CBS’ Norah O’Donnell interviewed Cardinal Timothy Dolan for Face the Nation about Pope Francis, the new evangelization, and the fight for religious liberty in the US. Predictably, this is the part of the interview drawing the most attention, mainly over one flippant comment in service of the actual argument. Dolan told O’Donnell that he finds himself inspired by Hobby Lobby’s owners, whom he calls “true Americans,” and discusses the issues at play at the Supreme Court. Acknowledging that the right to religious liberty is not entirely unlimited, Dolan explains that the court has to balance those rights against the common good — but just how does the intrusive HHS contraception mandate serve the common good when contraception is already so readily available?
Dolan said that he is “inspired” by Hobby Lobby, a company he called “true Americans.”
“By Lord, all you have to do is walk into a 7-Eleven or any shop on any street in America and have access to [contraceptives] — is that right to access those and to have them paid for? Is that such a towering good that it would suffocate the rights of conscience? I don’t think so, but I hope the Supreme Court agrees,” he said.
“That [Hobby Lobby is] fighting for that, willing to go all the way to the Supreme Court — boy, they sure have my admiration,” he added.
This generated an unsurprising focus on … 7-11s. Mother Jones says the comment proves that Dolan “hasn’t been to a 7-11 since giving up Go-Go Taquitos for Lent,” in what is the best and wittiest of the rebuttals. Wonkette described the exchange thusly: “A celibate man told a lady reporter Sunday on CBS’s Face the Nation that businesses should have the right to eliminate contraceptive coverage in their employees’ insurance, because he hears tell that you can just walk into any 7-11 and buy rubbers.” Raw Story played it straight, but Esquire melts down into barely literate mumbling: “The hell? Birth control at the 7-11? Are they offering progestin slurpees these days? And “any shop on any street”? I can get birth control from the nice old Russian tailor up the block?”
Of course, what all of the outrageous outrage over “celibate, white, old men [discussing] lady parts and their health” misses is two major points. First, the discussion of “lady parts and their health” got forced on Dolan and business owners by the nanny-staters who dreamed up the contraception crisis in the first place. (In this case, O’Donnell asked Dolan for his opinion, which in the rational world is an invitation to the discussion.) The CDC’s own study on pregnancy prevention shows that no such crisis exists, and that American women can find their own contraception without old men being forced to provide it for free. Whether or not they find it at 7-11s or tailor shops — or more likely, Walgreens, CVS, Rite Aid, and so on — they’re finding it well enough on their own without forcing others to pay for it.
The second point goes from the first. As Cardinal Dolan explains very carefully — in an argument all of his critics ignore — the right to religious expression is guaranteed by the First Amendment. That’s not just the right of worship, but to live one’s faith in public as well. The only impediments and burdens on that right which should survive are those which are absolutely necessary for the public good, and under the RFRA those burdens have to survive a strict scrutiny over whether there are other, less intrusive means to serve the government interest. In this case, not only are there many other options such as expanding Title X availability, there is no demonstrable need for an effort in the first place, as the CDC study proves.
Any serious discussion would require HHS contraception mandate advocates to demonstrate that compelling government interest and lack of any other solutions to it. The focus of the rebuttal to Dolan’s comments on Slurpees, 7-11, and “celibate white old men” (what does Dolan’s race have to do with it anyway?) shows exactly how unserious Dolan’s opposition has been all along. That becomes especially apparent when the argument boils down to we’re forcing you to provide birth control because reproductive behavior is none of your business. That’s the inevitable contradiction in this argument, and in nanny-state politics in general. It mandates participation while at the same time delegitimizes status to criticize. Convenient, no?
The rest of the interview is well worth watching, if less eligible for irrational hysterics over convenience-store references. Pay special attention to Dolan’s warnings about the nature of doctrine as opposed to pastoral outreach:
Despite the stylistic changes at the Vatican – which Dolan said the Pope is implementing “on steroids” — Dolan said many of the substantive teachings of the church will not change.
“Christianity, like Judaism, is a revealed religion. It’s an inherited religion. We believe that God has told us certain things about himself and ourselves, and we can’t tamper with that,” he said. “Sometimes we wish we could.” …
Another change Dolan does not believe will occur: the church’s stance on same-sex marriage. Even with increasing numbers of Americans backing civil unions and marriages for gay couples, Dolan said the church is “used to being out of step” on other issues like immigration and capital punishment.
He does believe, however, that there should be civil rights protections for those who are “unable” to live up to the standards of marriage held by the church.
“I believe that marriage is a given– by God, because I’m a man of faith — but also in the human psyche and human reason and the natural law, that marriage is, at its essence, is between a man and woman; forever, lovingly, faithfully, to bring forth new life and children. I believe we can’t tamper with that,” he said. “Would I do things to protect the civil rights of those who are unable to live up to that? You bet I would, whether that became insurance, whether that became housing, whatever. Do I believe that society could be affected negatively if we tamper with the definition of marriage? Yeah.”
Update: Video fixed.