What accounts for the rhetorical excesses of the Catholic Church and its advocates on the campaign trail and in the media? They reflect some genuine outrage, no doubt. But, in part, the rhetoric is an organizing tool (which may succeed in wresting new concessions from the administration). And in part, it reflects larger rhetorical trends: We inhabit a culture of hyperbole, especially during election years. Every argument is a gunfight (to which someone mistakenly brings a knife), every gunfight is a war, and every war a potential apocalypse.
Still, while the fate of American civilization doesn’t depend on this debate about the obligations of church-affiliated institutions to abide by secular law, the stakes are relatively high. As government workers are laid off and government programs shrink, the public role of private, tax-exempt non-profits expands. The stronger their right to dispense public funds and deliver public services according to sectarian religious dictates, the weaker our rights to a non-sectarian public sphere. It’s a zero-sum game….Your right to act on your religious beliefs is not absolute; it’s weighed against the rights that your actions would deny to others.