement to keep kosher as a religious duty required only of their kind. The Catholic bishops feel that contraception is an evil in the world at large that they cannot be complicit in. And so rather than simply say, fine, you take your health care coverage and avail yourself of whatever legal services you’re entitled to, they say, “Sorry, because some of those are sins for us, we won’t pay for you to commit ’em.”

Meanwhile, in the NYR Blog, Gary Wills says there are four arguments undermining the bishops:

(1) “imposing Catholic requirements on non-Catholics” is not to be confused with religious freedom

(2) banning contraception is a holdover from religious history – not necessarily the Bible

(3) speaking on behalf of Roman Catholics, and teaching them, is not the same thing as being the church entire (“Lord Acton said that Catholics were too sensible to go crazy every time a pope does”)

(4) “undying principles” can be trotted out for any political expediency without actually being undying so much as expedient

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