What Fresh Hell Is This?

March 12, 2012

Why Arguments By Analogy Are Tricky

In her column today, P-G columnist Ruth Ann Dailey argues by analogy - badly.

She's talking again about contraception and religious liberty.  And in the process sets up a strawman argument.

Let's take a look.  She sets up the strawman.  First the frame:
Let's say you're a pacifist, and you belong to a pacifist religious organization. Maybe it's the Mennonite Central Committee, the Jewish Peace Fellowship, Pax Christi or any of numerous Quaker groups.
And then the conflict:
Let's say your organization needs a new staffer and you hire me because I'm a perfect fit for the job and an all-around wonderful human being.

Imagine that at some point during my tenure with your organization, a right-wing president and Congress so advance the cause of a citizen militia, as it existed in the Founders' day, that a law is passed mandating employers to provide employees with free guns if the employees wish to have them.

And I do!

Unbeknownst to you, I feel strongly about the Second Amendment. I believe it's necessary to my personal safety and well-being to bear arms, but the weapons and ammunition I need to exercise this right can get quite expensive. It would be very helpful to my budget to get them for free.
There's two references in there of employees getting the weapons for free.  She keeps going:
There is much public controversy over this new legislation, of course, and you, my pacifist employer, are among its most outspoken opponents.

"I have the right to own a weapon," I remind you, "and it's so fundamental a right that it should be part of the terms of my employment."

"But a central tenet of our organization is that using weapons is wrong," you say. "Buying you a weapon violates our doctrine and therefore our constitutional right to the free exercise of religion."

"But I have a constitutional right to bear arms."

"Yes, you do, but we should have no obligation to buy them for you."
There it is again. The employer buying birth control for the employee - not that the insurance company has to cover contraception in its health benefits.

Guns are property.  Health care isn't.  Her analogy fails right there.

Besides that, Dailey's argument falls flat because she's assuming that her strawman pacifist organization can deny such coverage.

But if it's the law, it can't.  Religious conscience is no get out of jail free card.  Who says?

Antonin Scalia and the US Supreme Court:
We have never held that an individual's religious beliefs [494 U.S. 872, 879] excuse him from compliance with an otherwise valid law prohibiting conduct that the State is free to regulate.
We first had occasion to assert that principle in Reynolds v. United States, 98 U.S. 145 (1879), where we rejected the claim that criminal laws against polygamy could not be constitutionally applied to those whose religion commanded the practice. "Laws," we said, "are made for the government of actions, and while they cannot interfere with mere religious belief and opinions, they may with practices. . . . Can a man excuse his practices to the contrary because of his religious belief? To permit this would be to make the professed doctrines of religious belief superior to the law of the land, and in effect to permit every citizen to become a law unto himself." Id., at 166-167.

Subsequent decisions have consistently held that the right of free exercise does not relieve an individual of the obligation to comply with a "valid and neutral law of general applicability on the ground that the law proscribes (or prescribes) conduct that his religion prescribes (or proscribes)."
Better luck next time, Ruth Ann.

1 comment:

EdHeath said...

I think Ruth Ann makes her real point in her last paragraph, that she is personally offended by the suggestion that the Catholic demand to undermine the ACA amounts to a "War on Women". I think there are two things to say about that.

First, her guns for militia's analogy is full of Grand Canyon holes. Can you imagine the (Republican) Suburban outcry if the government wanted to arm inner city youth with automatic weapons? Is she envisioning a libertarian US government arming its citizen to shoot Congress-persons they disagree with? Does she think that rifles would stand against tanks and clse air support?

But I want to use her analogy to highlight a different analogy. Pacifists traditionally have to establish a case for their pacifism, perhaps because they are Quakers or Mennonites, or through some documentation. And still often they serve either domestically (as firefighters or in the Forestry Service) or in the military as medics (a particularly dangerous assignment).

By contrast, the Catholic Church is claiming they wish to be exempted from paying for their non-catholic employees contraception on a strongly held moral belief in the sanctity of life. Where was that belief in the Crusades? Where during the Spanish Inquisition? How about during the holocaust? I think the morality of the Catholic Church can be questioned simply because of the scandals involving priests and young boys.

Since there is frequently a medical justification for prescribing oral contraception and since the church is not saying that female employees would not be forbidden from spending their own wages on contraception, there is every reason to say that the women who would be hurt by this demand for an exemption from this part of the ACA are women who could not afford to pay for oral contraception on their own. Perhaps Ruth Ann can sniff and say such women should either get married or avoid sex all together, but such moralizing suggestions ignore real world situations. It's funny how conservatives only believe in individual liberty for the rich.