The religious right and Catholic Church are teaming up to protest that their religious freedom is at stake because ObamaCare requires that secular corporations and businesses cover birth control in their health insurance plans. To be clear, ObamaCare exempts houses of worship and strictly religious institutions from this regulation. Yet profit making businesses that engage in interstate commerce, businesses that sell products or provide services to anyone with the money to pay, are claiming that they should be treated the same as strictly religious organizations.
First, freedom of conscience, which is embodied in the First Amendment and includes the Free Exercise of Religion, has historically been considered an individual right. If I choose to refrain from using alcohol or tobacco because of my religious beliefs, I have no right to force that belief on my neighbor. If I choose to refrain from all medical care because of end of life issues, that is my decision, a decision that doesn’t confer on me the right to kill my neighbor because I believe it would end his suffering.
Hobby Lobby, a large arts and crafts chain store, does not want its health insurer to cover contraceptives for its thousands of employees because it violates the owners’ religious beliefs concerning birth control. They have taken it to federal court where it is still wending its way through the system. The Catholic Church has also been involved with the same issue. Recall Sandra Fluke, who His Porkulous (Rush Limbaugh) made famous because of her stance involving contraceptives at Georgetown University, a Catholic school with a secular mission, that receives federal money, and whose student population is a mix of religions. To those who support the churches, they should think it through more carefully.
I recall several years ago listening on the radio to uber right wing talking head Laura Ingraham. She spent a good part of her show bashing the Muslim cab drivers at the Minneapolis airport for their refusal to pick up anyone that appeared to have been drinking or who was carrying alcohol back from a trip. Ingraham was correct. But to show how hypocritical and duplicitous these zealots can be, in a different show she defended pharmacists that refused to dispense birth control pills if it violated a pharmacist’s religious beliefs---this despite the person having a prescription for a lawful product.
We are heading down a dangerous road if the courts change course and allow employers of businesses, regulated industries, and other entities not actively engaged in religious activity (like a church) to decide for their employees how they should live their lives. If that happens we will be back to the Jim Crowe days, and restaurants and hotels will be able to refuse service to people not of the right faith, color, national origin, sex, or ethnicity. Health plans will be able to exclude blood transfusions, deny inoculations for deadly diseases, disallow surgical procedures, and otherwise take us down a road toward anarchy where anyone can decide to ignore a law based on their religious belief.
We are all Americans, and we live by the rule of law. If we no longer believe that we are a nation of laws but rather a nation of exemptions based on personal beliefs that can directly impact others, we are doomed. I have my own beliefs about how my tax money should and shouldn’t be spent. It frustrates me that much of it goes for things that I totally disagree with for my own “religious” reasons, but I accept the will of the people through our elected representatives. This process has worked well for almost 225 years. Here’s hoping that wisdom and judgment prevail so that the United States of America is around for at least another 225 years.