December 5, 2013

Religion vs. healthcare access

Hobby Lobby case means Supreme Court must weigh key values.

The Supreme Court said last week it would accept a case in which employers — including craft-store chain Hobby Lobby — challenge Obamacare’s mandate they provide contraceptive coverage as part of the health insurance package they provide their workers.

The employers say the requirement violates their religious beliefs against some types of birth control; the Obama administration and allies say the rule must stand to preserve women’s access to healthcare.

Two sides of the debate:

Joel Mathis

Religious freedom is an important value, one that helped create this country. But it is not the only value, and it must be weighed against other considerations.

Hobby Lobby should lose in the court because:

• Businesses cannot go to heaven. We tend to lose sight of this in the post-Citizens United era, but corporations are not people.

Individuals within a corporation can worship and believe as they wish, and they wrestle with cosmic notions of eternity, but Hobby Lobby itself cannot. It possesses no soul nor conscience nor consciousness.

A corporation’s “freedom of religion” is thus about as useful as its “freedom to swim.”

When Hobby Lobby can enter a confessional, let’s talk. Until then, we should not treat a business as though it has substantially the same rights as actual people.

• Women, on the other hand, are real citizens who deserve to control their own health decisions. Like it or not, we as a society have decided that health insurance will be provided primarily by and through employers; until that changes, that means employers must conform to certain expectations in providing that insurance.

Women shouldn’t have to sacrifice coverage because, say, an accountant at the home office in Oklahoma City heard differently from his pastor.

• A Hobby Lobby victory edges toward giving churches a de facto veto over secular policy decisions. It is not difficult to imagine that many churches and church members would claim a belief-based reason they shouldn’t be required to comply with certain laws.

That would leave officials with a choice of running policies past church leaders before passing them, or carving out exemptions for every halfway controversial measure.

Civil society will not much like one set of rules for secular people and one set for religious folks; it probably would not survive a landscape of a thousand different types of government for a thousand different religious organizations.

Ben Boychuk

The Hobby Lobby case isn’t about carving out exceptions for religious people from the odious and ill-conceived Obamacare law, or extending special religious protections to businesses. It’s about preserving fundamental, constitutional freedoms.

Unfortunately, the Obama administration has gone out of its way to undermine religious liberty even as it claims to uphold the mushy and muddled ideal of “freedom to worship.”

In practice, such a “freedom” would mean confining one’s religious beliefs to the church on Sunday and with little room to live a religious or moral life in the public sphere beyond what the government permits.

The Supreme Court has taken a dim view of this administration’s fast and loose interpretation of the First Amendment’s protection of individuals’ free religious exercise. For example, the justices last year unanimously rejected the federal government’s claim that the First Amendment did not protect a church’s right to choose its own ministers.

Women are equal citizens who deserve to control their own health decisions. But Hobby Lobby already provided birth control coverage for its workers.

At issue is whether Hobby Lobby’s owners should be compelled to pay for workers’ abortions — a deeply divisive and moral question for most Americans.

Hobby Lobby should be free to decide the question as its owners see fit.

The Hobby Lobby case isn’t about ensuring “access” to healthcare, or preventing some far-fetched sectarian encroachment on secular policy decisions.

It is about government compulsion, pure and simple.

Ben Boychuk (bboychukcity-journal.org) is associate editor of the Manhattan Institute’s City Journal. Joel Mathis (joelmmathisgmail.com) is a contributing editor to Philadelphia Magazine.

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