Sunday, December 8, 2013

The Catastrophic Contraceptive Case

            Recently the Affordable Care Act, a part of ObamaCare, has been the topic of much controversy in the Private Business Realm. The Affordable Care Act requires companies of a substantial size, employing more than fifty individuals, to provide health insurance in the form of contraceptives. Companies who refuse to provide this coverage are subject to fines daily according to the number of employees who are withheld the insurance. Naturally there are exceptions to be made for this type of coverage along the lines of the First Amendment.
            The purpose of contraceptives clashes with many religious organizations that see them as opposing the Creator’s intention for men and women. As result, certain non-profit religious organizations have received an exemption to the Affordable Care Act. Organizations receiving exemptions include selective hospitals, universities, and charities. This exemption, however, certainly does not apply to all private businesses. For that reason, several private business owners have separately filed for exemptions to this Act based on religious convictions and perceived immunity provided by the First Amendment. The First Amendment, after all, does prevent Congress from making a law that prohibits the free exercise of religion.

            Lower courts have recently ruled differently in regards to private businesses filing for exemptions to the Affordable Care Act. The court lifted the Act for one private chain, Hobby Lobby, based on religious reasons. Around the same time, a different court was unwilling to lift the mandate for a private manufacturing company, Conestoga Wood Specialties Corporation (CWSC), despite its similar appeal to the First Amendment. This certainly raises the question, how does the freedom to exercise religion pertain to the Affordable Care Act and private business owners? The response of the lower courts provides a nebulous answer to this important issue. The answer to this question is important, as it will help provide the Americans with some guidelines on who are and what is guaranteed the freedom to exercise religion. The issue also addresses what sphere(s), private or public, the First Amendment regards. For lucidity, America turns to the Supreme Court, whose impending answer I will now address.
            I first address the sphere to which this issue pertains. In my opinion, the freedom to exercise religion should be contained to the private sphere and not the public as much as is possible. Religious organizations usually exist with the purpose of growing a body of adherents to one faith. These organizations inherently exercise religion by their very existence. They may provide a public service, but that does not constitute the purpose for existence. We may perceive them as belonging to the private sphere. On the other hand, private organizations that provide a public service, such as Hobby Lobby and CWSC, do not exercise religion as part of their existence. Therefore, I do not think that these should be considered as part of the public domain. So they should not exist as entities under the First Amendment that exercise religion. This is where the public and private spheres in regards to private businesses diverge. For that reason, business decisions, such as company wide health insurance, should not be subject to the religious convictions of its owners or shareholders. Private non-profit companies should be required to provide the health care mandated by the government.
            Sherbert v. Verner was a 1963 Supreme Court case that dealt with an individual who was fired for refusing to work on Saturday, and was denied unemployment benefits. The Court found that this violated the woman’s right to freely exercise her religion as a Seventh-day Adventist due to a substantial burden and no state interesting compelling enough to bring about this burden. So I also ask in the midst of deliberation, does the contraceptive mandate provide a substantial burden on the private business owners without a compelling state interest? Firstly, the mandate only imposes an indirect burden on business owners. The mandate is generally applicable and was proposed with goal of benefitting women, not subverting religion. The Act does present a burden to private business owners, but that burden is merely economic. Not only that, but the burden does not prevent business owners from freely practicing religion as it pertains to their own personal lives, the mandate does not compel them to use the contraceptives. Business owners do not claim a religious tenet that forbids them from providing others with contraceptives, so the burden does not seem to substantially affect an owner’s personal adherence to religious beliefs. I also think that a state interest exists to benefit women and their families who may not be able to afford this type of coverage. There obviously exists a more full proof method to preventing conception than contraceptives, and thus I don’t deem this interest compelling to the point that it should greatly burden religious freedom. Still, the burden is not substantial, and so private non-profit business owners must obey it.
            Finally, if all private business owners were granted an exemption, there is always the possibility that it will be taken to the extreme. This decision could potentially create a “slippery slope,” allowing business owners the right to prevent employees other benefits. This could essentially allow business owners to discriminate against certain employees for various reasons that they claim prohibit their free exercise. It is hard to foresee the type of corruption this might lead to, and thus it must be prevented.
            All this being said, I empathize with the private business owners who feel unable to practice their religion. But, I don’t believe they are covered under the free exercise clause to be granted an exemption.


Dan W said...

I fail to see a compelling reason for granting an exemption. Requiring the coverage does not coerce anyone to violate their religious beliefs, it merely requires that they provide healthcare coverage. The government is not forcing anyone to use a condom, take a birth control pill, or get an abortion and thus I fail to see the burden on free exercise apart from an extremely indirect financial burden. However, to pick and choose who gets an exemption would be extremely arbitrary and it is best to require the coverage.

Benjamin S said...

I wrote about a similar issue in my final paper. I find there being little ground in arguing that offering contraceptives is a violation of anyone's religious belief. You, yourself do not have to use them. What it boils down to is that people are publicizing their beliefs into their business practice when in reality they should be kept to themselves in that setting. I also agree that universal coverage makes most sense, choosing would be a violation of equal rights under the law.