Obamacare does not violate employers’ religious freedom

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.

11 comments for “Obamacare does not violate employers’ religious freedom

  1. AGP
    November 27, 2013 at 7:04 pm

    And if this is carried to its logical conclusion, if the Supreme Court upholds this, then they must, in fairness, uphold the odd medical beliefs and opinions of EVERY religiously-based company in the U.S.
    Even when they conflict with one another.

    The logical contortions required here are astounding.

  2. Angie unduplicated
    November 28, 2013 at 8:14 am

    Thank you for an excellent analysis. When I told the framer at Michael’s that I drove 30 miles for the privilege of boycotting Hobby Lobby, she was astonished. Her generation has no clue that contraception was illegal not all that many years ago.

  3. Tonya
    November 28, 2013 at 1:24 pm

    I read the full article. Amazing and points out similar cases, which hopefully, the Court will see how ridiculous Hobby Lobby’s arguments are.

  4. November 28, 2013 at 2:48 pm

    When I was 12, I had a hobby of building model rockets and launching them. I got everything – ranging from engines to construction materials – from Michael’s, not Hobby Lobby. Hobby Lobby not only has a mediocre selection of model rocket supplies, but it also has a horrible way of treating employees who have uteri. I’m glad I never supported that store.

  5. EG
    November 28, 2013 at 3:22 pm

    Isn’t Hobby Lobby also the anti-semitic one?

  6. Peanutcat
    November 29, 2013 at 12:53 pm

    I think some people are missing a bit point here: Why do your employers even have the right to know about your medical history or treatment, much less have the right to decide what it is?

    • Peanutcat
      November 29, 2013 at 12:56 pm

      Um, that’s supposed to be “big” point, not “bit” point!

    • PrettyAmiable
      November 29, 2013 at 1:38 pm

      I don’t think I understand your question. Your employers don’t have the right to know about your medical history or treatment. I don’t think this is changing under the new system, regardless of how this particular case pans out, right?

      • Peanutcat
        November 29, 2013 at 4:14 pm

        Well, how about this: How can they deny you using birth-control unless they know about it? They have no business knowing about it, much less telling you you can’t use it. Their complaint should be denied for reasons of privacy.

      • EG
        November 29, 2013 at 4:44 pm

        Because the point is that they have to provide insurance policies that cover birth control. It’s not an issue of whether or not an individual worker uses birth control; it’s an issue of whether or not any or the workers have the option to have it covered under the insurance plan.

  7. anna_k
    November 29, 2013 at 6:43 pm

    This is a really lucid and convincing legal analysis. I hope it’s the one the SC takes, though until their judgment is out I’m going have to control the sinking feeling of dread about another 5:4 split going the wrong way :/

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