Some conservatives have charged that the government is interfering with "religious rights" because the Affordable Care Act requires insurance companies to cover contraception, which, while objectionable to certain religious groups, is not to all and is a matter of basic health care. In the Hobby Lobby case, we have seen the judiciary side with the right of a religious employer to deny certain types of contraception in their insurance policies. How far will the courts go? As we know, a "right" ends where the rights of others begin.
Actually, the ACA does not require that employers agree with any medical procedure; it simply requires insurance companies to cover certain types of care. Government is well within its rights to impose reasonable standards on any business, including insurance companies. Nor does the ACA require that any employee use contraception or seek any other type of medical care.
Actually, coverage of contraception might hold down health care costs. The insurance companies should be delighted. After all, contraception is much less expensive to them than a pregnancy and delivery!
Unless I am mistaken, the law already recognizes the right of purely religious employers of priests, ministers, nuns, pastors, and other religious workers to deny some types of medical coverage based on religious beliefs. After all, they are employees of religious bodies that have certain expectations of their members and they are unlikely to seek such treatment anyway.
This is very different than businesses, non-profit organizations and even colleges and other institutions with some connection to religious bodies but which are not purely religious in nature. After all, these institutions and enterprises may, and often do, employee people of different faiths or differing opinions on these matters. Not all people, including very religious people, object to contraception, including those forms that some consider abortificants.
If this trend and logic continues, it may lead to a very dangerous "slippery slope." This is especially true when we talking of businesses whose owners may adhere to a particular religious belief but whose purposes are non-religious in nature. Such an employer may employee people who are not of the owners' faith. In that case, an employer's right to object to a particular medical procedure or prescription may interfere with an employee's legal right to seek such treatment.
Where do we draw the line? Although much of this controversy deals with certain types of contraception what about companies whose owners oppose all forms of birth control? Should employers who are Christian Scientists and who do not believe in doctors be able to "opt out" of any care for their employees except that provided by Christian Science practitioners? Should employers who are Scientologists be allowed to refuse coverage for mental health and psychotropic medications? Should Jehovah's Witnesses be permitted to refuse coverage for employees in need of a blood transfusions or an organ transplant even when the employees do not share the beliefs of that faith regarding these procedures?
Or, what about the "snake handling" Holiness churches in parts of the American South? Snake handlers believe they are commanded by God to pick up venomous snakes and that if they have enough faith and are in the right relationship with God, the snakes will not bite them. If they are bitten anyway, they believe that one should not go to the ER but should instead rely on divine healing. Should an employer of that faith should be able to refuse his or her employees medical treatment for snakebite?
The precedent of exempting employers from the law due to "religious belief" could even go further and interfere with other civil rights and liberties. For instance, a number of faiths stand in strong opposition to gay and lesbian people. Should owners of businesses who feel that way be allowed to discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation? Should they be allowed to deny coverage to the same-sex spouse of an employee? What about those whose faith teaches that women should not work outside the home or engage in certain occupations? And, what about those that embrace racist ideologies as a tenet of their faith?
(Scott Cracraft is a U.S. citizen, taxpayer, veteran, and resident of Gilford.)
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