Freedom’s Catch 22

Member Group : From the Kitchen Table

In a novel published in 1961, author Joseph Heller describes a pilot who tries to get himself declared insane so he won’t have to fly any more combat missions. The doctor informs him that since no sane person would volunteer for such dangerous duty, the very fact that he is requesting a psychiatric evaluation proves that he is sane and therefore able to continue to fly combat missions. The doctor explains although this would mean that the other pilots must be insane, no mental evaluation is done without a request, so they will never be evaluated and can continue to fly combat missions.

The phrase Catch 22 comes from the title of that book, and has come to mean a situation in which an individual cannot avoid a problem because of contradictory rules and regulations. The person is trapped.

We are looking at a Catch 22 in the struggle of the Catholic Church to maintain its right to religious freedom in its own institutions.

The administration’s health care mandate includes language that requires all institutions to pay for contraception access in insurance plans, even if the institution is self-insured. If an organization does not wish to comply with this mandate, the option is to stop providing health care benefits to any employee, and instead pay the fines imposed on employers who do not pay such benefits. The size of the fines would result in the closing of the institutions in question.

The "exemption" granted for religious organizations stipulates that the organization must be entirely self-contained. In other words, to qualify for the exemption, the organization in question must hire and serve only members of the particular faith that the organization subscribes to.

For example, a Catholic hospital could only hire staff members who were Catholic, and could only admit patients who were Catholics.

So, what if the Catholic hospital decided to comply with the requirements to receive the exemption and only hire and admit those who are members of the Catholic faith?

The hospital would find itself facing the non-discrimination requirements of federal law. Those requirements explicitly specify that hiring practices must conform to equal opportunity standards, and services must be provided equally to all, without regard to things like religion.

If the hospital did not comply with these non-discrimination requirements, it would lose its eligibility for federal programs such as Medicare funding. Without access to Medicare reimbursements, the hospital would have to close.

Catch 22.

The obvious question is, are the leaders in the current administration unaware of the Catch 22 they have created?

This is the administration that required Georgetown University to cover religious symbols before the President appeared on campus. It is the administration that revoked conscience clause protections for health care workers in federal regulations. It is the administration that forgives student loans in exchange for community service, but ruled that service in religious organizations is ineligible. It is the administration that declared that the First Amendment does not protect churches when hiring pastors and rabbis. It is the administration that refused to comply with a U.S. Supreme Court order to transfer ownership of the land to private hands and re-erect the cross in the WWII memorial in the Mojave Desert.

It is, therefore, almost impossible to believe that this Catch 22 is inadvertent. Nor is it really about contraceptives.

It is the latest battle in the war against religious liberty being waged in this country. It is a battle, and a war, that we cannot afford to lose.