The US Conference of Catholic Bishops has not ceased its holy war on birth control access, shunting aside the obvious contradiction of an organization beset with sexual abuse scandals telling other people what they should and should not do when it comes to sex. Cardinal-in-training Timothy Dolan plans to support legislation like Roy Blunt’s bill to allow conscience exemptions – based mostly on whim – on any regulation in the health care law, and to back court challenges to the birth control mandate (with amici briefs rather than their own lawsuit).
Underpinning the bishops’ complaint is the idea that nobody in America should have to assent to government policies that violate their personal beliefs. This comes as news to committed pacifists.
For as long as the United States has been declaring war, there have been Americans who object to the use of violence on religious or moral grounds. Entire faiths are explicitly devoted to the total rejection of war: Quakers, Mennonites and many Pentacostal traditions, to name a few. Millions of members of other religions interpret the Sixth Commandment — “thou shalt not kill” — as a full ban on warfare. These people all still have to pay taxes, a tremendous percentage of which go to financing not only war, but capital punishment, a sometimes brutal prison system and the use of violence by police forces. The U.S. government has not found their religious views to be a valid exemption from citizens’ tax responsibilities [...]
“The money that goes to war is such a huge amount, so much more than the amount that goes to abortion or even contraception of all things,” said Ruth Benn, secretary of the National War Tax Resistance Coordinating Committee. “It’s amazing that this can be seen as such a big deal compared to war.”
You’d be hard-pressed to see this as anything but a direct analogue. I went to a Quaker secondary school for a year, and I’m quite sure that many of the believers in the weekly meeting for worship sessions had strong religious objections to their money being used to kill other people, even in self-defense. And yet I don’t remember a single controversy in my lifetime about “conscience protections” for taxpayer funds and their use in war. I don’t even remember any accounting accommodations made for that. Zach Carter in this article talks about legislation that would separate war taxes from other federal taxes and allow pacifists to exempt themselves from the war taxes. The legislation was written 40 years ago, with no vote ever taken. Meanwhile, tax resisters who refuse to have their money support military operations get hauled off to jail.
The Supreme Court rejected arguments that religious objections to war can exempt pacificts from taxation in 1982. But they argued more broadly that “[I]t would be difficult to accommodate the comprehensive social security system with myriad exceptions flowing from a wide variety of religious beliefs.” The whole notion of “conscience exemptions” ought to have wide-ranging implications that make it difficult for taxpayer funds to be put to any desired purpose. But you only really hear about it when it comes to women’s bodies. That should tell you a lot about the makeup of those who run the country and get to influence public policy.