USA Today opposes religious exemptions to healthcare laws.

The USA Today editorial board has come out against allowing religious exemptions to healthcare laws.  I’m always torn when someone says something better than me.  On the one hand I’m elated to get to experience their expertise…on the other, I want to kick myself for not thinking of it first.  This is one of those occasions, so I can pretty much only quote from the article.

The question is not easy. The First Amendment’s guarantee of religious freedom commands great deference, but it’s also true that religious freedom has never meant that national policies must be written to conform to religious doctrine.

Over the years, plaintiffs have demanded religious exemptions from laws on racial equality, the military draft, paying taxes, child neglect, drug use, animal cruelty and more. The Supreme Court has repeatedly said no, drawing a line between laws that explicitly target or place a substantial burden on a religion and those that impose broad, secular requirements on society that people might find religiously objectionable.

In weighing an Oregon ban on the use of peyote, for example, Justice Antonin Scalia declined to uphold its use in Native American religious ceremonies, saying the court has “never held that an individual’s religious beliefs excuse him from compliance with an otherwise valid law.”

The use of Antonin Scalia’s affirming of the principle that supports USA Today’s position (a position that Scalia most certainly does not share) is just wonderful.

Ultimately, the issue is one of balance. The effect of health insurance on business owners is indirect. Employees may or may not use insurance to pay for birth control, just as they may or may not use their salary to pay for something that would violate the company owners’ faith.

The circumstance might be discomforting. But the alternative — granting religious exemptions to private organizations — is more troubling. It would be open to abuse, putting the government in the position of determining which business owners were sufficiently religious.


About JT Eberhard

When not defending the planet from inevitable apocalypse at the rotting hands of the undead, JT is a writer and public speaker about atheism, gay rights, and more. He spent two and a half years with the Secular Student Alliance as their first high school organizer. During that time he built the SSA’s high school program and oversaw the development of groups nationwide. JT is also the co-founder of the popular Skepticon conference and served as the events lead organizer during its first three years.

  • baal

    The quotes from Scalia* in the OP here show why the hobby lobby case is aberrant. That’s the case where an appeals court said obamacare illegally infringed on a company’s freedom of religion to deny health care to women.

    *to be fair, I’m pretty sure Scalia thinks about every case in terms of what would the rule do to catholics and if the answer is ‘very little’ he’ll allow repression of everyone else’s religions (no peyote).

  • Besomyka

    The use of salary to pay for contraceptives rather than insurance has always seemed the most solid angle to me. The owners don’t want to pay for contraceptives because they religiously object, but I think we can agree that auditing employees spending is a step too far, and goes into the territory of infringing on that other person’s constitutionally protected right to the freedom of religion as well.

    And why, exactly, doesn’t this apply to other forms of employment compensation?

    I think the truth is that religious employers would LOVE to prevent their employees from using salary to purchase contraception, but it’s easier to ignore because it’s not spelled out in front of them. The insurance, on the other hand, has it written down as an option and they just can’t quite bring themselves around to ignoring it.

    • Spuddie

      Not at all. Its never the employer’s decision how an employee exercises their insurance benefits. A company has no religion to speak of. Religious beliefs are an individual thing. It is no more permissible than forcing employees to attend mass on Sunday as a requisite to employment.

      No employer really wants to deal with maternity leave, flex time demands, salary increase demands or lost time from child related issues. If they can get away with having their employees sterilized, they would.

  • smrnda

    Employers want to bring back the old ‘company town’ model, where you can only buy from the company store using company money. If people studied history a bit more, they’d see that ‘religious exemptions’ for employers is just a way they’re trying to make themselves Feudal Lords over all of us lowly serfs and vassals.

  • Ani J. Sharmin

    Thanks very much for sharing this. About that last part about determining which business owners are sufficiently religious, that’s always been one of my biggest concerns/complaints, because while these laws can be reworded to sound equal on paper, they’ll probably favor certain religions over others, based on which religions and/or denominations are in the majority, the religious beliefs of the people enforcing the laws, etc. There are certainly certain religious exemptions that I think are reasonable (for individuals, if it’s not interfering with their ability to do their job, not hurting anyone or taking away others’ rights), but what’s disturbing is when people try to argue for exemptions that allow them to hurt others … and they claim it’s about religious freedom, but it’s really about members of the favored religion getting to do whatever they want.