Earlier this year, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in the Hobby Lobby case that a closely-held for-profit company could use their religious beliefs as a reason to refuse to pay for birth control their employees. I think the court was 100% wrong in this decision and I’m annoyed that it’s probably going to take us decades to undo the damage this ruling is going to cause.
I’m a huge advocate for the separation of church and state and the notion that people can have whatever religious beliefs they want, as long as they don’t try to inflict them on others. This ruling crosses that line. If the federal government passed a law that says companies with 50 employees or more have to provide certain health insurance to employees and a company doesn’t like it, their options should have been to pay the penalty for violating the law or shrink their company so the law wouldn’t apply to them, not getting an exception based on religious beliefs.
This week I read about a similar case – a pharmacy in Washington State wants to refuse on religious grounds to stock and dispense Plan B (the morning after pill) even though all pharmacies are mandated by state law to carry it.
Here’s my take on these situations – laws should be passed for the good of the general public. If you don’t like a law, don’t put yourself in a situation where you have to abide by it. If you’re a pharmacist who dislikes your state’s laws about what products you have to carry, get out of the business or move to a state that doesn’t have that requirement.
There are plenty of laws that I don’t like but I accept that I have to follow them or accept the penalty if I get caught breaking them. I can try to get the law changed, but until that happens, I’m stuck with them.
Having legally recognized exceptions written into laws is one thing, but giving people the ability to refuse to follow the law based on religious beliefs is a slippery slope. When I was an undergrad, I was furious to learn that a pharmacist at the student health center wasn’t filling prescriptions for the morning after pill because of her religious beliefs so students could only get that prescription filled when she wasn’t working. She should have been fired for that. What’s next – a clerk at a sex shop telling his boss that he’s ok with selling sex toys but he can’t sell porn because it violates his religion? Or a biblical literalist who works at a department store who claims she can’t ring up customers who buy garments made of more than one fabric?
If I had to claim a religion, I’d say it’s Wheaton’s Law (“Don’t be a dick”). As a business owner, I get to handpick who I do business with, and I don’t work with clients who are dicks. But if there was a law that said I had to, I’d look for a way to change my business to get out of it or make it worth my while. However, if I was ever someone’s employee again, I would never get away with that. If I refused a direct order from my superior, claiming that dealing with dicks violated my religious beliefs, I’d expect to be fired.
(Mental note: If business owners and employees are allowed to violate or get exceptions to the law based on religious beliefs, I need to start documenting my sincerely held religious beliefs which are not affiliated with any official religion so I can use them to get my way when it suits me.)