I keep seeing news stories centered around the protection of religious freedom in America: indeed, there’s a case being heard by SCOTUS right now, brought by the chain Hobby Lobby, who want to exclude the provision of two contraceptive pills from their mandatory health care plan as the owners deem them abortifacients which violate their religious beliefs.
Firstly, if you believe all abortion is wrong, and certain pills enable abortions, then don’t take them. That’s the correct way to exercise your religious freedom — over your own body. What the owners of Hobby Lobby are seeking to do is not uphold their own personal beliefs in their own lives, but to impose those beliefs upon their staff. Last time I checked, one person’s religious freedom was not another person’s mandate.
This case has much wider-reaching implications, however. It seems that ‘religious freedom’ is commonly synonymous with the standards of rich, white, mainstream Christian folk from the right wing. There’s another case which might be about to change that perception, though, as Rainier Beach United Methodist Church, an LGBT-friendly denomination, is right now threatening litigation against the Boy Scouts because the BSA revoked the membership of the church’s scout leader because he’s gay. The church argues that because they have the right to pick their own scout leader, and the BSA is trying to revoke that right, they’re violating the church’s religious freedom. It’s certainly an interesting case, and I rather hope it does eventually go to court.
These cases beg the question, where does one person’s religious freedom end and another person’s right to autonomy begin? I’d argue any individual freedom begins and ends with that individual. The right to freedom and liberty includes the right not to be dictated to by the prejudices of others.
Those fighting these lawsuits to impose their own ‘freedoms’ upon others are also running the risk of having the legislation they force backfiring in a most spectacular way.
What if a company owner is a staunch Jehovah’s Witness who doesn’t believe in blood transfusions? Do they have a right to deny blood to their employees, however badly they need it?
What if a company owner is a staunch Mormon, who doesn’t believe in imbibing any form of stimulant (including nicotine and caffeine)? Can they disclaim healthcare for certain types of medical conditions?
The fact is, religious doctrine can be used to discriminate against anything — people who eat pork or shellfish (so can they disclaim medical bills for food poisoning?), people who are divorced (so that’s the maternity bills for a child from a second marriage out), people who have sex before marriage or who are adulterers (good luck getting STDs treated), people who have interracial relationships (more maternity bills disclaimed — yay!), and, of course, LGBT folk.
There’s also the question of private/public interaction. When somebody opens a business, they have to abide by certain non-discriminatory laws, because they’re providing a public service, and the very definition of that is they should provide an equal service to all members of the public indiscriminately. It’s not so very long ago signs saying ‘Whites Only’ or ‘No Negroes’ were a common sight across the United States, yet the lessons of recent history seem to have been very easily forgotten.
Hobby Lobby wants the law to rule in their favour twice over: they want the tax benefits of providing healthcare to their employees, but at the same time they want to circumvent what the law states that healthcare should provide. They want the security of being considered, as individuals, separate from the business they own, thereby indemnifying themselves personally against lawsuits or bankruptcies brought against the company, but they want the company to be considered as an extension of themselves when it comes to how they treat their employees.
The law is very simple. If you open a publicly trading company, you need to trade openly with the public. If you want to reap the benefits of providing healthcare to your employees, then you need to provide your employees with full healthcare, as mandated by the government. The interaction any business has with an individual is contained within the business transaction — provide a product, get paid. Whatever happens outside of that transaction is irrelevant.
It staggers me, as an English gal, to see what a big deal some Americans make about the choices of others. Maybe it’s because I’m from a country which isn’t so zealously religious, or maybe it’s because we don’t like to get all up in each other’s business, but last time I passed an American pharmacy I was stopped dead by an official sign on the wall outlining the state’s law regarding the supply of prescription contraceptives. It’s a culture shock, because where I come from if you’ve got a prescription, you expect the chemist to fulfill it without comment or judgement, and certainly without requiring a law to make them do their damn job.
Why, I wonder, would someone who had a problem with contraceptives — or any other type of medication — go into an industry where they were required to provide those very things? If I had a sincerely held belief that all men were created perfect in God’s eyes and therefore reading glasses were an abomination, I wouldn’t get a job as an optician. I wouldn’t train as a plastic surgeon if I thought cosmetic enhancement was wrong. I wouldn’t get a job at a zoo if I thought no animal should be kept in a cage. I could go on…
The Hobby Lobby case is particularly galling, because the company’s pension plan invests heavily in the self-same companies who manufacture the pills they are right now fighting in the Supreme Court to be allowed to deny to their own staff. Religious freedom matters when it comes to paying out, but clearly not when it comes to cashing in. Never mind that the Bible specifically prohibits the accumulation of interest on money. Clearly that verse doesn’t count, either.
And perhaps that’s what gets my goat the most about these sort of cases: the pure hypocrisy of them. If you have a ‘sincerely held’ belief (whatever that means… I have a sincerely held belief that Destiel is canon, but I’m still waiting to see Dean and Cas lock lips *sigh*) then live your life according to it. All of it. Don’t be half-assed and don’t cherry-pick chapters and verses to suit your own agenda. Don’t hide behind religion to circumvent the laws of the country in which you live and trade. Or don’t go into business where you’ll have to do something you don’t agree with. It really is very simple.
I only hope the Supreme Court sees that, too.