The question of whether employees in church-affiliated organizations should receive contraceptive benefits is not a moral issue. It's a civil rights issue.
Speaking at a news conference, Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) criticizes President Barack Obama for insisting that employers must provide health insurance that includes birth control for women. AP Images
You might expect the Catholic Bishops to recognize an Inquisition when they see one. But listening to their laments about the administration's "unprecedented assaults" on religious liberty, you'd think Barack Obama was the second coming of Torquemada. Reasonable people will differ about the justice or wisdom of requiring church-affiliated employers to include contraceptive coverage in employee health insurance plans, but only unreasonable ones will regard this requirement as the coup de grace of religious liberty. Churches are exempt from the obligation to provide reproductive health care coverage; the requirement applies instead to affiliated hospitals, schools, and other institutions that generally receive public support to employ and serve religiously diverse members of the general public.
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.