At the end of last year, I wrote a post called “Perilous Hobbies,” wherein I detailed philosophical and ethical objections to a particular Obamacare mandate that demanded employers to pay for the contraception of their employees. The argument was based on a libertarian ethic of nonaggression and the perils of State-sanctioned coercion. (The contraception mandate, of course, was a subdivision of the overall mandate of the Affordable Care Act, a law requiring for everyone to have some form of health insurance or face penalties). At the time, Hobby Lobby (HL), a family-run Christian company, had a pending case (Burwell v. Hobby Lobby) in regard to the contraception mandate, and HL subsequently won.
In short, the Supreme Court ruled that owners of “closely-held corporations” who hold certain religious convictions against contraceptives cannot be forced to pay for employee coverage for objectionable products—or, in this case, contraception.
By no means is the matter settled, and it looks as if the Burwell case is the first step in a long and drawn-out series of legal battles. In fact, the Supreme Court has already ordered reviews of three similar cases, and in other courts nationwide, more than 40 lawsuits are pending from faith-based organizations, with more than 45 cases being brought up by for-profit corporations. A complete list of cases can be found here.
On the one hand, I applaud the court’s ruling on the Burwell case because it speaks of a certain tenet of what a liberated society is built upon: upholding the lack of coercion in regard to voluntary transactions—religious freedom, women’s rights, and the right to contraception are secondary issues. On the other hand, I also must scratch my head since the court is essentially saying that because of religious objections, closely held corporations can legally not follow certain portions of Obamacare, which the court itself declared constitutional and legal as a tax. How can the same body that declared Obamacare valid also declare that portions of it unnecessarily infringe upon the rights of select populations? If laws are to be selectively executed, then they are not laws but rather loose guidelines intended to serve an ideological, political, or economic end. Genuine laws are meant to be blind with the same penalties and stipulations for all people, at all times, and in all situations.
In her dissenting opinion, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg worried that the majority’s ruling places Americans in an unsteady predicament. She questions that if employers can opt out of paying for contraception coverage on religious grounds, can they not then extend objections to other parts of medical care (e.g., vaccinations, sexually transmitted infections in unmarried women, or use of contraceptive medication to treat medical issues not related to pregnancy like dysfunctional uterine bleeding)? Using that logic, it would seem that the objections will have no limits.
Another bent on the matter—and one that most people do not comment on—is that the court granted the right to object to “closely held corporations.” The danger here is that individuals cannot object to any portion of Obamacare, but corporations can—essentially giving nonhuman entities greater legal privilege than people. This is a highly troubling and unsettling observation that can lead down a treacherous and slippery slope. I wholeheartedly object to the ideology behind the ruling. Indeed, corporations are not in fact people; they are conglomerations of individuals, and the rights of the cumulative whole should not exceed those of the constituents. To suggest otherwise opens the door to some of the most abusive and immoral tactics ever to be devised by humankind, as is the basis for coercion by elected authorities.
Further, if someone is free to opt out of a contraception mandate on religious grounds, this is the tacit recognition that faith-based decisions are superior to those based on secular grounds. If you’re a Christian, then perhaps you view this favorably, but we must also consider the consequences of living in a world where the impositions of allegedly “superior” faith-based beliefs begin to act against the free will of other people. Accordingly, if we lived in a world not dominated by self-interest, then just maybe this line of thought would yield positive societal dividends. However, we do live in a world with the obsession with self, and this paradigm has the disastrous potential to pervert an objection based on “religious grounds” into the continual pursuit of corporate self-interest.
In short, we still live in a society that is free enough to allow for certain laws to be changed in order to mitigate the effects of coercive legislation. Allowing such exemptions may lead to the increased scrutiny or the repeal of said laws, but it also may give some a convenient means to avoid the law and to act in their best interest at the expense of others—a dynamic that produced the original protest in the first place. The assault of legal objections has even reached a tipping point where now faith-based groups are seeking legal immunity from the law so that they will not be penalized from discriminating against gay men and women—an interesting twist on the story where, it seems, we are now moving in reverse.
Dr. C. H. E. Sadaphal