Columbia, SC — Having failed to stop the passage of the Affordable Care Act and having lost a ruling on its constitutionality in the Supreme Court, the right wing has been pulling out all the stops to try to reverse this badly needed law. Twenty-two Republican-controlled states, including South Carolina, will not expand their Medicaid programs under the law, and Congressional Republicans have even shut down the federal government in a vain attempt to defund it. Conservatives are trying to bring about the death of Obamacare by a thousand cuts, and we can only hope for the sake of 32 million uninsured Americans that their desperate ploys fail.
One of the right wing’s gambits that has not received much attention is its cynical distortion of the definition of “religious liberty.” Multiple lawsuits have been filed by conservative Catholic and evangelical Protestant businessmen asserting that the Affordable Care Act violates their “religious freedom.” How? It mandates contraception coverage in most secular employee health-insurance plans, and these conservative business owners, who oppose birth control, say that the mandate infringes upon the free exercise of their religious beliefs as guaranteed by the First Amendment. Houses of worship and other religious ministries already are exempt from the mandate, and these secular businessmen are demanding the same exemption, even though their businesses have nothing to do with worship or any other religious activity.
There is no infringement of anyone’s religious liberty here. Employees have the right to accept or reject contraception coverage, and employers have the right to believe and practice whatever they want regarding birth control. But employers do not have the right to intrude upon employees’ personal health-care decisions just because they may disagree with those decisions. This is a political agenda wearing the guise of “religious liberty,” and it creates a slippery slope. Today, a business owner may have religious objections to birth control. Tomorrow it could well be objections to blood transfusions, psychiatric treatment or vaccinations. Our boss at the office does not get to be the boss of our health care.
This likely will end up in the Supreme Court, where we can hope the justices will uphold the freedom of American workers to make their own health-care decisions and the religious freedom of all Americans.
Rev. Neal Jones
Unitarian Universalist Congregation