The Boundaries of Religious Freedom

So, when the GOP and the Catholic bishops started screaming that Obama had “declared war on religion,” he announced that if employers had religious objections to birth control, insurance companies would pay for it directly instead. Sounds good to me. And yet, for many, that still wasn’t good enough. “What about the insurance company’s freedom of religion?” I’m sorry, if paying for health care is against your religion, methinks you should not be in the insurance business. (Plus, pretty much every health insurance company out there has finally figured out that BC is cheaper than abortions or pregnancy and would much rather insure a woman who has access to contraception than one who doesn’t.)

I’m a really strong supporter of religious freedom, but I don’t think it means the freedom to force your beliefs on other people, or the freedom to not do your job and continue to be paid. I mean, I have every right to convert to Quakerism tomorrow and decide I don’t want to support the military anymore, but I don’t have a right to expect a defense contracting company to keep paying me while I sit around playing Solitaire or rearrange my job so I don’t have to participate in the company’s main business.

My big argument with the outrage about requiring Catholic schools and hospitals to cover contraception is that if a religious organization wants to be an employer, they should be held to similar standards as secular employers. There are already *lots* of concessions to religious freedom for religious employers. Like the church school that got to ignore the ADA and fire a teacher for having a medical condition. Because it was a religious position, they don’t even have to pretend with a straight face that they had religious reasons for firing her.

But secular employees should be treated like…secular employees. If the church doesn’t require someone to be of the same faith to serve in a particular role, that role should be subject to all the rules of employment law.

Let’s not even get into the fact that what the President mandated has already been required by the EEOC for any employer that offers prescription coverage, on the basis of equal treatment of the sexes. Lots of Catholic schools and hospitals already comply with this rule, but it’s convenient to ignore that for political purposes.

Another issue with the whole idea is that there are Catholic-approved uses of hormonal birth control. Have PCOS and take the pill so that you don’t get cysts, or so you actually have periods? That’s not considered a sin. Similarly, as I understand it, married Catholic women who have severe health risks from pregnancy can generally talk to their priest and have him okay contraception. (The second is according to my Catholic sister-in-law.)

So, we aren’t even talking about something that automatically violates their religion, just something that can. Meaning they want to not only deny employees something because it violates their employer’s religion, but that they’re okay with denying it to good Catholics* who need it for other reasons (either that or they think you should have to reveal private health issues to your employer to get insurance coverage).

I think that if an employer has decided to provide insurance to its employees, what they do with that coverage is between them, their doctor, and the insurance company. It’s a benefit that belongs to the employee in exchange for work performed, and the employer has no more right to tell you what to do with it than they do to tell you how to spend your paycheck.

And if we can’t have a public option for health coverage because “oh no, socialism!” then it’s reasonable that the government set some standards on what actually counts as insurance in order to get the crazy costs and lack of care under control. Requiring all insurance to provide cost-saving preventive care free of charge (as part of the coverage that the employee and employer are paying for) is reasonable based on that. While insurance companies save money from birth control, that doesn’t mean they won’t charge for it too if they’re allowed because, hey, they can.

I like the proposed solution; I just don’t think it should have been necessary. I also don’t think it will be enough to satisfy people who think their freedom of religion means that no one should get to have contraception.

*I’m neither Catholic nor opposed to birth control, so please don’t take that as my saying that the ninety-some percent of Catholic women who use birth control are bad Catholics.

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4 thoughts on “The Boundaries of Religious Freedom

  1. dougindeap says:

    Arguments for a “religious employer” exemption have gone from wrong to ridiculous.

    Those demanding such an exemption initially worked themselves into a lather with the false claim that the law forced employers to provide their employees with health care plans offering services the employers considered immoral. The fact is that employers have the option of not providing any such plans and instead simply paying assessments to the government. Unless one supposes that the employers’ religion forbids payments of money to the government (all of us should enjoy such a religion), then the law’s requirement to pay assessments does not compel those employers to act contrary to their beliefs. Problem solved–except perhaps for an employer who really desires not just to avoid a moral bind, but rather wants to retain control of his employees’ health plans, limit their choices to conform to the employer’s religious beliefs, and avoid paying the assessments that otherwise would be owed. For that, an employer would need an exemption from the law.

    Indeed, some continued clamoring for just such an exemption, complaining that by paying assessments they would be paying for the very things they opposed. They seemingly missed that that is not a moral dilemma justifying an exemption to avoid being forced to act contrary to one’s beliefs, but rather is a gripe common to most taxpayers–who don’t much like paying taxes and who object to this or that action the government may take with the benefit of their tax dollars. Should each of us be exempted from paying our taxes so we aren’t thereby “forced” to pay for a war, health care, or whatever else the government does that each of us may consider wrong or even immoral?

    In any event, they put up enough of a stink that the government relented and announced that religious employers would be free to provide health plans with provisions to their liking and not be required to pay the assessments otherwise required. Problem solved–again, even more.

    Nonetheless, some continue to complain. They fret that somehow religious employers ultimately will pay for the services they oppose. They argue that if insurers (or, by the same logic, anyone, e.g., employees) pay for such services, those costs will somehow, someday be passed on to the employers in the form of demands for higher insurance premiums or higher wages. They counter what they call the government’s “accounting gimmick” with one of their own: the “Catholic dollar.” These dollars, once paid by a religious employer to others, e.g., insurers or employees, should be used only for things the religious employer would approve. The religious employers’ aim, we are assured, is not to control the actions of others, oh no, but rather is merely to assure that the employers themselves have not somehow acted contrary to their own beliefs by loosing “their” dollars into hands that would use them for things no self-respecting religious employer would himself buy. Their religious liberty, they say, requires not only that they be exempted from the law, but further that anyone to whom they pay money also be exempted and thus “free” to act according to their desires.

    I wonder what they would say if they knew they had some of my “atheist dollars” in their wallets that can only be used for ungodly purposes, lest I suffer the indignity of paying for things I disbelieve.

    • KellyK says:

      Yeah, its completely ridiculous. They really won’t be happy until no insurance anywhere covers contraception, because their idea of religious “freedom” means the freedom to make sure everybody else is following their beliefs.

  2. JoannaDW says:

    Dirty Inside Secret about Catholicism:

    What bishops bloviate about: One thing
    What actually happens in the Catholic community: Something else totally.

    The majority of Catholics, including the majority of priests, have more important things to worry about. They read the call to action issued by the bishops because they HAVE to and they carry on with their lives.

    To bo honest? Don’t have abortions. Don’t use contraception. Don’t do anything in your personal life you oppose. But I feel like the only time the bishops “cannot relent” or “cannot violate their consciences” is when it comes to sex. I have yet to see them come out swinging on capital punishment or suicide (which is the most grave sin a Catholic can commit.) It’s actually kind of embarassing.

    • KellyK says:

      Yep. I read a really good satirical article about how by the bishops’ logic, the GOP is also “at war with the Catholic religion” because of something recent relating to the death penalty (wish I could find it now).

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