Religious Liberty. Powerful words at the center of a firestorm in recent weeks. Unless you’re completely disconnected from current events, you have probably heard about the dispute over the new mandate for insurance providers to include contraception in their coverage: good policy or a direct assault on the First Amendment right to free exercise of religion? This mandate applies even to insurance companies owned and operated by religious institutions, and these corporations are shouting from the rooftops their religious liberty is infringed. Is it? I’m feeling Socratic today, so may I ask a few questions that seem to be lacking elsewhere in the discussion, to try to understand this perspective?
Who has been forced, by this new rule, to use contraception against their will?
I think even the holiest of rollers will admit that the new rule doesn’t force anyone to use contraception. No individualis forced to change a belief or act against them in their own life. So where exactly does the “force” against conscience come in? Supposedly it is in forcing “institutions of faith” to contradict their beliefs. Whether an institution can have beliefs or be a “conscientious objector” are reasonable questions. I’m not surprised to see organizations taking this tack, as it is intimately bound to the ethos of the Citizens United decision by the Supreme Court , in which corporate rights were elevated to par with individual citizens, and the act of “spending money” is deemed equal to speech. It’s not surprising, but it’s not right either. “Conscientious objection” is an individual, human capacity.
Or perhaps you see it as an infringement when the Government uses tax money to pay for a public service that you, individually would never pay for because those actions would violate your private religious beliefs. You seem to imply it is “normal” to be able to pick and choose government services, like a buffet. Can we opt out of paying for ANY government service we disagree with? You don’t like contraception. I don’t like wars and oil subsidies. Should we both be able to withhold tax payments for those portions of our bill? What would society look like if we allowed each person to only pay for the things they like, or personally/directly use? Nasty, brutish and short, that’s what. The fact of living in a society means that sometimes you pay for services you don’t use, or from which you only benefit indirectly. Sometimes you pay for services you disagree with, when the overall effect is positive. I cannot help but be reminded of the peasant in Monty Python’s “Holy Grail.” “Come see the violence inherent in thesystem. Help! Help! I’m being repressed.”
Yes, a system… a society… enforces some compromise on the individual… but it also brings benefits. Next.
The government regulates insurance providers, and just because a business is owned or run by a religious institution does not mean that everything that insurance business does falls under the protection of the First Amendment’s protection of “religious exercise.” Running an insurance business is not a religious exercise. If it were possible to claim that a commercial activity is a part of your “faith” or “mission,” you would see religious organizations falling all over themselves to claim that everything they’re involved with is a part of their faith , and thus can’t be regulated. (Shock! This is exactly what we see.) That’s an untenable path to follow as a pluralistic nation. It would bea cynical ploy, more in service to profit than religious rights, focused more on avoiding societal rules and regulations. This is precisely the game many religiously owned corporations are willing to play, as they seek ways to reduce their tax burden, or increase competitiveness by offering commercial services free of labor and safety rules. What a bonus if they simultaneously get to forcibly impose a tenet of their faith on others, even those who do not believe as they do.
But let us expose the absurdity of this “I don’t want MY money funding things I disagree with!” logic from one more angle: Imagine you are an employer. To keep the numbers simple (if not 100% realistic) let’s assume you pay an employee $1,000 dollars for the services she has rendered to you, and you submit $1,000 in tax money to the government for services they are (ostensibly) rendering. If you believe your “conscience” allows you to demand that the government not use that $1,000 for making contraception more available, what stops you from insisting that your female employee not be allowed to spend “your” money on contraception herself? In both cases you are a party to a contract. One is a labor agreement, the other is a social compact, and in NEITHER case do you have control over what is done with the money you agree to pay to these entities.
Is available contraception in the best interest of the nation and our society?
As I understand it, the cost of making contraception universally available to those who wish to use it is immensely less expensive to society than the restrictive approach to contraceptive access. What is the best policy course to reduce medical expenses overall? What is the best course to provide the MOST people the right to choose to control their reproductive health? What is the solution that improves health the most, while costing the least to each citizen – both monetarily and in terms of having to sacrifice freedom for “the common good?” In the public sphere, the measures are tangible and have to do with cost and quality of health care. It is good theater to try to entangle these issues AND morality in a single, complex rhetorical ball of string, but if we separate the issues, the policy of providing contraception is a “good” for society from a cost perspective. I know, I know… some of you “just can’t put a price on a moral issue.”
Who should have to pay for your private beliefs?
You might think that this new insurance mandate is forcing YOU to act against your conscience by paying for something you don’t like. But the inverse is just as true. Consider if you got your way? Contraception is not subsidized by the state, and is less available. It will be more expensive on many fronts. Is it fair to me, and others like me, that you can use your beliefs to justify imposing costs on the entire society? What makes it “OK” for you to have moral objections to a policy that saves you money, when you don’t seem to be willing to allow me to have moral objections against a policy that costs me more money? Why is YOUR morality more important than society’s pocketbook? But this is where the problem lies:
The money and the morality need to be separated.
Why not go for the “win/win?” Let your tax money enable the policy that is cheaper AND preserves individual freedom (not corporate, or institutional claims to freedom). At the same time, go ahead and continue to live by your own moral code regarding contraception. Everybody’s happy then. In fact, we would be on the same side: I am all for making society more efficient, while allowing individuals to practice their private beliefs in their own lives.
You can choose to adopt and follow the more expensive religious standards for yourself. THAT is your religious right: to practice your beliefs, even if they cost more… just like the person who buys organic milk, or green energy because they think it is the right thing to do for Mother Earth. But, I submit, you may not use your scruples to tell others whether they cannot choose or use contraception. You cannot force the costs and societal impacts of your religious beliefs on those who don’t share your belief. And if you don’t like the public, secular, societal policy decision made by our elected officials, then run for office. But please, don’t try to be a “Legislature of One,” using your claims of “conscience” to enforce your expensive will on society.