US Catholic Faith in Real Life

HHS is "raping" First Amendment? Um. NO. Try again.

Meghan Murphy-Gill | Print this pagePrint | Email this pageShare

Rape is violent. It’s an expression of power over someone who, in that situation, does not have it. It’s usually sexual, and it leaves the victim depleted and diminished.

Does that sound like what HHS is doing to the First Amendment? NOPE.

That didn’t stop Catholic priest Jonathan Morris, Program Director of The Catholic Channel on Sirius XM radio and a Fox “News” “analyst,” from using the word to express his frustration with the HHS mandate that all institutions provide access to free contraceptive care in their health plans:

Any national media outlet that fails to report the obvious raping of our First Amendment rights by this Health and Human Service mandate, is trumpeting either woeful incompetence or shameless bias. The Catholic Church didn’t pick this fight, but it knew that if it didn’t fight back now, every religion would eventually lose, and America would be fundamentally redefined.

All spin and fallacies in his statement aside, such flagrant use of “rape” to describe his contempt at the mandate is wrong. Faith in Public Life says it well:

Not only is Morris’s rape analogy a grossly misleading characterization of a complicated policy debate, it’s a shockingly insensitive insult to the millions of people who have been victims of horrific sexual violence.

Yesterday, a friend of mine referred to his place of employment as the galleys of a slave ship. He didn’t mean to be insensitive and was certainly using hyperbole as a means to vent his frustration with his job, yet, I reminded him that he is being paid fairly well for his work, despite how boring he finds some of it. He even gets benefits, such as a good health care plan and paid time off. He can leave whenever he wants. The working conditions are good, in fact, better than most offices. So, NO, he needs to stop using that description. He agreed.

Same goes for Father Morris. While Faith in Public Life might find the policy complicated, I think it’s fairly simple. The First Amendment, as anyone who’s taken a 5th grade civics class knows, is not a free pass to do and say whatever you want, whenever you want. Our Constitution always keeps the common good, the general welfare of this country, as its priority. In the case of the mandate, Obama’s administration has deemed that access to free contraceptive care in employee health plans is a matter of the common good, particularly in preventing poverty. And there’s plenty of evidence to support that position. (Just last week, The Nation reported on how the birth of a child is often accompanied by mounting debt thanks to employment policies that do not allow sufficient paid leave, to say nothing about good health coverage to cover the high cost of prenatal care and childbirth. Family values, what? But I digress.)

The Catholic Church may disagree that such access to free contraceptives, even when its institutions don’t have to pay for it, and even if there’s an exemption for many institutions, is good for the general welfare of this country. Unfortunately, the rhetoric behind that position about respecting human dignity is wonderful and ideal, but not rooted in reality, however. Still, THAT’S OK. The Catholic Church can disagree.  But NO ONE AND NOTHING IS BEING RAPED HERE. The fact that Catholic institutions can boldly (if not rashly) file a federal lawsuit alone is indication that NO ONE IS BEING RAPED. To publicly begin a campaign and call it a “fortnight of freedom” and have it coincide nearly perfectly with a presidential election season and still maintain tax exempt status is a pretty clear indication that NO ONE IS BEING RAPED.

I’ve always thought that because the early beginnings of this country are rooted in the escape from religious persecution in England, that seated deep within the American psyche is this sense that we’re the victim, that someone or something is always out to get us, either collectively or as individuals. One symptom of our condition is insatiable need to sue. I wonder if this is not part of the issue in calling the First Amendment a victim of rape.

Regardless, Father Morris needs to apologize.