The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act’s requirement that employer’s health insurance plans must include birth control is being challenged in the U.S. Supreme Court as a contravention of religious rights affirmed by the Religious Freedom Restoration Act of 1993. The plaintiffs are two for-profit corporations whose owners, on religious grounds, object to birth control, especially abortion or any form of contraception that induces abortion.
The founder of one of the corporations, Hobby Lobby, says his company adheres to biblical principles and owes its success to God. Does that mean he fears that if his company’s health insurance plan includes birth control, God will damn his company into bankruptcy? If so, maybe his lawyer can argue economic hardship.
The idea that religious beliefs are valid grounds to exempt one from secular law is tantamount to making ecclesiastical law supreme. Isn’t that the concept used to justify Sharia law in the Muslim world? If the Supreme Court rules that a corporation can be granted conscientious-objector status that exempts it from the birth control mandates of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, then the door is open for all kinds of religious based objections to secular law.
And, the issue gets more problematic when determining whose religious beliefs qualify for legal dispensations. Can Muslim-owned businesses, by arguing that their religious beliefs do not permit gender equality, refuse to adhere to employment laws that give equal opportunity rights to women? For instance, a woman could not be placed in a position where she supervised men — or maybe even drives a car.
Can anyone start a religion and qualify for legal exemptions from the law — especially tax laws? If so, I have just discovered God, and God tells me that paying taxes to a government that uses so much of it for war is a sin. So, IRS, don’t expect a tax return from me this year because I believe God doesn’t want me to give you any more money.
How long would I get away with that? But churches get away with it year in and year out. Why should religious institutions be tax exempt? They exist in the same country with the rest of us and enjoy the same benefits that our taxes fund — infrastructure, defense, public health, education, police and fire protection. They need to chip in.
The whole thing gets even slipperier when you consider that there are many different interpretations of the same religious principles. The federal government has granted combat exemptions to some Christian sects, like Quakers, who believe there is no justification for taking human life. Meanwhile, many other devout Christians have killed people in combat. Both conscientious-objector Christians and Christian soldiers believe in the same Bible as the word of God but, apparently, interpret “thou shall not kill” differently.
The feds have granted religious-based exemptions from drug laws to certain Native Americans who are free to get “ritually” stoned without fear of prosecution. Conversely, people of other religions or of no religion at all can be severely punished for violating the same drug laws. A person can use peyote as part of a religious ceremony and it is OK, but if a nonbeliever uses peyote it is a crime. How is this equal application of the law?
Separation of church and state is also separation of fantasy and fact. The nation and its courts should not have to devote time and attention to fantasy.
Religious beliefs are based on faith, not fact. There is no credible evidence to prove that any of the gods man has invented over the millennia exist, let alone that any of them have dictated principles that must be adhered to, even at the expense of noncompliance with secular laws. Furthermore, religious principles were written by men, not by any deity, and we should not allow man-made laws presented as God’s laws to supersede laws passed by society through legitimate political processes.
If people do not agree with the law, they must work to repeal or change it through legitimate political processes and not by demanding exemptions by claiming the law conflicts with the dictates of some invisible super being. And, if they choose not to obey the law, they should be subject to the same penalties as is any law-breaker.
Freedom of religion should not mean unlimited optional compliance with the law, nor should it mean religious beliefs can be imposed on others. The thousands of employees who work for Hobby Lobby or any company may or may not subscribe to the religious beliefs of the company’s owners, but all of them would be subject to those beliefs if the court rules that corporations on religious grounds can be exempt from the law. In this current case they would be denied the same health-care benefits the law mandates for everyone else.