The State of North Carolina has executed a total of 43 people since 1976. In 1985, one of its citizens, opposed to the death penalty for religious reasons, withheld one penny from his state income tax payment to protest the execution of a 52-year-old woman. The state’s response: You can pay the damned penny or you can pay a hefty fine.
The notion that citizens can opt out of generally applicable tax levies on religious grounds is mythical and dangerously misguided. The IRS considers the “religious objection” argument frivolous and may impose a penalty of up to $25,000 for it.
There is hardly any publicly-financed service or endeavor that is not opposed by somebody on moral and religious grounds. A secular state cannot allow its citizens to pick and choose which services they will pay for.
Take preemptive war, to which the Catholic Church has been consistently opposed. Nowhere in this country were parishioners instructed to withhold their taxes in protest against the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
The Church also opposes the death penalty, and yet 34 U.S. states allow it. No state exempts its taxpayers from helping finance it, even when their objections are grounded in strong religious faith.
So why the recent outcry about public financing of contraception?
Louis A. Ruprecht, writing for Religion Dispatches, speculates that “the death penalty and international warfare simply do not energize the sex-obsessed American electorate the way that women’s sexual autonomy does.”
Yes, women’s sexuality is very close to home for many of us—much closer than wars and death rows. And the idea of female promiscuity is deeply disturbing to many men, even those who find male promiscuity quite unobjectionable.
Ruprecht believes women are now in their “third wave” of achievements. First there was political equality, and then came economic equality (still in progress). Sexual equality may be the biggest hurdle yet, and the U.S. Catholic Bishops and their Talibangelical allies are determined to keep women from jumping it.
The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA), passed by the U.S. Congress in 2009 and signed by President Obama in 2010, mandates that employers must include contraceptive services in the insurance plans they offer employees, whether or not they subsidize these plans. Churches are exempt, but other religious institutions such as hospitals and universities are not. The U.S. Catholic Bishops would like to broaden the exemption to include any employer who objects to contraception on religious grounds. Such was the purpose of the so-called Blunt Amendment, which was killed in the U.S. Senate by a 51-to-48 vote earlier this month.
Should employers have to obey a generally applicable law? One hundred and forty-years of U.S. jurisprudence say, unequivocally, yes. The idea of actually subsidizing a practice that we abhor may seem repugnant and unjust, but we all do it every time we pay our taxes.
Were the U.S. Catholic Bishops to prevail in their offensive against PPACA, then those who believe contraception should be covered might rightfully counter, for starters, that they are being forced to subsidize Catholic institutions whose policies they consider immoral.
Subsidize? Yes. Let’s not forget that almost all Catholic institutions receive massive federal funding in the form of direct payments and tax-exempt status.
Ruprecht sees through the Church’s protestations that this is a First Amendment issue:
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.
Read Ruprecht’s article here.