HHS smoke screen

“Teacher don’t you fill me up with your rules,
 Everybody knows that smokin’ ain’t allowed in school.”
 — Brownsville Station, 1973

The crime, as a friend told me, happened like this.

His daughter was a sophomore in public school. A friend was picking her up at the end of the day and she climbed into her car in the school parking lot. Once inside, she reached into her purse, got out a cigarette and lit it up.

A school official saw her, the authorities were notified, and the next day she was under an in-house suspension and would eventually face a judge in secular court. Because her school had adopted a “zero-tolerance policy” regarding tobacco products, this was not just a matter of knuckle-wrapping. She was looking at hard time from a secular court.

Well, that’s a bit of an exaggeration, but the judge did make her write a 10-page paper on the evils of smoking.

The odd thing about the whole story is that if she had been caught with a purse full of condoms, there wouldn’t have been a problem in the world.

More than likely, she would have gotten them from the school nurse.

More than likely, she would have been hailed as a responsible young lady.

More than likely, if her parents objected to the public school system foisting its morality on their daughter with a bucket full of free condoms, they would have ended up having to write a 10-page paper.

Which is why we have to look for other reasons behind the Health and Human Services mandate requiring Church-related institutions to provide their employees access to free birth control and sterilization.

HHS argued that the mandate is a vital necessity since so many do not have access to these services. To which reason and experience respond: Are you kidding me? As George Weigel put it so well, it is easier and less expensive to get birth control than it is to get a pack of cigarettes or a six-pack of beer, whether you are a minor or an adult.

Defenders of the mandate argue that 99 percent of Americans use some form of artificial birth during their lives. With virtually universal access by their own admission, why did the HHS feel it necessary to aim its mandate directly at Catholic institutions?

It’s a fundamental question that I have wrestled with.

First, they went to all this trouble to force a mandate to answer a problem that doesn’t exist.

Second, they then take the risk of scuttling the whole thing by going after the religious freedom of Churches.

Third, the number of people working in Church-related institutions has to be really small when compared to the totality of the U.S. workforce. To sum up, they are risking everything on a mandate they don’t need with a constitutionally questionable attack at best on Church institutions in an election year where the actual number impacted would be just a tiny percentage of the workforce. It seems nonsensical.

Unless there is other business involved.

Methinks the overall goal is to get the Church — specifically the Catholic Church — out of the public arena unless we play by their rules ­—­­­­­­ ­keeping our moral views to ourselves, particularly our views on the sacredness of life and of marriage.

We can serve the poor, if we knuckle under on abortion. We can serve the orphan, if we knuckle under on gay marriage. We can serve the sick, if we knuckle under on sterilization and assisted suicide.

That’s a battle they are willing to wage. And the worst part is we might be facing those hard choices.

I think I need a smoke.

Robert P. Lockwood writes from Pennsylvania.