With all the fussing going on over the Obama administration’s sensible refusal to carve out huge exceptions in their new contraception rules for religious-affiliated institutions that serve the public, I fear that there are a lot of misperceptions floating about regarding what it is that Catholic-affiliated hospitals and universities are really like, or how actual Catholics feel about this situation. Some numbers are helpful. Twenty-eight states already require religious-affiliated institutions that serve the public to offer equal insurance coverage as non-religious institutions offering the same services.The tragic results predicted by anti-choice hysterics have not come to pass because of this. The notion that Catholics as a group are offended by these regulations is also false; a poll run by Public Policy Polling found that 53 percent of Catholics support the administration on this, which isn’t substantively different than the population at large.The group who actually opposes the ruling are evangelical Christians, as a poll from the Public Research Institute found. Only 38 percent of evangelical Christians want the coverage.
So the divide here isn’t between Catholics and non-Catholics, but religious fanatics and non-fanatics. You might not realize it from all the wailing about how Obama offended the Catholics, but most Catholics aren’t actually sex-phobic religious fanatics. They use contraception and have abortions at the same rate as everyone else, in fact. The hyper-conservative representatives of the U.S. Conference on Catholic Bishops cannot be equated with American Catholics, any more than the Branch Davidians can be considered representative of Texans as a group.
The notion that the culture of Catholic-affiliated universities and hospitals is substantively different than secular or Protestant ones, and thus deserves some kind of special dispensation from having to obey the law, is something that direct experience with these institutions should immediately disprove. I personally went to a Catholic-affiliated university, and the reason that it was a fine fit for my atheist self was that “Catholic-affiliated” is basically meaningless when it comes to the daily business of a university. Culturally, there was no real difference between my school and a secular school. We had a LGBT group, co-ed dorms, no curfews, and while I was there our school theater did a performance of The Rocky Horror Show. Half the students and staff weren’t even Catholic, and of those who were, most were like self-identified Catholics everywhere, which is to say not particularly interested in the church’s extremist doctrines. The cafeteria served meat on Fridays during Lent. Campus entertainment, such as free movies and parties, was exactly like at secular universites. I remember sitting on a blanket on a warm summer night watching Pulp Fiction as it was projected on a wall on campus. My friends who went to private Catholic school in high school would often joke that they had better sex ed than you get in public schools. The only thing from the secular world that the USCCB cares to take a stand on is contraception, which suggests that this isn’t about religion at all, but just about controlling women.