Does Walmart believe in God? Can General Motors pray? Most of us would not imagine that corporations have religious rights, but that’s not what the Supreme Court says. On Monday, the high court ruled in Sebelius v. Hobby Lobby that certain private companies do not have to provide their employees with contraceptive coverage, as mandated by the Affordable Care Act, if the company owners object to contraception on religious grounds. Fortunately, the ruling applies only to “closely held” companies, which legally means those with more than half of their stock owned by fewer than five people. Unfortunately, this includes about 90 percent of businesses and 52 percent of workers in this country.
The case was brought by the billionaire Green family, who own the chain of arts-and-crafts stores and who are evangelical Christians. The Greens say they morally object to four of the 20 FDA-approved methods of birth control covered by Obamacare because, they contend, these methods induce abortions. (In point of fact, they don’t.) The Affordable Care Act already exempts houses of worship and other religious ministries from having to pay directly for insurance coverage for birth control. Hobby Lobby requested this same exemption, and the Supreme Court gave it to the company, despite the fact that selling glitter and glue guns has nothing to do with worship or a religious activity.
The religious right has touted the ruling as the triumph of “religious freedom.” Let us be clear: “Religious freedom” is the right to believe and practice your religion as your conscience dictates; it does not mean the right to impose your religious beliefs on others, even if you happen to employ them. This ruling sets the dangerous precedent of giving preference to the religious beliefs of employers over the personal health-care decisions of employees. Women’s decisions regarding their own health care should be based on their needs and convictions, not those of their boss.
Rev. Neal Jones
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Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Columbia