Anti-Catholic bigotry at the Center for American Progress

by Michael Sean Winters

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The Center for American Progress (CAP) was formed as a kind of administration-in-waiting for Democrats in 2003, and as the left's answer to faux think tanks like the Heritage Foundation. Regrettably, CAP has decided to hype the most extreme anti-Catholic bigotry, publishing an "investigation" that is actually a collection of talking points, aimed at coercing Catholic hospitals into violating our ethical norms or shutting down. This is the kind of uninformed prejudice, or bigotry, against Catholics not seen in this country since Paul Blanshard stopped writing his anti-Catholic books and articles in the 1950s.

You would think that liberals should, by definition, be allergic to bigotry, but CAP published an article yesterday that is impossible to characterize as anything but bigoted. It is filled with uninformed prejudice. Indeed, it was ironic that after months of CAP and other liberal groups rightly denouncing anti-Muslim bigotry, they turn around and publish an article that traffics in such hateful nonsense against a different religion.

The authors, Erica Hellerstein and Josh Israel, write about a clinic in Washington state, on an isolated island, that joined with a Catholic health care network and now declines to offer abortions and other procedures that the Catholic church finds morally reprehensible. They talked to one woman and reported her opinion:

Hunter stopped going to the Vashon clinic. 'I just feel so strongly that no one's religious beliefs should interfere with my health care and I had no confidence that that would not be the case at the clinic anymore,' she said. Instead, she travels to a secular nonprofit facility in Seattle, via ferry and bus -- a 60- to 90-minute trip each way.

Ms. Hunter is certainly entitled to feel strongly that religion and health care don't mix. But, why should those Catholics who operate the facility not be able to feel strongly that their commitment to providing health care flows from their sense of religious vocation? Why do Hunter's rights trump everyone else's? This is the kind of question that seems too challenging to pose for these authors.

The authors' problem here is a kind of myopia, an intellectual narcissism -- only my ideas have any merit, right? -- that stalks this article and is all too common among some activists. Let me pose a related question that shows how their blinders limit their perspective: Do the authors think that doctors or nurses have a right not to participate in a procedure to which they have moral objections? If the answer is no, have they checked with the nurses' unions on that one? Ah, but you object! A nurse is an individual, and individuals have rights, not the religious group that runs the hospital. I would note that is the same argument made by the Koch brothers and their allies when they seek to pass right-to-work laws and as was put forward by the union-busting plaintiffs in the Friedrichs case, who sought to deny unions the right to collect fees for the cost of collective bargaining from individuals who did not join the union.

The CAP article acknowledges that the same ethical directives that they denounce because they prohibit abortion also require Catholic hospitals to provide care for the poor and the indigent. They applaud this latter ethical demand. But, did it not dawn on the authors to ask, or an editor to inquire, how these two ideas are held together, that there is an ethical vision that undergirds both the Catholic commitment to the poor and the determination to care for both mother and child in the maternity ward. Is it really asking too much of people with college degrees to inquire into the history and the coherence of opinions about which they are writing?

The authors note that they sought comment from some Catholic agencies and did not get any. They dutifully report the thoughts and comments of every anti-Catholic group in existence since the Know Nothing Party. They could have called me for comment. They could have called groups like Democrats for Life which, while not a Catholic organization, nonetheless demonstrate that not everyone on the left goose steps to the NARAL theme songs.

The CAP "investigation" relies heavily on a project undertaken by the ACLU which, in these matters of reproductive rights, has completely lost all integrity, abandoning any of concern about the First Amendment's guarantee of religious liberty on behalf of the pro-abortion agenda. And, let's be clear here: This is not pro-choice but pro-abortion. Choice implies that if you have it, then I should have it, too. But nowhere in this article, or in similar articles that the ACLU has encouraged elsewhere, does anyone bother to seriously set forth a concept of freedom that confers the right to procure an abortion but then constricts so rapidly it coerces others to perform one. Pray, do tell, how does such an understanding of freedom work? Alas, the authors of this article, and the sources they cite, they are not liberals, they are Jacobins. If you do not know the difference, make a visit to the Vendee and learn about its history.

The authors also seem astonishingly facile in the way they contrast science and faith, indeed the article is entitled: "A Bishop in the Exam Room: When Faith Dictates Health Care Instead of Science." Of course, I assume even the ACLU believes that there should be some ethical guidelines in the exam room. Whence do those ethics arise? Certainly not from science. Indeed, the authors and those they cite are not here invoking science at all but scientism, an intellectual harlot if ever there was one. Back in the 1990s, Charles Murray and Richard Hernstein published a despicable book called The Bell Curve: Intelligence and Class Structure in American Life. The book was filled with scientific "evidence" to prove their thesis about the racial inferiority of blacks, but their conclusion was obscene, morally obscene, no matter what their graphs of data said. As Leon Wieseltier memorably wrote in a brutal essay denouncing the book, "There is not a chart in the world that can explain the significance of charts in the world." Such distinctions were lost on Murray, and they are lost on the ACLU and CAP too. Doesn't anyone take Philosophy 101 anymore?

If philosophy is too much to expect, how about getting one's facts straight. The CAP authors write:

Although these large Catholic hospital systems operate in accordance with religious values and doctrine, they aren't directly funded or controlled by the Catholic Church. As Uttley put it, 'they are not being funded by the envelope my mother used to put in the collection basket every Sunday.'

Instead, as tax-exempt nonprofit corporations, they are funded through a combination of private insurance reimbursement, Medicare and Medicaid payments, and sometimes government grants, according to Uttley.

Obviously, a hospital or clinic that joined a Catholic network recently is not funded from the envelopes Ms. Uttley's mother used in times past. But, Catholic health care most certainly did get its financial from those envelopes and, even more, from the daughters of rich and poor alike who became religious women in orders that devoted their lives to health care, religious women like Sr. Carol Keehan without whom the Affordable Care Act would not have passed. And it is tendentious to say that Catholic hospitals are funded from Medicare and Medicaid payments as if they had a Medicare card: They are reimbursed for treatment to patients who are enrolled in one of these government programs. The government money goes to the patient, who pays the hospital. Medicare and Medicaid have not jumped the wall of separation. If a Catholic hospital needs to buy new equipment or add a parking lot, it has to raise the money; it does not get tax dollars for the project.

This attack pretending to be an article also casts aspersions on the idea that Catholic hospitals should be able to decline participation in euthanasia. I will leave that for another day but, again, there is no science in the world that will tell you whether suicide, assisted or otherwise, is permissible, and only a libertarian would think that the only opinion that matters is the patient's opinion. We value law for a reason: It separates us from the Neanderthals, or, at any rate, most of us.

I worry about the state of liberalism when it does not smell all the problems with this faux investigation. I worry, too, that our bishops have so damaged the religious liberty brand that we might not have it when we need it, to fight this fight. And, I worry that Hillary Clinton might lack the backbone to stand up to this: When CAP was founded as an administration-in-waiting, it wasn't waiting for me, it was waiting for Hillary. But, Mrs. Clinton is pretty shrewd politically. She knows that this extremism is being peddled by women's groups who will never abandon her, but if she backs this garbage, it will cost her votes and it will cost the Democrats seats in Congress she needs if she wants to get anything done. If she is looking to have a "Sister Souljah moment," this is the time and this is the issue. Tell the ACLU and CAP they can build as many hospitals as they want, but they should leave Catholic hospitals alone.

[Michael Sean Winters is a Visiting Fellow at Catholic University's Institute for Policy Research and Catholic Studies.]

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