Obama administration to offer religious organizations a “choice” — a Hobson’s choice

Back at the end of the 16th century, Thomas Hobson ran a livery stable (which, in pre-auto times, was the equivalent of a car rental place).  Unlike other livery stables, he refused to allow his customers free pick of horses.  Instead, they were told that they could take the horse in the stall nearest the stable door . . . or they could take no horse at all.  And so a phrase was born:  A Hobson’s Choice is a situation in which the appearance of a choice is illusory, since the only alternative to the offered “choice” is nothing at all.

Centuries later, when Henry Ford started his assembly line, he is reputed to have given his customers the same choice Hobson did:  “Any customer can have a car painted any color that he wants so long as it is black.”

It’s clear that the Obama administration has been studying the Hobson and Ford playbook.  The headline in the New York Times copy of an Reuters report reads “White House Open to Compromise Over Contraception: Adviser.”  That sounds heartening, doesn’t it?  Except, as always, the devil is in the details:

Signaling possible room for compromise on the issue, David Axelrod said such religious institutions have a grace period to find a way to include health insurance coverage for contraception as part of the U.S. healthcare overhaul without going against Catholic Church doctrine.

“We certainly don’t want to abridge anyone’s religious freedom so we’re going to look for a way to move forward that both guarantees women that basic preventive care that they need and respects the prerogatives of religious institutions,” Axelrod, a senior adviser to President Barack Obama’s re-election team, said on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe.”

Think about that for a minute:  Under this so-called compromise, churches will still be required to pay for women’s contraceptives and abortifacients, but the Obama administration is kindly offering them the chance to figure out a way to subsidize these pills and treatments without offending their core doctrinal opposition to contraceptives and abortifacients.  Sounds like a choice to me — a Hobson’s choice.

The Obama administration is not naive.  It knows as well as we do that some things cannot be the subject of compromise.  Just as one cannot be “a little bit pregnant,” there is no way to fund a repugnant practice without being a participant in that practice.  These are binary issues.  And this alleged offer to compromise is no compromise at all.  One may as well ask the condemned man if he wants to be hanged from a gallows or a gibbet — he’s still dead at the end, and the Church is still being forced to bow down to government mandate on doctrinal issues.

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  • 11B40

    Having been the beneficiary of 13 continuous years of Catholic education, I have often thought that the Church has given our somewhat less civil society too good of a deal as to it and its members assuming all those costs, the vast majority of which would more appropriately be those of government. I see it as a kind of “reverse voucher” system in which the clingy believers meet their individual tax burdens for providing public education but relieve the state of the actual expenses for their own progeny. 
    I see little chance of it happening, but what if the Church, not in retribution, of course, but as, let’s say, a new 21st Century business plan, decided to close all its schools and let their students show up at the local public schools for their education for a year or so. If that showed any promise, perhaps the idea could be amended to include Catholic hospitals. 
    Now, I’ll certainly admit that coming from the Bronx has often affected both my emotions and my behavior. But, I do know this, some people are incapable of understanding on which side their bread is buttered and sharing that information is something that I see as an essential part of Christian education.

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