We have reached a pivotal juncture in America’s legal journey—one that will decide if the government has the legal authority to compel you and me to participate in behaviors that directly violate our religious beliefs. I find the conundrum paradoxical because this country was founded on those seeking refuge from religious persecution.
The problem arises from a case that the Supreme Court has decided to hear this term, which is brought up by the company Hobby Lobby. A Christian family runs the organization, and they have filed a lawsuit challenging Obamacare’s mandate that employer-provided health insurance plans must cover abortion and contraceptives. This mandate stands in direct opposition to the beliefs of the corporation’s owners, and so Hobby Lobby has argued that the mandate violates their First Amendment rights. Note that the owners of Hobby Lobby are not preventing others from getting an abortion or securing contraceptives; they are simply requesting that they not be forced to cover said items or pay for someone else to obtain them.
Would it be just if the State of New York passed a law requiring all private businesses to remain open from dusk Friday to dusk Saturday, challenging the Sabbath law of all devout Jews? Would it be just if Texas mandated that all grocery stores sold pork, challenging the religious beliefs of the Muslim community?
The lawyers of Hobby Lobby are approaching the case using the angle that the corporation is a person and that the “person’s” rights have been violated in the Obamacare mandate. The precedent for corporate personhood comes from the Supreme Court’s prior ruling on Citizens United, which established corporations as having protected free speech rights under the First Amendment.
Even though I support Hobby Lobby, any argument that attempts to paint a corporate entity as a real person is an insult to humankind, no matter what Mitt Romney says. After all, people create corporations to serve a specific set of interests. Companies are not conceived and then nurtured in the womb, nor do they eat, sleep, serve jury duty, go to jail, have a social security number, or drive a car. In fact, what actually brings a corporation into existence is a pen and paper—which must mean, then, that I am making a person as you read these words.
Views on abortion also have no relevance in the matter—what the matter is, is if one citizen has the right to force another to do something on his behalf while overriding the other’s autonomous sphere of operation and morality. This model also encroaches on voluntary contracts and forces something else to assume financial liability for the exclusively personal matters of another.
The pendulum can treacherously swing the other way as well—not allowing someone else to engage in a particular behavior or preventing them from securing a particular product or service based on religious reasons—to the detriment of their well-being. Take, for instance, the case of Savita Halappanavar, an Indian woman who died on October 28, 2012, after being denied an abortion at an Irish hospital. In that case, Irish medical law,which is based on Catholic principles, prevented Mrs. Halappanavar from having the life-saving procedure. She passed away as a direct result of the said procedure not being performed. The other issue, which is always despicable, is that nonmedical personnel constructed laws and mandates that took away medical decision-making power from doctors. Few things make me more irritated. As long as we’re not buying groceries from RadioShack, then bureaucrats should not be telling clinicians what clinical decisions to make.
Additionally, consider the case of Tamesha Means, who is suing the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops. The plaintiff says she was subjected to substandard care at a Catholic hospital after her water had broken. At the time, she was 18 weeks pregnant, meaning her fetus was in no way viable. After being denied treatment on her first two visits, she returned for the third time with a fever and an infection. At no point was she informed that her fetus had zero chances of survival. Ms. Means is being represented by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), which argues that the conference is responsible for “the unnecessary trauma and harm [that] pregnant women in similar situations have experienced at Catholic-sponsored hospitals.” Thankfully, Ms. Means survived. If you’re wondering why Ms. Means did not go to another facility, it’s because the Catholic hospital was the only hospital in her specific Michigan county.
The bottom line is whenever religious beliefs are used as a means to either coerce or preclude another free-willed individual from making a conscious decision, boundaries have been overstepped. Hobby Lobby isn’t taking away anyone’s freedom—they simply are asking not to be forced to pay for it. In contrast, in the latter two cases, religious dogma was cited as the specific reason to deny a person the access to care in emergent clinical settings.
As a country, we have been moving faster and faster along a downward spiral, but if a government-sanctioned program intended to provide health coverage is used to inhibit religious freedom, I believe that the end to individual liberty may be sooner than we all think. The Pilgrims would have been very upset.
Dr. C.H.E. Sadaphal