Their Religious Freedom v. Your Healthcare

Objections over birth control coverage in employer-provided health insurance are no more than an attempt by employers to intrude upon, control the lives of, and impose their religious beliefs on their employees, outside the course and scope of their job. No one can stop a private employer from posting the 10 commandments in your cubicle, installing Vishnu as your screensaver, or (Christ have mercy) leaving “A Clay Aiken Xmas” on an endless loop on the factory floor. But insinuating their beliefs into an employee’s family planning decisions – medical matters reserved for consultation with one’s doctor – is offensive.

Imagine an employer is a Jehovah’s Witness – and he objects to providing health insurance coverage to his employees for blood transfusions. (Faith prohibits Jehovah’s Witnesses from donating, storing or receiving blood – though I’ve never heard of a Jehovah’s Witness making such an objection as an employer, so this is strictly hypothetical.) Next imagine that Jehovah’s Witnesses sued the US Government so they could exclude transfusions from health insurance coverage mandated of large employers by the ACA.

This is not intended to be a slippery-slope argument – that if we permit employers to deny certain kinds of health insurance coverage to their employees, it would open the door to all manner of 11th century healthcare policies. Rather the illustration is meant to highlight the absurdity of allowing one person’s religious beliefs to impinge on another person’s access to modern medicine. Few would quarrel with Jehovah’s Witness’s choice to die for their religious beliefs – but most would have a problem with their expectation that other people should die for them.

Employers, under the Civil Rights Act, cannot discriminate in hiring on the basis of a job applicant’s religion – nor can they fire an employee for practicing their religion. (Churches are exempted, and can hire and fire based on an employee’s religion alone.) This means, among other things, that an employee is free to donate a fraction of his salary to the Church of Satan, or use it on Friday to enjoy a philly cheesesteak, or purchase a condom from the corner pharmacy – and his employer cant do anything about it.

Health insurance is just another form of compensation. Whether an employee acquires birth control with salary, or with employment-based health-insurance, in either case the employer is providing the compensation, and the employee is making the final decision on how he will use that compensation – to obtain birth control, or not. Distinctions between the two cases are spurious. What an employee does with the compensation he earns is up to him – not his boss.

The company at the center of the controversy – Hobby Lobby, an Oklahoma retailer – claims to be very much concerned about employee compensation being used to obtain birth control. But it has no compunctions about sending money to its Chinese suppliers, from whom it gets the vast majority of its merchandise. China’s abortion rate is TRIPLE that of the US, with more than 13 million abortions per year – and that doesnt include another 10 million morning-after pills sold annually. Abortion in China is effectively REQUIRED by law under the one-child policy. When a woman who’s already had a child becomes pregnant, she may face fines and other sanctions if she does not obtain an abortion.

If abortion were a serious concern, Hobby Lobby could not send money to China, knowing that it’s far more likely to finance abortions there, compared to the same money being sent practically anywhere else on earth. One can only infer that their preoccupation with abortion does not rise to the level where it might cut into their profits. Hobby Lobby is happy to force its employees to make sacrifices for the firm’s religious beliefs – but the firm is unwilling to make sacrifices itself – and happy to turn a blind eye to make a buck.

Religious freedom is a good thing, if only because the alternative is so noxious. But that liberty in a polyglot society is about an individual’s freedom within his or her defined individual sphere – such freedom does NOT include an employer’s right to reach into his employees’ private lives, to impose his religious beliefs on them.



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