Clashing rights create tough call for Obama

Does Barack Obama hate the Catholic Church?

I seriously doubt that.

But there’s no doubt that the shepherds of the Catholic flock are firing some venomous language at the president these days.

At issue is an Obama Administration policy that Catholic hospitals must include birth control services as part of the insurance coverage they offer employees.

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The federal government has leverage to do this, since these hospitals accept loads of federal dollars in the form of Medicare and Medicaid payments.

Yet, watching this controversy explode over the last week, I’ve concluded the Obama team has made a mistake here.

This conclusion makes me uncomfortable, so before explaining it, let me list all the reasons I’m uneasy.

First, I think all women deserve to have birth control as part of their health coverage, if they want it. It is absurd and unjust to cover that little blue pill for men but not safe contraception for women.

Second, I think the Catholic Church’s teaching on contraception is misguided, not just on the practical merits but on the theology. Plenty of Catholic thinkers tried to tell Pope Paul VI this before he released his birth control encyclical in 1968.

Third, if Catholic bishops want to wade into the political fray – as they have every right to do – they’re going to get the pushback and criticism you get in that arena. When that happens, they should take it like men. No whining and mewling that the critics are anti-Catholic bigots.

And they are just going to have to endure some tough questions about why they thunder from the pulpit on this issue — after going for decades without saying a mumbling word about some of their employees savagely abusing thousands of children.

All that said, this nation’s founding principle of religious liberty says it’s absolutely essential that religious people be free to observe their tenets of moral conscience, no matter how misguided others might find them.

Let the free market show the bishops the consequences of their stand. Hospitals still compete for talent. If they’re the only ones not offering this essential health service, Catholic hospitals will either have to pay more for good staff, or risk losing good employees.

The tough calls are not the right vs. wrong choices. They’re the ones where two legitimate rights clash. Here, it’s the right to safe contraception vs. religious liberty. It’s a wrenching choice, but one I think Obama got wrong.

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