The problem is that over the last few decades the Catholic Church has been extremely effective at providing Americans with health care, and the government has not. That’s the failure we need to address — not church doctrine. This whole mess could have been avoided if America had instituted national health care.

Count me among the Americans who said that forcing the Catholic Church to pay for birth control their theology explicitly condemns was out of bounds. It would be like forcing Quakers to pay taxes that fund wars they explicitly condemn. Which we do, actually, but never mind.

But now that Catholic institutions don’t have to pay for birth control, the bishops are still complaining: Apparently they object to anybody getting birth control, at all.

Is this really about religious freedom? Because it seems to me that if you’re using your religion to deny other people health care they want, you’re against freedom, not for it. Any church is welcome to speak out against birth control. They are empowered to speak directly to the conscience of a nation. But using the government to prevent individuals (Catholic or not) from getting birth control of their own volition is like converting by the sword.

We’re against that, right?

These kinds of debates are a red flag telling us that health care policy has gone off the rails. When an estimated one in six Americans get their health care provided by a Catholic institution, it says something wonderful about the church’s commitment to providing a public good — and something terrible about the government’s ability to provide for its citizens’ basic necessities.

Of course, religions that want to do good works as part of their mission should be able to do so without government interference. It is the grossest kind of intrusion to standardize charity, saying, “You can’t help people unless you fit our mold.” It punishes people who do good, and thereby discourages them from doing it.

But I don’t get to decide what health care plan my employer picks. Do you? I didn’t get to decide what hospitals would serve my area. Did you? Most Americans have limited ability to make realistic decisions about their health care on the macro level … and that puts them at the mercy of the institutions that can, whether Catholic or HMO.

At this point the government has to wade into the territory of religious belief for the same reason that it has to enforce anti-trust regulation. Democracy requires citizens to be protected against monopolistic institutions.

The problem, then, is neither the Catholic Church’s objection to birth control nor the government’s duty to protect the rights of its citizens to access comprehensive medical treatments. Both are legitimate.

The problem is that over the last few decades the Catholic Church has been extremely effective at providing Americans with health care, and the government has not. That’s the failure we need to address — not church doctrine.

This whole mess could have been avoided if America had instituted national health care. If the government actively provided all the health care it maintains citizens have a right to, there would be no reason to force the Catholic Church (or any other religious institution) to pay for procedures that violate their doctrines and consciences … or to create compromises that meet everybody half-way. Citizens could get the health care they need, and churches would be free to offer those, and only those, areas that met their standards.

Rising health care expenses are the biggest cost of doing business right now. Take that off the shoulders of private companies and suddenly they’ll have billions to pump into the economy. It will also be easier for entrepreneurs to start their own businesses knowing that they won’t be putting the health of their families at risk when they go into business for themselves.

Once “health care” became part of our civic infrastructure, investing in it the way we do roads and the military became the best policy. Until we treat it that way we’re going to have more stupid controversies like this one, trying to shoehorn charities and businesses alike into roles they’re not suited for.

Benjamin Wachs writes for Messenger Post Media, and is the editor of Fiction365.com. Email him at Benjamin@Fiction365.com.