Once upon a time, and not a very long time ago it was, the Catholic Church had what was known as the Index. The Index Librorum Prohibitorum. The List of Prohibited Books. It was still around when I was little kid. It was what it sounds like, a list of heretical, obscene, and otherwise damnable books good Catholics weren’t to read if they valued their immortal souls. At one point, if you were caught reading any of them, it earned you a visit from the Inquisition, but later it just got you sent to hell. I think that’s how it worked. I don’t recall the nuns giving it much attention in religious ed or church history classes at good old St H’s.
There was something similar for movies. It might have been connected to the Index, but like I said, I don’t remember the details. I do remember the diocesan newspaper publishing a list every week of movies rated according to how much time in Purgatory watching them would get you. There were some movies that could get you sent to hell if you didn’t go to Confession right after the credits rolled. I think The Godfather was one of those. That’s how I remember it at any rate. More likely it was intended as a helpful guide for Catholics who wanted to know how much temptation they were leading themselves into by going to see Ryan’s Daughter, which featured nudity and extra-marital sex but also a heroic priest in the person of Trevor Howard. Also, the English Protestants were the bad guys.
I’m pretty sure the Church still does this, preview movies for the anxious faithful, but the focus seems to be on identifying movies the Church can approve of and, it turns out, the Church is unpredictable in its tastes. A few years ago the Vatican newspaper declared The Blues Brothers a movie good Catholics can enjoy without guilt. ‘A Catholic classic,” in fact.
But here’s a question for the Hobby Lobby folks and the conservative Justices on the Supreme Court: If something like the Index was still in effect, would the devout Catholic owners of a “closely-held” business be able to tell their employees they couldn’t spend the money from their paychecks to buy tickets for movies deemed indecent by the Church or rent the DVDs or stream them Amazon or Netflix?
Probably even members of the Green family would answer Of course not, recognizing both the costly impracticability of enforcing this and the unconscionable intrusiveness.
Besides, they might add, it’s the employees’ money. It’s their right to decide how to spend it. If they want to risk their immortal souls watching Nymphomaniac Volume: I and Nymphomaniac: Volume II, that’s their business.
Ok. Then why isn’t it your employees’ business if they want to spend their money on contraceptives or even on abortions?
Who says it isn’t?
You do. The Supreme Court does.
You’re talking about health insurance?
That’s our money!
Ah ha! Thank you!
You’ve cut to the chase!
You’ve taken us straight to the point of this post.
That wasn’t our doing. You’re inventing this dialog. We’re fictional characters in a story you’re telling, and, by the way, we suspect you’re using us to work your way to a straw man argument.
As far as I can tell from the way the term’s used around the internet, a straw man is any version of myself, my side, or my position that I find inaccurate, unflattering, or, more usually, hits too close to home. Now, mind if I get on with this?
Like we can stop you.
Thank you. How? How is health insurance different? Isn’t it part of the compensation you pay your employees? People don’t work just for what’s in a paycheck. They work for that and benefits. Their actual pay includes the cash plus paid vacations, sick days, parental and family leave, etc. and what goes into their pension funds or 401k’s.
(I won’t get into the sad fact that too many American workers have jobs that pay very little if anything more than what’s in their paychecks.)
Health care premiums are like contributions to 401k’s. It’s money you pay your employees indirectly.
(I’m also not going to get into the hypocrisy of your 401k’s being invested in companies that make the contraceptives you won’t let your employees use their money to pay for through their health insurance premiums.)
401k’s are money deferred. With health insurance, you’re taking some of the money that could go into workers’ paychecks and forking it over to the insurance company on their behalf.
And you aren’t doing this out of the goodness of your corporate but closely-held hearts. You’re doing it because it allows you to pay them less than you would have to if you had to put in their paychecks what it would cost them to buy insurance on their own. And you get a tax-break for it.
It’s self-interested, mutually beneficial creative accounting not charity.
But clearly you don’t think of health insurance as something employees earn and are therefore owed but something they’re lucky to be given. You see it as a gift and, as far as you’re concerned, they should be grateful for your generosity and not bitch and moan because the gift comes with strings attached.
Can we say something?
No, I think your usefulness as a rhetorical device is done. Besides I’m not just talking to just you anymore.
Oh, who are your lucky sox puppets now?
You, Eden Foods, Wheaton College, all the businesses, for profit and non-, closely-held and “closely-held”, who are going to use the Supreme Court’s decision in Burwell v. Hobby Lobby and Thursday’s expansion to assert a right to prevent their female employees from using part of their compensation for something you disapprove of, which is, specifically, have sex without intending it to lead to bearing babies, and the conservative Justices on the Court, particularly the liar Sam Alito, who’ve handed you this “right”.
No. That’s not it at all. The Court merely affirmed rights we already have under the First Amendment. It’s called Freedom of Religion. We thought you liberals are all for that. Or is it only when the religion is practiced by your favorite weirdos like witches and mushroom popping Indians and Muslims who want to impose Sharia Law and…Wait! We didn’t mean that about weirdos. Stop making us sound like callers to Right Wing talk radio shows!
He he he.
It’s not fair!
Oh. All right. Tell us in your own words.
Sorry. Go on.
The point is, you liberals claim to be so tolerant and yet…
Tolerance is not a passive virtue. Tolerance by definition opposes intolerance. And it’s just one of our virtues. We also believe in fair play.
And we don’t?
Look at what you’re up to.
Exactly what I said. Using your control of their money to try to force women of child-bearing age to choose between working for you and having non-procreative sex even if they’re married and even if the reason they’re choosing not to get pregnant at this time is that it would be detrimental to their health and their family’s well-being.
What about what we are being told we ought to be forced to do?
That’s the “abortifacient” dodge again.
It’s not a dodge.
Sure it is. Your attorneys used it as a foot in the door. What Alito did yesterday is take the opportunity you provided to expand the ruling to include all contraceptives. But, while we’re at if. First, the contraceptive methods you objected to are not abortifacients.
Medical science. Doctors! Second, you’re still arguing as if it’s your money. Third, as for religious freedom and what liberals are supposed to believe, I’ll let Scott Lemieux handle that.
You’re not going to write his words for him?
No, he’s pretty good with the words on his own, plus I agree with him and I don’t need him as a rhetorical device but as authoritative support. Here’s what he wrote at Lawyers, Guns & Money the other day:
This [Who would bear the greater burden in an attempt to balance the conflicting rights of individuals against each other?] is both possibly the most important question and where the case for Hobby Lobby really collapses. I agree that liberals should in some cases accommodate religious belief where doing so doesn’t burden third parties. If there are two people working in pharmacy and one opposes Plan B on religious grounds, having the employee who doesn’t object fill the prescription makes sense. If this creates a de minimis burden on a third party — say, waiting an extra five minutes — that’s fine. If this means a substantial burden for the customer — say, waiting until tomorrow — then the employee should fulfill the prescription irrespective of her religious conscience.
In the case of the contraceptive requirement, the burden on third parties is clear, direct, and material. Employees will be denied a something they worked for and are entitled to under federal law without being compensated for the denial. The burden on employers, conversely, is so abstract and attenuated it’s hard to even explain what it is. The Greens are not required to use contraception or advocate the use of contraception. They are not making the decision about what insurance should cover, and they are not making any employee’s decision to use contraceptives (which, as Ginsburg’s dissent observed, is an autonomous choice of a woman and her doctor.)
When a clash of interests presents a substantial burden against a trivial one, it seems obvious that all things being equal the claims of the former should prevail.
Back to me. The "burden" on you, and I’m talking to the whole pack of you, employers who are going to deny their female employees the right to use their pay in a way they decide is best for them, is that you have to worry you might go to hell for not stopping them from having sex without getting pregnant. So in fact in order to exercise your religious freedom you must interfere in the personal lives of your employees. As far as you’re concerned, fear of an imaginary after-life and imaginary sin trumps real people's real health and well-being.
We resent that! Our sincerely-held beliefs are not “imaginary!”
Of course they are. Faith in things unseen requires a leap of imagination. Any saint worth his or her halo will tell you that.
But it’s not your whole faith that’s being challenged here, is it?
No, it’s just one small aspect of it, one that not even a majority of Christians adhere to anymore, if they ever really did, that from the ages of say about 14 until 44 or so, a woman’s main if not sole purpose in life is to be a baby-making machine.
We never said----
You don’t have to say it. It’s implicit. It’s inseparable from the fantasy that a zygote is a person whose “right to life” supersedes that of the woman carrying it. And even if you’ve never said it out loud yourselves, plenty of your fellow “Christians” have been happy to assert it.
Are you about done?
I’m getting there. And I could get there faster if you’d stop interrupting. Why are you still talking anyway? I told you, your usefulness as a rhetorical device ended a dozen paragraphs ago.
Oh. Right. Sorry. Never mind. Here goes.
What you, and again I mean all you anti-choice Christian bosses, the real you and, you know, “you”, are doing, effectively and I believe intentionally, is assuming the right to tell women, all women, not just the ones who work for your company, those are just the ones you see yourselves as having direct control over, but you know your collective actions add up and you’re counting on that, when they can make love, which is only when they are married, doing it with their husbands, and doing it to get pregnant then and there.
You are usurping their right to decide whether and when they’ll bear children.
And you are using their money to do it!
But you don’t think it’s their money, and the Supreme Court has agreed with you, so here’s my question.
Do we get to answer it for ourselves?
What do you think?
Unh uh! Remember you’re good Christians.
Ask your question.
It’s series of questions, actually?
Ok. So, let’s say it’s your money? Isn’t the money in their paychecks your money as well?
Don’t bother. If the money you pay on their behalf to the insurance company is your money so is all the other money you pay them. And if so, then let me ask you this.
If they can’t use their insurance to pay for contraceptives and abortions and they need and want them, don’t you think they’ll use the money in their paychecks to pay for them instead?
No perhaps about it. They will. Or some of them will. Some of them will quit. Some of them will have sex, get pregnant, and suffer for it physically, emotionally, financially, and psychologically, but at least you’ll have the satisfaction of knowing your souls remain spotless and that the ones who die from complications that were predictable and inevitable will go straight to heaven, thanks to you.
You’re making us sound heartless and evil.
A religion that requires you to cause others to suffer is evil, but let’s not get into that.
There’s a lot you don’t want to get into.
For which you should be grateful. Like my not getting into how much money Hobby Lobby ships in not at all slow boatloads to China where abortion is practically a state-sponsored sacrament. Other Christians find your hypocrisy on this one appalling.
We’re not the only company…
I said I wasn’t going to get into it.
Now back to the question. If you have the right…
Which “you” are you talking to now?
All of you yous.
Ok. Get it over with.
If you have the right to stop them from spending “your” money on contraceptives one way, don’t you have the right to stop them from spending it on them another?
And how in God’s name could we do that?
Ask them what?
How many children they have. Why they don’t have more or any. That’s if they’re married. Ask single women if they’re dating anyone or living with someone. Ask them if they intend to get married. If they plan to have children. Ask if they’re Christians of your ilk. Ask if they go to church. Hire only women who give the right answers.
That sounds incredibly intrusive and probably against the law.
Get the laws changed. You just did it with the Supreme Court’s decision. So you know the Court’s sympathetic. Just tell them again how it’s necessary to your freedom to practice your sincerely-held beliefs. And there are over twenty state legislatures crazy enough, angry enough, and fanatical enough to go along. Some of them have mandated trans-vaginal ultra-sounds for women seeking abortions. You think they’re going to think asking a few innocent questions is intrusive?
So we ask? What’s to make them tell us the truth?
The fact that you’re checking up on them.
How would we do that?
Ask their co-workers. Send people to their homes to snoop.
We can’t do that!
Why not? It worked for Henry Ford.
In 1914, Ford not only introduced the eight-hour day and the forty-hour week but also doubled average salaries to $5 a day in what is often presented as an act of revolutionary magnanimity. In fact, the wage increase was necessitated by the costly waste of high employee turnover---a breathtaking 370 per cent in 1913. At the same time, For established the notorious Sociological Department, employing some two hundred investigators who were empowered to look into every aspect of employees’ private lives---their diet, hygiene, religion, personal finances, recreational habits, and morals. Ford’s workforce was full of immigrants---in some periods as many of two-thirds of his employees were from abroad---and Ford genuinely wished to help them live healthier, more satisfying lives, so his sociological meddling was by no means entirely a bad thing. However, there was almost nothing Henry Ford did that didn’t have some bad in it somewhere, and the Sociological Department certainly had a totalitarian tinge. Ford employees could be ordered to clean their houses, tidy their yards, sleep in American-style beds, increase their savings, modify their sexual behavior, and otherwise abandon any practice that a Ford inspector deemed “derogatory to good physical manhood or moral character.”
Where did you get that?
It’s from One Summer: America 1927 by Bill Bryson. Good book. You should read it. There’s some stuff in there in the chapter on Prohibition that illustrates the evil caused by forcing other people to conform to your standards of good behavior.
Maybe we will. We like Bryson. A Walk in the Woods…Hey! What’s going on? Did we just join a book club?
I’m just having some fun messing with you.
Isn’t that what you’ve been doing all along?
Are you ever going to finish this post?
Right now. Here, you’ll start…
I don’t see what Henry Ford has to do with it. That was 1927.
More like 1916. Bryson was giving background.
Whenever. Nearly a hundred years ago. Practically the 19th Century. We can’t go backwards in time.
It’s 2014 and you’re insisting the country should be run according to the teachings of a cult that was invented almost 2000 years ago not by Jesus himself but by fanatics who apparently didn’t listen to a word he said.
Not the whole country. Just our businesses! We have the right to run them as we see fit!
Oh boy. Now you’ve done it.
Started me on another post.
Oh go to h---
Unh unh unh! Christians, remember?