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Saturday, October 20, 2012

Standing Up... from my couch

I wanted to go to a Stand Up for Religious Freedom rally today.  However, I am miserable with a cold, and the notion of standing outside in the cold air with a pounding headache while listening to rally speeches and shouting is just a little more than I can handle right now.  I'll have to have my own rally here at home, with my hot coffee and my warm blanket. 

The HHS Mandate forces religious employers to pay for contraception for their female employees.  For the Catholic church and many other religions, this violates a basic tenant of their faith.  (Of course there are Catholics who will readily tell you that they believe in contraception and even abortion, but this is not in line with church teaching.)

Here's a well written summary of how the HHS Mandate threatens religious freedom.

I've had the "separation of church and state" argument more times recently than I can remember... even here, in a comment on my last post.   This is not a matter of the church trying to force something on the general public.  Remember, nobody forced these people to accept a job for a religious organization, and nobody is saying that they can't use contraception... they're just saying that their employer should not be forced to pay for something that they find morally objectionable.  Women are free to work elsewhere or to pay for their own contraception.

Healthcare is a touchy issue.  As the mother of two children with medical needs, I understand this as much as, if not more so, than the average voter.   However, I can not stand by and watch as  the government tries to tell my church what to do.

p.s.  I've removed the option to be an anonymous commenter from my posts. I always welcome comments and discussions that differ from my own views, but I won't approve hateful "attack" comments from people who won't even sign their own names (you know who you are).  Not all anonymous comments are hateful, but enough were that I've chosen this option. Thanks for understanding.  

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  1. Claims that the health law violates religious liberty are based on a "big lie"--a gross falsification constantly repeated and embellished to lend credibility. Notwithstanding claims to the contrary, the health care law does not force employers to act contrary to their consciences.

    Employers may comply with the law by choosing either of two options: (1) provide qualifying health insurance plans or (2) do not provide such plans and instead pay assessments to the government. Unless one supposes that the employers’ religions forbid payments of money to the government, the law does not compel them to act contrary to their beliefs.

    The second choice does not amount to "violating" the law and paying a "fine," as some suppose. As the law "does not explicitly mandate an employer to offer employees acceptable health insurance" (http://www.ncsl.org/documents/health/EmployerPenalties.pdf), there is no such "mandate" to "violate." Rather, the law affords employers two options, either of which is as lawful as the other.

    Nor are the assessments set so high that paying them would drive employers out of business, as some speculate. The law provides that if a "large employer" (i.e., one with at least 50 employees) chooses not to provide health insurance, it must pay assessments of $2,000 per year per employee after the first 30 employees. That is much less than an employer typically would pay for health insurance. Small employers would pay no assessments at all. Because of this potential saving and because the law affords individuals realistic opportunities to obtain insurance on their own, many employers are considering this option--for reasons entirely unrelated to religion. (http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10000872396390443437504577545770682810842.html)

    In recently issued commentary on the various options of employers, the National Catholic Bioethics Center acknowledges, albeit grudgingly, that the option of not providing health insurance and instead paying assessments is "morally sound." While also considering this option "unfortunate" in that the insurance employees would find on their own would include coverage the Center deems objectionable, the Center concludes that the employers' "moral connection" to that coverage would be "remote." https://ncbcenter.org/document.doc?id=450&erid=194821

    Bottom line: Employers are not forced by the law to act contrary to their consciences. Rather, as recognized by even those who object to some aspects of the insurance the law makes available, the law affords employers with similar objections the morally sound option of not providing such insurance and paying assessments instead.

    1. "You have the option of doing what your religion tells you is morally sound, but If you do, we will make you pay $2,000 per employee per year."

      How is that not a violation of religious freedom?

    2. Confronted by questions about the government requiring or prohibiting something that conflicts with someone’s faith, the courts have generally ruled that under the Constitution the government cannot enact laws specifically aimed at a particular religion (which would be regarded a constraint on religious liberty contrary to the First Amendment), but can enact laws generally applicable to everyone or at least broad classes of people (e.g., laws concerning pollution, contracts, torts, crimes, discrimination, employment, etc.) and can require everyone, including those who may object on religious grounds, to abide by them. (E.g., http://supreme.justia.com/cases/federal/us/494/872/case.html)

      When the legislature anticipates that application of such laws may put some individuals in moral binds, the legislature may, as a matter of grace (not constitutional compulsion), provide exemptions or otherwise accommodate conscientious objectors. In doing so, the legislature need not offer the objector a free pass. It may require them to pay or do something instead. For instance, in years past, we have not allowed conscientious objectors simply to skip military service for “free”; rather, we have required them to provide alternative service in noncombatant roles or useful civilian work.

      The real question here then is not so much whether the First Amendment precludes the government from enacting and enforcing the generally applicable laws regarding availability of health insurance (it does not), but rather whether there is any need to exempt some employers in order to avoid forcing them to act contrary to their consciences. Since the law already affords employers choices by which they can avoid acting contrary to their consciences, there is no need for an exemption.

      They may not like paying money to the government and they may not like what the government does with the money, but those are garden variety gripes common to most taxpayers. Such gripes hardly amount to being forced to act contrary to one's conscience. Should each of us be exempted from paying some portion(s) of our taxes so we aren’t thereby “forced” to pay for making war, providing health care, teaching evolution, or whatever else each of us may consider wrong or even immoral? If each of us could opt out of this or that law or tax with the excuse that our religion requires or allows it, the government and the rule of law could hardly operate.

  2. You're right about one thing. The law is clear that you don't have standing to challenge the use of tax money just because you're a taxpayer, even if the spending is something that you oppose. Thus, the government could use general tax revenues to buy contraceptives and there wouldn't be a problem.

    But that isn't the issue here. The issue is that many Catholic employers believe that, even though they cannot stop their employees or the U.S. government from buying certain things, it is wrong for Catholics to serve as the direct or near-direct vehicle for it.

    Sure, the government could use tax revenues for contraceptives. But it would be from the same money that it's raising from every taxpayer anyway. Any single taxpayer's "extra" contribution would be miniscule at the most. Thus, the connection is far less direct and it's much harder to argue that you as a taxpayer or employer are funding contraception. But under the HHS mandate, the employer itself would bear the increased cost of its employees' contraceptives, either personally (if self-insured) or with one more link in the chain (if through an insurance company).

    As for "there is another choice..." Well, there's always another choice when it comes to a legal requirement - don't follow the law, and thus pay a fine or go to jail. But by that logic every legal requirement is optional, and thus constitutional.

    Thought experiment:

    Suppose HHS requires every restaurant to serve pork, or else pay a fine, and Jewish and Muslim restaurant owners challenge the law in court. What result?

    1. I understand that Catholic moral teaching addresses "material support" of immoral acts, and that seems to be the general thrust of your comment. The question becomes how close and direct must the connection be to be considered material support. The National Catholic Bioethics Center considered just that point, and concluded that under the ACA program, an employer's connection is too "remote" to be considered material support.

      Your "fine" point is off base two ways, I think. First, as explained above, the assessments under the ACA are not "fines" for "violating" the law.

      Second, you seem to think that the choice of not providing health insurance and paying an assessment instead is necessary for the ACA to be constitutional. Not so. As a law of general application not directly aimed at a particular religion, it complies with the First Amendment and can be enforced against everyone, including those who may object on religious grounds.

      The choice of not providing health insurance and paying assessments instead is simply one way that the law accommodates those with religious objections and enables them to comply with the law without acting contrary to their consciences. The availability of that choice is one reason there is no need for the broad exemption that some advocate. If the law did not provide that choice or any exemption, though, it would remain every bit as constitutional.

      With respect to your thought experiment, I suppose more needs to be known. If the law is aimed at a particular religion, or if interfering with the exercise of a particular religion is its purpose, it would run afoul of the First Amendment. If the law has some other, legitimate purpose and is generally applicable to everyone or a broad class of people, it may pass muster under the First Amendment.


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