Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Freedom of Religion is Not the Freedom to Impose Your Religion on Others

The Obama administration recently ruled that organizations such as hospitals and universities have to include coverage for contraceptive services as part of their health insurance plans, even if these organizations have a religious affiliation (churches and other houses of worship are exempted).  Immediately there was a loud chorus of protest by the Catholic bishops and officials of other religious organizations. The Republican Presidential candidates, the Republican hierarchy, and Fox News responded to this chorus with a vigorous “Amen” and denounced Obama’s “War on Religion”.

Religious freedom means that one should be free to hold one’s own religious beliefs, but that does not mean that one should be able to impose one’s religious beliefs and code of conduct on others.  The employees of a hospital or university, or students at a university, need not comply with the Catholic Church’s ban on contraception (in fact at present in the US virtually all Catholic women utilize contraception at some time during their lives).  If one works for a hospital or school as a nurse, janitor or cook - whether or not one is Catholic - the Catholic Church has no right to dictate to you based on its religious doctrine what type of medical care you should receive.  That is your private business.

Optimally, health insurance would not be provided through one’s employer.  I am in favor of universal basic health care program (see my previous post on this subject).  However, for the time being employer based health insurance is the predominant system that we have in this country.  The government provides a tax exemption for employer provided health insurance and has a responsibility to regulate it so it meets basic standards.  The most basic standard should be that health insurance should be dictated by health considerations and not religious considerations.  In fact, the requirement for contraceptive coverage was based on a recommendation of an expert panel of the National Institute of Medicine as being essential for women’s health.

Apparently, twenty-eight states already require contraceptive coverage in prescription drug plans and religious affiliated organizations in those states have adapted.

Religion is a choice.  Choices have consequences.  

If one objects to contraceptives, one cannot expect to get a job in a pharmacy and refuse to dispense contraceptives.  If one does not wish to dispense contraceptives, don’t work in a pharmacy. 

If one objects to abortion, don’t take a job in an abortion clinic. 

If one objects to gay marriage, don’t marry someone of the same sex.  Don’t try to prevent others from doing so.

If a church wants to administer an organization, the health insurance that organization provides to employees has to meet the norms of good health care.  If a school is associated with a church that proscribes blood transfusions, would it be acceptable if the health insurance it provides did not cover blood transfusions for employees - even if they are exsanguinating?  Of course not.

One is free to practice one’s religion only to the extent that it does not impinge on the civil rights of others. 

The Obama administration should stand firm protecting the rights of women against the desire of religious organizations to force their religious doctrines upon them.

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