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.