The Catholic Church is up in arms over an administration mandate that will force Catholic colleges, hospitals and charitable groups to cover contraceptives in the health insurance they provide for students or employees. I think the administration is in the wrong. And I think many people who support the mandate don't really understand the issue.

One argument is that if these institutions get public funds, they should have to abide by the government's rules. In fact, the mandate applies regardless of whether they get federal money. And just because the government gives you money doesn't mean it can force you to give up a constitutional right. If it did, the government could forbid students getting Pell grants from criticizing the president. It could outlaw gun ownership by anyone working for a company that gets federal contracts.

Another argument is that Catholic institutions should have to pay for contraceptive  coverage for the same reason that people who oppose big defense budgets have to pay taxes. But the analogy is completely inapt. The government already spends tax revenue to provide contraceptives to Medicaid recipients -- and the Catholic Church does not ask for an exemption.

A more accurate analogy is how we treat religious pacifists in wartime. Defending the nation is important, but when we had a draft, Quakers and Mennonites were allowed to avoid military service as conscientious objectors. The rights of conscience prevailed.

It's not feasible to excuse every person who opposes anything the government does, on religious or other grounds, from paying taxes. The government wouldn't be able to function. But the government could easily continue functioning if Catholic institutions were allowed to abide by the dictates of their faith on contraception.

I suspect many people support the mandate because they strongly disagree with the Church's opposition to birth control -- or just despise the Church, period.  But the First Amendment isn't there just to protect beliefs and practices we all like. It's there to protect even things we hate.