Daniel Philpott

Why we can’t just ‘lighten up’ over the HHS mandate

Daniel Philpott
By Daniel Philpott

February 27, 2013 (PublicDiscourse) - Lighten up! This is the riposte that my employer, the University of Notre Dame, and other like-minded organizations have met with in recent months as they have protested the violation of their religious freedom through the Obama administration’s mandate that they pay for healthcare policies covering contraception, sterilization, and abortifacient drugs.

Critics charge that the protest, manifested most saliently by a lawsuit that Notre Dame and some forty-seven other organizations filed against the Department of Health and Human Services, is unduly fretful and even manifests a persecution complex. They aver that the mandate does not require outfits like Notre Dame to cooperate with evil directly, but rather only to fund insurance policies that enable their employees to commit the acts that Notre Dame regards as immoral.

Cooperation with evil: the concept is invoked most often by Christian supporters of the mandate, who share the faith of opponents but regard them as too uptight. It comes from traditional Catholic moral theology, which forbids “formal” cooperation with evil, where one intentionally supports another’s immoral act, but renders more complex the analysis of “material” cooperation with evil, where one in some way causally enables an evil but does not intend for it to occur—the case of the taxpayer who pays her taxes but regrets that they will support an unjust policy or who votes for a candidate in spite of, not because of, the candidate’s support for an injustice. Material cooperation can be permitted on the conditions that cooperation is sufficiently indirect and counterbalanced by good effects that the same act enables.

Just these conditions are met by the mandate, say supporters, especially in the wake of successive “accommodations” through which the Obama administration has sought to make Christian employers’ cooperation ever more remote—and sought as well to diminish and marginalize the coalition against the mandate. The accommodations have met with considerable success. Each round has brought a new batch of erstwhile public opponents to declare themselves satisfied and their concerns met.

Following the Catholic tradition, I regard the criterion of cooperation with evil as a valid one for a wide range of moral dilemmas, including the one at hand. The debate over cooperation with evil, however, obscures what is most at stake for Christian organizations in the HHS mandate, which is much the same as what has been most at stake for the Christian church in its relationship with the state over many centuries, which in turn is what is most at stake for the church in religious freedom: the right to give witness to the truths that they believe.

To witness means to proclaim or to give testimony for a truth that the proclaimer believes is maximally important. To witness is to communicate a message—in the Christian’s case, that of God’s salvation of the world through Jesus Christ. For a Catholic, this salvation is embodied in, and its meaning for the Christian believer is manifested through, the teachings of the Catholic Church, including its teachings about contraception and the sanctity of life.

Many Protestant churches make parallel claims, with due variations, about the role of the church in salvation. For (many) Christians, then, salvation is achieved through corporate entities as well as the faith of individuals. Consonant with this message, churches and their affiliated universities, schools, hospitals, and orphanages share a duty not simply to avoid cooperating with what is false but to proclaim boldly what is true in both their words and their deeds.

To see how witness stands distinct from cooperation against evil, imagine Patrick, a devout Catholic investor, who lends $1 million to Tony to build a small grocery store—and stipulates that Tony not use the loan to sell pornographic magazines or artificial birth control devices. A year later, Patrick visits the completed grocery store and, lo and behold, finds a nook jutting out from the back wall where just these products are being sold: a sin section.

Patrick confronts Tony, who pleads that he was careful to use his own funds to build this section of the store and did not use Patrick’s loan for it: Patrick should lighten up. Patrick remains unconvinced and steamed. He explains to Tony that these products would not be sold in this store were it not for the loan that built the store in the first place. What is more important, though, Patrick explains, is not his enabling of commerce in these products but the fact that everyone who knows about his investment would be unlikely to make the careful distinction that he didn’t pay for the sin section. Rather, they will wonder why a devout Catholic such as he invested in something so contrary to his beliefs. His reputation and his commitment to living his life as a witness, not simply avoiding cooperation with evil so as to keep his hands clean, is what is most important to him.

The right to witness to the truth of salvation is the heart of the right to religious freedom. Religious freedom is the right to be religious, that is, the right of individuals and organizations to live, practice, and express their religious beliefs. It is a right found in the most important international law documents and, of course, in the First Amendment of the US Constitution. Religious freedom is not absolute, of course, and its boundaries and gray areas are continually contested in the courts. American courts, though, have always understood religious freedom to protect something far wider than the right not to materially cooperate with evil, including, quintessentially, the right of religious people and organizations to give witness to their convictions.

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When religious organizations are required to enable behaviors contrary to their beliefs, even when this enabling is somewhat indirect, they are in fact being required to perform a contradiction by associating themselves closely with deeds that undermine what they aim to profess. Consider the case of Notre Dame. The Catholic Church authoritatively prohibits contraception, teaching that an intrinsic purpose of sex is to beget life, an end that a person ought never to impede. The Church holds that abortifacient drugs destroy a person’s life. To force a Catholic university, which by definition commits itself to manifesting the teachings of the Catholic Church, to promote these actions is to force it to compromise its very witness to the character of life lived in fellowship with the resurrected Christ—indeed as this life might be lived by its own employees. Notre Dame and its fellow plaintiffs cannot lighten up.

The skeptic will retort that the witness dimension of religious freedom does not escape from and only pushes back the problem of cooperation with evil. Religious persons of all stripes, after all, might claim that the message of their faith is contradicted when they pay taxes to a government that acts contrary to their religion. Yet, the skeptic will point out, few religious people in fact refuse to pay their taxes and most may pay them justifiably as long as they do not intend to support the policies they believe to be evil. Religious witness is undermined only when cooperation with evil is either formal or of the unjustifiable material sort. If that is the case, says the skeptic, then the problem of evil is again our main concern. The freedom to witness adds nothing to the picture.

I do not deny that assessing cooperation with evil is important. In my view, the revised regulations that the Obama administration issued earlier this month go some way toward alleviating the problem, at least for some religious employers (while still failing to include religious business owners, for instance). I also contend, though, that the HHS mandate continues to compromise the witness dimension of religious freedom. Even if policies separate from those provided by employers are issued to cover contraception and abortifacient drugs, as the new regulations allow, these policies are still tied closely with employees’ plans and thus compromise Notre Dame’s ability to witness against the use of these products. It is as if Tony sought to assuage Patrick by reconstructing his sin section as a tiny hut one foot away from his grocery store.

The mandate’s interference with the freedom of Notre Dame and others to witness to the truths of their faith enhances the case against it far beyond the problem that material cooperation expresses. That is, even if we were to grant for the sake of argument that the algorithms of cooperation with evil yield up an ambiguous moral conclusion, it remains the case that the HHS mandate violates religious freedom in the far more fundamental sense—namely the right of religious organizations to perform what is most important and distinctive about their religious mission. This consideration, I believe, puts the debate about the HHS mandate over the top on the side of Notre Dame and its fellow critics.

Daniel Philpott is Associate Professor of Political Science and Peace Studies at the University of Notre Dame and a scholar with the Religious Freedom Project of the Berkley Center for Religion, Peace and World Affairs at Georgetown University. This piece is a revised version of one that was commissioned and originally posted by the Religious Freedom Project and can be found here.

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Julie Ralph

My 7-year-old son found porn on his iPod, even with a filter

Julie Ralph
By Julie Ralph

A few weeks ago an article went viral on my Facebook feed entitled “The Day My 10-Year-Old Discovered Hardcore Porn on his iPhone.”  As one Mom after another shared and commented about how frightening and horrible it was and wondered what do we do to prevent it, I commented on several of those shares (perhaps a little smugly and proudly) that WE had installed an excellent filtering program on all of our devices that even filters YouTube.  I most likely left the impression that WE have no worries in this house, that our kids can watch their iPods and kindles, even those annoying Minecraft how to videos on YouTube, and WE don’t have to worry about them seeing filth. 

Wrong, wrong, wrong, wrong, WRONG.

I could have entitled this blog post “The Day My 7-Year-Old Discovered Porn on His iPod” but it might look like I’m trying to one-up that other Mom.  Which I’m not.  Because, trust me, this is one Mom competition I’d rather lose. 

This is no longer a battle friends, it’s an all-out war.  It’s a war we’re fighting for the minds and futures of our children.

So YES we have this supposedly great and awesome filter on all of our devices and we pay about $70 a year for it.   Look, I’ve been on my computer trying to shop for a swimsuit at Lands End and the filter blocked me.  Annoying, yes.  But assuring.  I remember thinking wow….if I can’t even get on here and see the tummy-sucking-miracle-fat-hiding-mawmaw-swimsuits, my boys will NEVER be able to discover Victoria or her Secret.   And I’ve been on YouTube trying to see how to quickly defrost CHICKEN breasts, and it blocked several videos AND ads that probably had nothing to do with fowl or a thawing method.  Again I remember thinking, good.  This is really good.  Nothing to worry about.

Then last night happened.

My youngest son was visibly shaken as he was getting ready for bed.  I knew something was wrong when I saw he was wearing his flannel pajamas with the mountain bears printed all over them on one of the hottest August nights this month.   He seemed almost disoriented and I asked him if he was sick as he was trying to quickly crawl into bed and pull the covers over his head.   He then reached over to the bedside table, grabbed his little iPod, and tossed it to me saying he doesn’t deserve it anymore because he is bad.  “I’m bad, so bad….I saw bad things.”  My heart started racing and I felt like I had been punched in the gut.  Because I knew where this was going.  Very calmly and quietly I assured him he was not bad and there was nothing in the world he could ever tell me that would make me think he was bad.  “What did you see, sweetheart?” I asked.  After about ten minutes of me coaxing it out of him, with a wobbly still-tiny-smidge-of-baby-left voice he told me he was searching for a word he had heard and he spelled it for me.  T-t-i-s.  (I quickly unscrambled and knew what he meant).  He went on to tell me he searched for this on YouTube (the app is not even on his iPod….he must go through the “filter” app to access it!).   He told me he saw pictures and videos.

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My stomach turned.  I ran through all the “How To” files I’d stored away in my mind.  You know those files….situations you’ve thought about as a Mom and how you’d handle…you file them away for another day.  Usually one you hope will never come.   Turns out I didn’t have a file for this.  Because I honestly thought we had done everything on the front end to keep it from happening. 

I ran my fingers through his hair and pulled him close and started talking to him from my broken heart.  I asked him if he knew what that word meant before he searched for it.  He said no.  I told him it is a very crude and ugly word for something that is not crude and ugly.  I told him what the proper word is and I asked him if he knew why God made them like that on women?  He said no.  I told him it was the miraculous and wonderful way that God made women able to feed their babies.  I told him how every woman who has those is made to feed a baby, and those women in those pictures and videos are either already someone’s Mommy or they will be one day.  And what God meant for a beautiful purpose is twisted and made into something very wrong and ugly by those pictures and videos.

Don’t trust some computer geek working for a software company to care a flip for or protect your kids.

We continued to talk and then we prayed together and I left him to sleep as I walked back to my room for a sleepless night.  I cried for the ugly, messed up, twisted, and sick world out there that I can’t protect my children from.  I cried for what he had seen that I couldn’t un-see for him.  I cried because I had abdicated MY parenting duties to some stupid computer software that I thought would protect my children.  I cried because I can never get back that bit of innocence he lost way, way too early.  I cried as I went onto YouTube, put in that same search and saw just the thumbnails of what he had to have seen.  I just can’t bring myself to actually click on the videos.  I cried because, when I went in to check on him later, he was curled up with Big Bear in one arm and his little blue and white checked blanket in the other.  He’s still a baby. 

I’m mad now.  And I really hope my anger continues to burn because I need it to fuel my diligence.   I need my guard to be up and to stay up.  This is no longer a battle friends, it’s an all-out war.  It’s a war we’re fighting for the minds and futures of our children.  I know there are those who would say I’m being overly dramatic, that I can’t put my children in a bubble, blah blah blah.  I don’t care.  I will do whatever it takes to protect my children until their minds, bodies and emotions are better prepared to grasp, filter, and sort through the warped and ugly parts of our world that are pulling on them.  I will continue to pull back and hold on for dear life.   Don’t do as I did, friends.  Don’t trust some computer geek working for a software company to care a flip for or protect your kids.  Do as I am doing now.  Uninstall any and all browsers or video apps on your kids’ personal devices and set the restrictions where they can’t install apps anymore without asking you first.   Have one central computer in a public area of your home that they may use, with permission, and still with filter software installed.  But remember that’s not the first line of defense in this war.

You are.

Julie Ralph blogs at Mommy, Esquire, where this piece was originally published.

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Sen. Ted Cruz's wife douses him with water as part of the Ice Bucket challenge for ALS research. Youtube
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Sen. Ted Cruz: Do the ALS challenge, donate to pro-life institute

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By Dustin Siggins

One of the nation's most prominent senators is doing the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge -- but encouraging donations to a pro-life ALS research institute.

In the last month, the ALS Ice Bucket challenge, sponsored by the ALS Association, has raised tens of millions of dollars for research for the disease, commonly known as Lou Gehrig's Disease. However, in mid-August pro-life leaders raised awareness that the Association supports embryonic stem-cell research.

Embryonic stem-cell research includes the destruction of a human embryo, and is thus condemned by pro-life advocates as an abortion. The Association has said it currently has one project that uses embryonic stem cells, funded by an outside donor.

In a Facebook post on Tuesday, Cruz -- who took the challenge last week -- said that he and his wife "are proud to personally support the John Paul II Medical Research Institute the Home of Give Cures (http://jp2mri.org), which conducts groundbreaking research into curing this terrible disease, without using embryonic stem cells."

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"The JPII Institute respects human life, and is working to improve the lives of all of us," said Cruz. 

The ALS Association has said donors may specify their dollars not be used to fund embryonic stem-cell research. However, critics note that donated funds are fungible, meaning they potentially free up funds the Association can then direct to illicit research.

At least two Catholic dioceses have encouraged Ice Bucket Challenge participants to donate to the JPII Medical Institute.

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7989 West Virginia Drive, Dallas, where Planned Parenthood is working on secretly opening up a new abortion facility. Google Streetview
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Pro-abortion study: Texas will be down to eight abortion clinics by fall

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By Dustin Siggins

A study by a pro-abortion research group shows that Texas will be down from 41 abortion clinics in July 2013 to eight by this fall.

In July, the Texas Policy Evaluation Project found that six abortion clinics matched the standards required in HB2, which was signed into law 13 months ago. Those standards include requiring abortion doctors to have admitting privileges at hospitals within 30 miles of clinics at which they work, a standard already in place, and a requirement that all abortion clinics must upgrade their facilities to the same standards as ambulatory surgery centers.

The study estimates that a total of eight clinics will be able to meet the ambulatory standards, including one that will open in the fall. The standards take effect on September 1. According to the study, this means there will be one abortion clinic for every one million Texans who could become pregnant. An infographic from the study shows that the existing clinics will be located on the eastern half of the state, largely near metropolitan areas.

The study's results, published in the peer-reviewed journal Contraception, have abortion supporters outraged. Andrea Grimes of RH Reality Check writes, "No legal abortion facilities will operate south or west of San Antonio," and that five of the clinics will be operated by Planned Parenthood.

However, the closure of so many clinics is good news to pro-life activists like Karen Garnett, who heads the Catholic Pro-Life Committee in the Diocese of Dallas.

"The closing of abortion facilities in Texas the last few years has been the result of the owners of the facilities themselves not being willing or able to comply with the higher standards of medical safety" required by the Texas legislature, Garnett told LifeSiteNews. "Pro-life activists and leaders in Dallas (and Texas) have been working vigilantly with the members of the Texas legislature the last few years to pass these sensible laws.  There is much to be said for the power of prayer, particularly through the powerful 40 Days for Life campaign and prayer vigils."

While abortion supporters claim Texas is abandoning pregnant women, Garnett said the Catholic Pro-Life Committee in Dallas has "helped more than 7,500 mothers choose life outside the abortion facilities," but "we don't stop there."

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"Our Project Gabriel Ministry takes the next step. For those mothers needing and desiring spiritual, emotional and material help, we offer Gabriel Angels, who are paired with them in a one-on-one mentoring and support relationship. We also have a Gabriel Resource Coordinator on staff to help them with practical needs as their situations stabilize." Life skills classes, adoption counseling, and partnerships with pregnancy centers are also part of the Diocese's work to help pregnant mothers.

Jor-El Godsey of Heartbeat International said that there are 326 pregnancy help organizations across the state, which outnumber abortion clinics by approximately 40 to 1. He estimated that approximately 120,000 pregnant women have come to care centers in 2014.

The Texas Policy Evaluation Project, which is funded by an anonymous donor, is a five-year effort to "analyze the impact of the measures affecting reproductive health passed by the 82nd and 83rd Texas Legislatures." The project's partners include the University of Texas at Austin’s Population Research Center, the pro-abortion Ibis Reproductive Health, and the University of Alabama-Birmingham. One of the project's investigators is Daniel Grossman, whose biography says that "his current research at Ibis includes both clinical and social science studies aimed at improving access to contraception and safe abortion."

The project has also published reports titled "The Public Health Threat of Anti-Abortion Legislation," and "Finding the Twitter Users that Stood With Wendy." The latter examined social media support for gubernatorial candidate Wendy Davis, who briefly became a national figure for her support of late-term abortions in 2013.

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