At Religion Dispatches Louis Ruprecht has a biting critique of the U. S. Conference of Catholic Bishops' obsession with female genitalia and what should be done with it. He begins by recounting a story about a North Carolina tax payer who withheld a penny from his taxes in protest against the death penalty. As you might imagine, the state of North Carolina did not look kindly on his act:
I have returned many times to that story as I have listened to Catholic churches, Catholic institutions from hospitals to universities, and two Catholic presidential candidates all insist on what that poor guy from North Carolina was asking for: a religious exemption from paying for state services to which he was opposed on moral and religious grounds.
The state’s answer was simple in the spring of 1985: you don’t get to pick and choose the services you pay for, regardless of the reason.
This case raises an issue of considerably sharper interest, I think, given the Catholic Church’s consistent opposition to the death penalty, to preemptive wars (especially those conducted primarily through interdiction), to abortion, and now, we are told, to contraception.
So why has there never been a similar stink about Catholic exemptions from death penalty provisions? Why no such tax withholding for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan? And why is the state bending over backwards to accommodate these religious sentiments about contraception, rather than some others?
That the Bishops could make a stink about these other matters and choose not to speaks volumes about their actual priorities. They can cry and wail all day long about being forced to support things that are opposed to Catholic teaching, but clearly they're made to do so every time their taxes support war or the death penalty. Not only don't they make a big deal about these things (which, unlike contraception, are actually morally objectionable) but they make a conscious decision to evade public discussion of those issues whenever possible. In fact, the Bishops' current torrid affair with the Republican party is an eloquent display of their disregard of their own teaching.
The question that should be asked is why the US Catholic Bishops are exerting so much energy and money and time on the matter of contraception, with no similarly public cries of outrage against the death penalty, state-sponsored torture, or the two preemptive wars in which the U.S. has involved itself for fully a decade.
Clearly there is a lot more to this debate than the First Amendment. It has to do with one of the most powerful patriarchal religious organizations in the world—be sure to recall that the bishops are all men, every last one of them—placing itself squarely in opposition to women’s sexual equality and autonomy.