More on the Birth Control Brouhaha
I want to spend some time today discussing in more detail some ideas that I touched on in my post The Birth Control Brouhaha. As I understand it, the Conference of Catholic Bishops don’t think that Catholic hospitals or universities should have to pay for birth control as a component benefit in the insurance offered to employees. So, as an accommodation, the Obama administration agreed to follow the lead of several states that move the burden from the Catholic organization to the insurer. In other words, the requirement is now simply that insurers providing employer-paid healthcare must include birth control. But now, apparently, even that isn’t good enough for the Bishops. First, they apparently contend that this would still leave Catholic employers to “pay” for birth control in violation of their beliefs. Second, they also now apparently contend that it shouldn’t just be Catholic universities and hospitals that are exempt, but also Catholic-owned business the owner of which, in good conscience, objects to birth control.
So let’s tease that out a in a bit more depth than I did last week.
Fine. I get that the Bishops don’t think that Catholics should have to pay for birth control because it violates the teachings of their religion (though I did try to find the section of the New Testament when Jesus said, “Thou shalt not take the pill nor use an IUD nor include an employer-provided healthcare benefits any trappings of the same” without success; maybe Jesus was too busy talking about gays and abortions and torture and warrantless wiretaps and … oh, wait). And while I don’t want to get into a detailed discussion of Catholic theology or be accused of Catholic-bashing, I do find it interesting that the determination of what is acceptable for women to do with their own bodies is being determined exclusively by men. I mean, seriously, how many of those Bishops have a need for birth control or have had to experience the life- and body-altering affects of pregnancy?
But what about the death penalty. It’s my understanding that the Conference of Catholic Bishops also takes a strong position against capital punishment. Should Catholic-owned businesses (or I suppose Catholics in general) be able to declare that their tax dollars not be used to prosecute capital cases, house prisoners on death row, and carry out the capitol sentences given by judges or juries? Because Catholics don’t eat meat on Friday (is that just during Lent?), should they be able to opt out of having their tax dollars spent to provide meals containing meat to soldiers, prisoners, government workers, or others on Fridays? Because Catholics (along, of course, with many others) teach against premarital sex, could their healthcare exclude pre-natal, delivery, and neo-natal care if the child is conceived out of wedlock? Should they be able to demand that their tax dollars not be used to educate unmarried teens (or others) about the risks inherent in sex? Should they be able to require that the portion of their tax dollars that pays for education only be used to teach abstinence? Or maybe that those tax dollars not be used to teach evolution. Perhaps Catholic tax dollars ought to exclude paying for history classes that teach about the Inquisition or the reasons that Martin Luther posted his theses on the door of the church?
And if Catholics have the right to exempt themselves from rules that apply generally to all employers or which relate to the expenditure of their money by the government or others, then shouldn’t other religions and people of faith be given similar treatment and exemptions? For example, given that Hindus don’t eat meat (I seem to recall learning that cows are sacred, or is it all animals?), then shouldn’t Hindus be exempted from paying for things like USDA meat inspections? Think about it for a minute. Certainly paying to inspect meat to be sure that it is safe to eat must run contrary to a belief that meat ought not be eaten.
As a commenter to The Birth Control Brouhaha noted:
Should Scientology businesses be exempt from making mental health benefits available to its employees? Should businesses associated with Christian Science be exempt from all medical insurance?
Why not? Perhaps Christian Scientists really need to get into this discussion; after all, if they were suddenly exempt from needing to purchase any medical insurance for their employees, I suspect that there would be an influx of people to the embrace Christian Science (at least on the checkbox on a tax or insurance form) in order to avoid being required to offer insurance to their employees.
What about Quakers or other religions that are opposed to war? Should they be able to demand an exemption from being required to pay for the military (or at least offensive military operations)? Should they be exempt from laws requiring them to hold open jobs for reservists called off to serve in Iraq or Afghanistan? Could Muslims justifiably expect an exemption from paying for war to be conducted against their fellow Muslims in other countries?
And I think back to some of the things I heard about certain Christian dominionist sects where women are seen as being subservient to men. Should businesses owned by followers of that sort of religious tenant be exempt from paying for services that are of benefit to women, in particular women who work outside the home? Could followers of those faiths legitimately offer fewer benefits to their female employees? Could they refuse to even hire women?
The Amish are apparently opposed to the use of many modern conveniences. Should they be exempt from paying for such things as ambulances, public hospitals, and roads? What about modern healthcare? Why should any Amish tax dollars go to pay for the Internet or NASA or even subsidies to oil companies?
As I pondered previously, I wonder whether religions that believe that homosexuality is a sin or an abomination should be exempt from including AIDS/HIV drugs in the insurance benefits offered by their hospitals or universities or those of businesses owned by members of those religions?
Jewish and Muslim organizations and businesses should certainly be able to exempt drugs like glucosamine from the covered benefits of any insurance they provide as that drug is made from the shells of shrimp, crab, and lobster, all of which are prohibited. In fact, apparently drugs such as Aleeve, Benadryl, Bufferin, Claritin, Nyquil, Excedrin, and many others are made with pork containing ingredients and, as such, could also be excluded from the benefits covered by Jewish or Muslim organizations or businesses. Given that observant Orthodox Jews believe that it is inappropriate to engage in certain behaviors on the Sabbath, then shouldn’t any insurance benefits offered by those Jews exempt coverage or actions that would violate the Sabbath proscriptions on certain activities? What about health needs brought about by the use of tobacco (proscribed for Mormons) or alcohol (proscribed both for Muslims and Mormons)? As I asked the other day, could a Muslim or Mormon business exclude coverage for lung cancer caused by smoking or kidney failure caused by drinking?
Or query whether the views of atheists or adherents of polytheistic faiths should be able to opt out of paying for currency, monuments, and other governmental matters that invoke mottos like “In God We Trust” or “One Nation Under God”? After all, don’t those statements run specifically contrary to the beliefs (or lack thereof) of those who don’t come from a monotheistic faith? And why do those people have to recognize Christmas as a national holiday?
Finally, should any person who belongs to a faith that has, as a basic tenet, the notion that others must convert to that religion for “salvation” (or some similar notion), be able to object to the expenditure of any tax dollars that in any way whatsoever that could be seen as advancing or assisting any other religion or the institutions of that religion? For example, could an Evangelical Christian object to the expenditure of government funds for a Catholic or Jewish hospital?
This whole discussion also plays back into many other areas as well. For example, can a Catholic pharmacist refuse to fill a prescription for birth control (please see Don’t Allow a Pharmacist’s Religious Views to Impede on the Doctor-Patient Relationship, one of the first posts I ever published)? Should a Catholic doctor be held to the same standard as any other doctor when treating a patient or, if there is a religious reason not to prescribe a drug, is the Catholic doctor entitled to an exemption from the standard of care that would apply to other doctors? Should certain Native American tribes be permitted to use illegal hallucinogenic drugs as a part of their religious ceremonies? What about animal sacrifices? And why can’t Mormons have polygamous marriages?
In the end, the point is really quite simple and it has nothing to do with “religious liberty”. The law in question is one of general applicability, just like taxes, just like the obligation to obey other laws. The law has not been written to single out any group of people or any religious beliefs; it does not require any individual to engage in conduct that individual objects to on religious grounds. And it does not require any individual to act in furtherance of some other religious belief. And most importantly, the law does not prevent individual Catholics (or others) from acting on their religious belief; they don’t have to use the birth control. The Jewish employee doesn’t have to take glucosamine; the Muslim employee doesn’t have to take Excedrin; the Hindu employee doesn’t have to eat meat; the Scientologist doesn’t have to see a psychiatrist; the Quaker doesn’t have to pull a trigger; and a Catholic doesn’t have to push the plunger in the execution chamber. But those are choices that the individual makes with regard to his or her personal conduct. But neither the religious beliefs of those people nor the religious faiths and organizations to which they belong should exempt them from generally applicable and neutral laws that serve a broader public function and which do not, in and of themselves, have a direct impact upon the ability of individuals to worship (or not) or follow the tenants of their religious beliefs.