The vast majority of humanists, even those actively engaged in the secular movement, share the general public's sentiments on this issue. Live and let live, right?

We should realize, however, that the social norm that discourages the criticism of religion can work to the great advantage of religious political activists. Social conservatives, for example, righteously claiming the highest moral authority grounded in religion, knowing that criticism of religion is considered off-limits, can demand that their policy positions be given legitimacy even when those positions lack any rational basis.

This is precisely what is playing out as America’s Catholic bishops reject the latest effort from the Obama administration to find common ground on the debate over contraception coverage. The administration, bending over backwards to appease the clerics, proposed a plan that would allow religious employers to avoid paying for contraception coverage, placing the burden of such coverage on insurers instead. The bishops rejected the proposal even though it would cost the church nothing, claiming that “religious freedom” requires that all employers (not just religious employers) be allowed to deny contraception coverage.

Many Americans – even the 98 percent of Catholic women who use birth control – are frustrated by the bishops’ stubbornness. But interestingly, despite the impasse and despite the critically important real-life public health consequences that hang in the balance on the contraception issue, few pundits and even fewer politicians will dare to challenge the bishops on the underlying legitimacy of the religious position. That is, nobody will criticize the theology that is the actual basis for this impasse.