Government Involvement in Religious Practices

userpic=needlepointA few days ago, a former next-door neighbor alerted me to an article that he believed was representative of unwarranted government intrusion in our lives. Now, that’s not a surprise as Steve holds right-wing/tea party political views. We enjoy discussing politics (even though he’s wrong, but then again, he thinks I’m wrong 🙂 ). I try not to convince him that he’s wrong, other than the occasional documented correction. I find it very important to read and see outside my bubble, and to at least try to understand where the other side is coming from. For those that don’t do it, it is well worth doing.

In any case, reading the article got me thinking. The gist of the article, with much of the slant filtered out, was covered in the LA Times today. Essentially, the situation is this: Hobby Lobby, a privately-owned crafting company, is refusing to pay for medical coverage (per the Affordable Care Act) that covers the emergency contraception pill, because providing such coverage goes against their Christian beliefs. The right has picked up this story, using it as an example of how the government is trying to dictate against religion.

First and foremost, I should note that I think the government is often too Christian. Why else would I have to spend vacation days for Rosh Hashanah or Yom Kippur, but forcibly have to take Christmas or Easter off? So I have no problem with the government making decisions independent of a particular religious stricture. Study after study has shown that providing birth control saves money in the long run, and it does not hike the cost of insurance. Further, it creates an environment where all children are wanted by their parents, which is a good thing for preserving the family.

Hobby Lobby is objecting to paying for coverage for emergency contraception, claiming that such contraception violates their religious views. A few questions here. First, if Hobby Lobby is heavily Christian, why aren’t they restricting hiring to people who agree with their views and will not use such contraception (answer: because that is probably illegal)? Why aren’t they requiring employees to at least agree to restrain from having unprotected sex out of marriage? (answer: because they can’t interfere in the private life of an employee) So they are trying to exert control in the only way they can. However, this control imposes their religious position on an employee, which is discriminating against that employee’s right to practice their religion. Who’s rights should predominate: the employer’s rights, or the employee’s rights?

I personally believe that Hobby Lobby should provide the emergency contraception insurance. They should also be confident enough in their hiring practices that the people they hire wouldn’t use the particular coverage, making the issue of whether there is coverage for it a non-issue. However, if Hobby Lobby is choosing to hire people who do not share their beliefs, they should not be imposing their religious beliefs on those employees. The employee must be able to freely exercise their religion. It is not Hobby Lobby providing the pill; they are providing the insurance, and the insurance is providing the pill. For all Hobby Lobby knows, the dollars that paid for that pill came from some other employer.

Whether the government should mandate such contraception as part of coverage is a different question. Assuming that the government can dictate minimum capabilities to include in all coverages (which is probably a form of consumer protection), their goal in doing so should be practices that increase the health care of all Americans, while lowering overall health costs. That benefits Medicare. Government also has an interesting in ensuring that families do not have more children than they can afford, for such unwanted children often end up on public assistance. It is in the Government’s interest to reduce the number of people on public assistance. Government should not be making the decisions of what to cover based on the beliefs of one particular religious group over the beliefs of a different religious group. That’s showing preferential behavior towards a particular religion, and is essentially enshrining those religious beliefs as government protected religion. That goes against the freedom of religion position in the Constitution. However, I can also see how the employer would view this as the government dictating something that goes against their religion. I think that happening for a small percentage of employers is the price we pay for living in a pluralistic society. If the employer doesn’t like that price, they can move their operations to a country where there is a state religion.

I’ve written before how I believe that a God who imposes moral laws would want people to consciously choose to follow those laws, even when faced with temptation. That’s what I understand Judaism to say regarding free choice and free will. If morality is dictated, then the mitzvah (I have no good word for the opposite of sin) of choosing to do right is impossible. We should be teaching people that they have the responsibility to make the correct and moral decisions, not abrogating them from the responsibility of doing the right thing.

[Yes, I acknowledge there are some slippery slope arguments here. I think those will exist in any moral discussion, and thus reiterate this is my opinion.]

As for me, this puts Hobby Lobby in the same camp as Chik-Fil-A. I do not wish to provide profits to a company that behaves in this fashion. Others may differ, and decide to support Hobby Lobby. That’s their choice. That’s what makes America great.


5 Replies to “Government Involvement in Religious Practices”

  1. In the Employment Division v. Smith, Justice Scalia wrote for the majority that a neutral law of general applicability is valid even if it infringes on religious beliefs or practices in some way.

    I think that Scalia would have voted a different way if the case had infringed on HIS beliefs. I suspect he’ll try to do a hair splitting differential or even over rule himself if it winds up before the court. But that’s the constitutional law on the question at the moment.

  2. I love how the Christian right wants to be able to opt out of paying for birth control, but they don’t think the principle applies to lefties who don’t want to pay (via taxes) for, say, foreign wars. What’s the difference? While I would prefer less government involvement for everyone, by choosing to live and be citizens here we’ve accepted a system where we don’t get a line-item veto on the money that’s taken from us. Sorry Hobby Lobby et al; get over it.

  3. While I agree with your conclusion and the bulk of your assertions, I want to make two points of clarification:

    First, Easter is not a Federal Holiday. Some private companies choose to give Easter Monday off, but this is not a Federal holiday at all. For that matter, it isn’t government “forcing” you to take Christmas off. Yes, it’s a Federal Holiday, but since you’re not a direct Federal employee, your company could choose not to automatically give that day off (BAH, for example, gives some Federal Holidays off, but not others – Veteran’s Day, Columbus Day, MLK Day, President’s Day, etc. are not BAH holidays, despite being Federal Holidays).

    Second, and more importantly, I take issue with this statement: Further, [providing birth control] creates an environment where all children are wanted by their parents, which is a good thing for preserving the family.

    While it may be true that appropriate contraceptives reduce the number of unwanted children, it does NOT ensure that *all* children are “wanted by their parents.” For one thing – providing birth control doesn’t ensure that everyone will use it. And it doesn’t ensure that those who use it will use it properly and effectively. And it doesn’t mean that contraceptives are fail-proof. I feel pretty strongly that these distinctions are important.

    Nevertheless, as I said, I agree with your overall assertions and conclusions. And Hobby Lobby certainly won’t be getting MY money. Um. Not that they ever did… I’m not good at hobbies. 😉

  4. This whole issue only exists because in the US most people get insurance through their employers. My hope is that the Affordable Care Act will turn out to be the camel’s nose under the tent and that it will lead to single payer (or some other means of detaching health insurance from employment e.g. the public exchanges scheduled to go on-line next year).

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