The big news this past week was the US Supreme Court said it would hear two cases that challenge the contraceptive requirement in the Affordable Care Act. Two companies, operated by devout religious people, claim that having to provide health insurance to their employees that would pay for contraceptives violates their religious freedom under the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA). The companies claim religious freedom by denying the religious freedom of their employees.
I was going to write a long essay pointing how wrong Hobby Lobby and the Mennonite owners of a wood cabinet company are but Jill Filipovic writing for The Guardian hits the nail on the head. Here is a sample but read the whole article as it gives a great summary of the issue:
So why is it a problem for employees to use their health insurance for the care they and their doctors agree upon?
The cases the supreme court will hear were brought under the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA), which bars the government from “substantially burden[ing] a person’s exercise of religion” unless that burden is justified by a “compelling reason”. Free religious exercise is burdened when the government forces an individual to participate in activities that violate their religious beliefs, but not every infringement on religious beliefs is a substantial burden. As the ACLU points out in their amicus brief to the supreme court, the contraception law doesn’t force the owners of the Hobby Lobby craft store to violate their own religious beliefs. It requires them to cover health insurance, which may subsidize someone else’s activities that violate the Hobby Lobby owners’ religious values – but again, the same could be said for issuing a pay check.
By refusing to cover contraception, the Hobby Lobby owners (and the owners of the other companies claiming the healthcare law infringes upon their religious freedom) are in fact using their own religious beliefs to deny benefits to their employees who may not share those beliefs at all. That’s not religious freedom; it’s religious tyranny.
Notably, the Hobby Lobby used to have an employee insurance plan that covered the very same birth control methods it now claims violate its religious freedom. It wasn’t until the GOP raised a stink about the contraception rules in Obama’s healthcare legislation that the Hobby Lobby “re-examined” its insurance policies. Is the religious belief sincerely held? Probably. But it’s as much political and cynical as it is faith-based.
The important point at this time is that individuals have religious freedom, companies don’t. The plaintiffs in the two cases want to enjoy the limited liability a company structure affords them but they then want to force their religious beliefs on their employees. They can’t have it both ways.
As the Guardian article points out, previous case law hasn’t allowed companies to exercise religious freedom before but since these cases are so socially and politically charged the court might try to pull a decision favorable to companies but that decision would be coming out of their ass.
*Side Note* The owners of Hobby Lobby say that providing insurance that could be used for birth control, which they consider an abortion, violates their Christian values yet a majority of their inventory comes from China which reported over 300 million abortions over 30 years not too mention China’s poor record on human rights in general.
I guess Hobby Lobby’s Christian values have more to do with money then actual beliefs.