Saturday, January 11, 2014

141.9 - Outrage of the Week: when religious freedom crosses the line

Outrage of the Week: when religious freedom crosses the line

Before I run out of time for this week's show, let me get to our other regular feature, the Outrage of the Week.

Only hours before it was to take effect on January 1, Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor blocked implementation of a provision of the Affordable Care Act that would have required some religion-affiliated organizations to allow their employees access to health insurance that includes birth control.

The Affordable Care Act sets minimum standards for health insurance plans. One such standard is that group insurance provided by an employer as an employee benefit must include a range of preventive care, free of charge, including contraception.

The Obama administration put together what's called an accommodation which enables religiously affiliated hospitals, universities, and social service groups that oppose birth control to not pay for it. Instead, the law requires the insurers or the health plan's outside administrator to pay for birth control coverage and creates a way to reimburse them. It's still available as part of the plan, but the employer is not in any real sense providing it, the insurer is.

However, a Denver group called the Little Sisters of the Poor Home for the Aged said that even filing the form to declare themselves a non-profit qualifying for the religious exemption was a violation of their freedom of religion. Why? How? Because it would allow the insurance company to provide the contraceptive coverage. Sotomayor's order applies to the nuns, the Little Sisters of the Poor, and other Roman Catholic nonprofit groups that use the same health plan, known as the Christian Brothers Employee Benefit Trust.

I have to tell you, I really do find this utterly outrageous. It's one thing to argue that religious freedom means you as an employer should not have to pay to provide contraceptive care; it's quite another to say you can deny it altogether, even if not paying for it, regardless of whether your employees share your beliefs or not.

That is, it's one thing to say religious freedom means you shouldn't have to pay for coverage that violates your conscience; it's quite another to say religious freedom means you can actively prevent your employees from getting that coverage, to go from "I shouldn't have to do it" to "I should be able to keep you from doing it." At that point, you have crossed the line from religious freedom into theocracy. And it is an outrage.


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