As was everyone in the Catholic press, as well as bishops and other Catholic Americans, I was living through each day in June wondering how the U.S. Supreme Court would rule in the Hobby Lobby case, which challenged the Affordable Care Act’s requirement that employers provide contraception in health insurance plans offered to employees.
Day by day, opportunities for the court to rule came and went. The most respected observers of the high court agreed that a decision would come before the summer recess, so only Monday, June 30, remained as a possibility.
The high court indeed ruled on June 30 in Hobby Lobby’s favor, and the decision is well covered in this edition of Our Sunday Visitor. While the ruling was nuanced, it was welcome. It sustained the right of a citizen to live according to her or his religious beliefs.
The case highlighted contraception as a consequence of the government mandate for health care, but essentially it was about religious freedom. We take religious freedom for granted, but we should not. Catholics especially should defend religious freedom. If the Bill of Rights had not required freedom of religion, Catholicism in the U.S. would be very different from what it is.
Emphasizing contraception rather than religious freedom, arguments against the Hobby Lobby policy and the Church’s view returned again and again to the popularity, not just acceptance, of artificial birth control among Catholics.
Because of this stress on contraception, many people, including many Catholics, were puzzled. Is it not true that artificial birth control is a way of life today for millions upon millions, including Catholics? The polls, one after another, say so. Every priest who hears confessions or prepares couples for marriage knows this fact very well. Given these statistics, it was argued, opposition to artificial birth control is not really that authentically Catholic.
By chance, the day before the decision, June 29, was the feast of Sts. Peter and Paul. Preparing a homily for this feast, I thought about the feast’s historical importance, and I realized how fascinated the early Christians were in the Apostles Peter and Paul.
For sure, as Church history unfolded, these apostles were of gigantic importance as teachers, founders and leaders. They were martyrs, dying for their faith in Christ.
Something else made them so critical in the minds and hearts of the first Christians: their access to Jesus and their commissioning by Jesus. Through them, people felt that they were able to know Christ. Individual opinion had nothing to do with it. The yearning in the early Church was to know exactly what the Lord taught. Making Christ present is what the Church today, as always, is all about.
So what about artificial contraception? The New Testament says little if anything expressly about artificial contraception, but it says plenty about the realities of marriage and about that set of rules indelibly embedded in the very nature of humanity, the natural law.
For all the centuries, the Church, led by the successors of Peter and Paul, has pondered the New Testament revelations about marriage, applying them to divorce and remarriage, polygamy, the obligations of marriage, the gift of marriage in the process of salvation, and to procreation. Constantly, the Catholic Church has taught that artificial contraception is morally wrong and, not that long ago, most major Protestant denominations said the same.
Demanding the American right to religious freedom, the Church says that Christians cannot provide contraception even to others. They cannot be the means to an immoral end.
Msgr. Owen F. Campion is OSV’s associate publisher.