The Supreme Court of the United States will hear two cases about the Affordable Care Act, brought by businesses who claim their religious freedom is violated by the mandate to cover contraception. I’m writing about it in the Guardian this week:
By refusing to cover contraception, the Hobby Lobby owners (and the owners of the other companies claiming the healthcare law infringes upon their religious freedom) are in fact using their own religious beliefs to deny benefits to their employees who may not share those beliefs at all. That’s not religious freedom; it’s religious tyranny.
The company heads bringing these claims want to have it both ways. By incorporating, owners and shareholders create separate entities and are not personally liable for their employees’ salaries or health insurance costs – the entire point of incorporating is to create a legal entity separate from the individuals who created it. Yet these owners and shareholders want the court to consider their personal religious beliefs indistinguishable from those of the corporation, and allow those beliefs to dictate the kind of healthcare coverage their employees receive.
Never before has the supreme court held that a for-profit corporation, rather than an actual person, has the right under the RFRA to refuse to abide by generally applicable laws and regulations. Doing so opens the door to a slew of issues: If you work for a Christian Scientist who believes illness should be cured by prayer, are they obligated to cover medical care at all? Should for-profit companies be allowed to refuse to hire or cover healthcare for married women if they believe that it’s a woman’s religious duty to raise children and stay in the home? If you sincerely believe that Aids is God’s punishment for homosexuality and promiscuity – a belief expressed by some of the most prominent members of the Christian right – should your company be able to opt out of covering HIV care for your employees? Since Obama’s healthcare law also requires that employee health plans cover vaccinations, which some religious people oppose, should companies be allowed to refuse vaccine coverage for all employees and their dependents?
Protecting the religious freedom of individuals is crucial. But at issue here isn’t the religious freedom of individuals. It’s the ability of a corporation to dictate what kind of healthcare its employees have covered, under the guise of the stated religious views of the company owners.
And don’t be fooled; this is more about the current political tides than long-held religious values. The constitutional issues at play here aren’t all that grey. But the supreme court’s calculus is made more complex simply by virtue of the issue being attached to the controversial Affordable Care Act.
Full piece here.