The Green family, founders of craft supply giant Hobby Lobby, has filed suit against the U.S. government in order to avoid potentially millions of dollars in fines relating to the Affordable Care Act. Their complaint is that the ACA, as it is being instituted by the Department of Health and Human Services, will require them to take actions that conflict with their core religious beliefs – specifically they must provide insurance coverage for abortifacient drugs, such as RU-486.
I don’t want to get into a discussion about the morality of abortion, or even of contraception. It’s an old, tired debate and I don’t know anybody who has changed their position on the basis of an internet article. Either you believe the embryo is a life or you don’t.
Instead, I want to talk about the collision of law and religion and how that collision shapes who we are as a nation.I don’t think that anyone could argue that the First Amendment guarantee of religious freedom has seen some lopsided enforcement over the last few decades. As a reminder, the applicable text says “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof….” The establishment clause has gone from saying that Congress may not choose and enforce a state religion to saying that government at every level is prohibited from doing anything that might express a preference for one religion over others, or any religion over no religion. At the same time, the second clause, the one that guarantees the right to freely exercise your religion, has been restricted at nearly every turn. Even so, there are still tests for whether a law can interfere with the exercise of religion. The law must be affect all groups it addresses equally, without preferential treatment for certain groups, and it must apply to a multitude of groups.
Hobby Lobby is claiming that the ACA, as implemented by the DHS, fails those tests, because the law itself provides preferential treatment for some religious groups over others, and because the waivers granted by the Obama Administration to hundreds of businesses and other groups for requirements of the ACA.
While the SCOTUS decision this summer found the individual mandate constitutional, the questions raised by this lawsuit have not been examined yet, and that is where I want to focus.
Do we want to force people to violate their religious beliefs? If so, when is it okay to infringe on their constitutional rights? When they have something we want? Do we respect some religious beliefs more than others? Do we believe that we can pick and choose which parts of a religion are important, and which aren’t, even when we don’t share those beliefs? These are the questions that beg for discussion.
Take circumcision, as an example. Some folks compare it to female genital mutilation; others look at it as a sacred religious observance. The most recent study found that there is no adverse health implications, and even a slight benefit to the procedure. So, do we outlaw the practice as a barbaric relic of antiquated religion, telling Jewish and Muslim parents that it isn’t truly a central part of their religion, or do we make it mandatory under the ACA, to reduce the frequency of UTIs and other issues? Or do we acknowledge that on this issue, the perceived benefit is so slight that the government should back off and let the parents decide what is best?
Hobby Lobby is not against all contraception, and their health plan is designed accordingly. They do fund contraception, with the sole exception of those methods that can cause abortions. They fund women’s health and preventative care. Their starting pay for employees exceeds minimum wage by roughly 80 percent. They fund a health care clinic at their headquarters, where employees can receive care. They keep their store open for only 66 hours a week to allow employees more time with their families. They are closed on Sundays in order to allow their employees to attend church services if they desire. In every way, the Greens run their business as an expression of their religious beliefs. Do we want to be the kind of country that potentially puts them out of business because of their religious beliefs?
And what does that say about us as a country? Do we truly value religious freedom, or are we just paying lip service to the principles of our constitution? Do we truly respect diversity, or do we demand conformity? Do we respect principle, or do we want what we want, regardless of what that costs another?
How we answer these questions shapes who we are, both individually, and as a nation. The fact that the Obama administration has issued waivers of ACA requirements for hundreds of businesses, unions, and other groups is recognition that such a sweeping policy can’t be fairly implemented for all businesses. The waiver process is there to be used for cases exactly like this, where imposition of ACA requirements will create unnecessary hardship on businesses or other groups.
So, you know where I stand; what about you? Should Hobby Lobby be granted a waiver? Should they be forced to violate their religious beliefs and fund abortion-causing drugs? What do you think and why?