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The Slippery Slope of the Hobby Lobby Fallout

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.

Hey, You Got Your Church In My State! by David Goehring from Flickr (Creative Commons License)

Hey, You Got Your Church In My State! by David Goehring from Flickr (Creative Commons License)

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.)

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6 Comments

  1. I’ll disagree, in significant ways. But first, agreement, it is a slippery slope when one’s sincerely held beliefs (religious or otherwise) grant one additional autonomy — everyone should have that level of autonomy, even without such beliefs.

    And that is the part where I get to my disagreement, that the government imposes these kinds of requirements on individuals (and corporations) which can then be grounds for demanding “conscientious objector” exceptions.

    I do agree that it would be less onerous when the law creates such impositions, were there 50 States where there are differing standards, so that at least one might have an opportunity to vote with their feet. But, of course, in this particular example (and in many, many others), that was not an option, the standard was imposed uniformly nationwide.

    Don’t get me wrong, as a libertarian, I’m 100% in support of self-ownership — only you have a right to decide what to do with your body, what to put in it (or not), and what medical (or cosmetic, or whatever) procedures to seek. I see no exception for reproductive issues. That should not then translate into a mandate that others pay or subsidize your preferences. Pay your own way, or seek out private charitable solutions.

    1. Ruth Carter says:

      I see where you’re going Michael, but we decided as a country that it was in our collective best interests to have the Affordable Care Act which includes reproductive health. If someone doesn’t like the standards, they should petition Congress to change it, not file a lawsuit for a religious exception, or even an exception based on personal beliefs.

    2. Janet says:

      I do pay my own way with respect to my employer-sponsored health insurance. I get up every weekday, fight the traffic, work 8 hours (at least), and on top of that, I contributed about $360 a month to my premiums. I earn my health insurance. Is it too much to ask to expect this healthcare insurance to cover my birth control? (Which, incidentally, saves the health insurer money, since it’s a heckuva a lot cheaper than pregnancy care, labor and deliver costs — or abortion.) I really fail to see why the guy who sits in the cubicle next to me, doing the same job while scarfing down donuts and burgers, gets his triple bypass and insulin covered, while I can’t get a simple little cost-effective IUD covered.

      1. Ruth Carter says:

        I agree with you completely!

  2. Grace duncan says:

    most employees pay for their health coverage although they usually get a discount for the company plan which is usually based on volume (number of employees ) some times the employer picks up the whole or part of the cost ….but the religous exemption is based soley on the fact that the plan is delivered thru the employer not on whether he is picking up the tab ……..the better solution of course is single provider insurance by the government taking profit out of the health insurance industry

    1. Ruth Carter says:

      If an employer splits the cost of employee health insurance and there’s some aspect of the plan that they disapprove of, I think they should view it as the employees are paying for that part of the plan. Problem solved.