I'm a big fan of absurdity in politics. But even absurdity has its limits, and the National Organization for Women has surpassed it in the wake of the Supreme Court's decision in Burwell v. Hobby Lobby.
As part of its full-throated defense of ObamaCare's contraception mandate, NOW has a list of what it calls "The Dirty 100" — entities that have sued the Department of Health and Human Services and demanded exemptions on the basis of their First Amendment right to religious expression and the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA). Hobby Lobby and Conestoga Wood Specialties, the two firms that won the Hobby Lobby case last week, occupy two spots on the list, as does Wheaton College, which won a controversial injunction against HHS later in the week.
Almost square in the middle of the list, though, are the Little Sisters of the Poor.
Who are the Little Sisters of the Poor? They are Catholic nuns, operating as a charitable organization on behalf of their community. The application of the HHS contraception mandate to practicing Catholic nuns who take vows of chastity is one of the biggest absurdities of HHS' mandate enforcement anyway. Obviously, nuns aren't clamoring for free IUDs and Plan B.
It's true that churches and closely related organizations do not have to comply with the mandate, but there's a big catch, and one that provides another level of absurdity. HHS requires that any such group primarily employ and serve only members of their own faith. The Little Sisters, who provide hospice care to impoverished people about to die, do not restrict their service to just Catholics. In other words, HHS demands compliance in the case of these "dirty" nuns because they refuse to discriminate in serving the needs of the poor.
All of these issues have been litigated in lower courts prior to Hobby Lobby, with mixed results for common sense. A loss at the appellate level forced the Little Sisters to seek emergency injunctive relief from the Supreme Court in December to stop ruinous fines from forcing them to end their service to the community. Justice Sonia Sotomayor's grant of a temporary injunction — unanimously extended later — prompted unhinged anti-Catholic attacks from news sources that should have known better than to run them, as well as a New York Times editorial that instructed the nuns on how to interpret their faith.
That brings us to now — and NOW. The explainer page for The Dirty 100 spends much of its time attacking Catholicism. Fourteen of the 100 have the word "Catholic" in their names, and other Catholic organizations add up to a significant percentage of the "dirty."
As part of its rationale, NOW offers such non-sequiturs as the percentage of Catholic women who have used birth control, which has nothing to do with the doctrinal teachings of the Catholic Church or the beliefs of the Little Sisters of the Poor. NOW also highlights the supposed acceptance of birth control by the Mennonites, another non sequitur that is supposed to be a response to the Mennonite owners of Conestoga Wood. The whole thing reads as a diatribe against the freedom of religious expression, which is all NOW has got besides the laughable argument that contraception is so inaccessible that nuns have to be forced to provide it to themselves.
Normally, one would expect an organization that considers itself the pre-eminent defender of women's choices to, you know, defend the free choice of a group of women. Or NOW could have acknowledged the nuance of a group of Catholic nuns standing up for their choice to act according to their principles. That should especially be true since the Little Sisters of the Poor's decision on how to structure their health insurance impacts no one but their own organization.
At the very least, one might have expected NOW to come up with a less pejorative name than "The Dirty 100" when applied to the Little Sisters of the Poor. In any other context, that sounds an awful lot like a "war on women."
THE WEEK'S AUDIOPHILE PODCASTS: LISTEN SMARTER
- It's official: The religious right is calling it quits
- What would it take for humans to build a settlement on Mars?
- 10 things you need to know today: November 24, 2014
- Obama just kneecapped Jeb Bush and Chris Christie's 2016 prospects
- How to be the most productive person in your office — and still get home by 5:30 p.m.
- The dangerously childish morality of liberal ObamaCare supporters
- Want to eliminate the scourge of frat culture? Lower the drinking age.
- 43 TV shows to watch in 2014
- House hunting: 7 stunning castles in Europe
- 10 classic Sesame Street moments we wouldn't show today's kids
Subscribe to the Week