With the passage of Obamacare, the federal government now requires employers to provide health insurance that covers “reproductive issues” or pay a fine per employee if they fail to provide health insurance that meets federal standards. Under the law an employer is required to provide health insurance that offers “coverage” for “reproductive services”. It appears that there is no “choice” in this matter for either employer or employee. The requirement is that any health insurance company must offer a policy that meets these requirements. There is apparently no “option” to “opt out” of this coverage regardless of if you want it or not. This is really “where” the problem is.
The complaint is that requiring these services as part of the required health insurance policy means that the employer must pay for something that those of certain religious beliefs object to. That the employer is required to pay for required contraceptive services even if their religious beliefs are such that they are strongly opposed to these things. It is also held that some of the drugs that are on required “coverage” serve to produce an abortion when used. Again this means that the employer is being forced to pay for something that they have strong religious objections to. Note that the law does not require that anyone “use” these services, or use contraception or have an abortion. It merely states that the health insurance policy provided under the Patient Protection, Affordable Care Act, otherwise known as “Obamacare”, does offer these “benefits.”
The Patient Protection, Affordable Care Act has a “mandate” that the employer must provide the required health insurance with a list of services that are mandated under the law to be provided as part of the coverage provided by the insurance policy. Every health insurance company that provides these policies must offer these services. There are no “opt out” provisions. Of course there is no requirement that the person who has the health insurance policy has to actually “use” all the services that are provided by the policy. But the federal government does require under the law that every health insurance policy does offer these services regardless of if they are used or not.
This is much like the issue that a pacifist might raise about paying taxes to support military actions that they find objectionable. Roughly about a third of what you pay in federal income tax goes to support “national defense” in one way or another. The IRS does not give you a choice in the matter. You can’t “earmark” your taxes to go only to those government agencies and services that you want to support. You’re not given this choice. Not that it wouldn’t be a good idea, but no doubt it would create problems when the USA was fighting an unpopular war, one that many Americans didn’t believe we should be fighting. Technically the decision as to where tax money goes is the preserve of Congress, which then allocates the available revenue to where it is agreed the money should go. The issue is complex, but it does have parallels to the issue before us here.
Which brings us to the issue of what are the limits of religious freedom? The Supreme Court has addressed this issue a few times, mainly with certain religious beliefs as they apply to children. One of these was that Christian Scientists could not use “religious freedom” as a means to deny medical care to their children. In the case of children, their welfare overrides the religious freedom of their parents regarding medical treatment. So individual welfare can override religious freedom, at least in the case of children below a certain age. The parents still enjoy their religious freedom regarding their own wishes regarding the right to refuse medical treatment, but they do not have this same freedom when it comes to their own children. In other words, religious freedom is an individual freedom, but it can be overriden when its practice will cause harm to others. Nor are you allowed to force your religious beliefs upon people who do not believe as you do. This is an issue in some parts of the world, where the majority of believers are Muslims and do believe that they have the right to force their religious beliefs upon those who do not believe as they do. Technically they are taught that other people do have “freedom of religion”, but they also practice various sorts of discriminations against non-Muslims. And in the past, they used military force to subdue the peoples they conquored into “submission” to the teachings of their religion. They were of course not the only ones who did this. The various Christian religions have practiced much the same tactic to a lesser degree. Those interested in learning more are referred to your local public library where you can read or check out books that will tell you everything you’d want to know.
Muslim taxi drivers here in the USA have refused to provide services to people who are handicapped and have “assistance animals” (dogs) because under the teachings of Islam, dogs are consider “unclean” and no proper Muslim has anything to do with them. The same thing has been done with people who are carrying alcoholic beverages, which are also now against the teachings of Islam. Along the same line, we’ve had druggists who refused to fill certain prescriptions because the purpose of the medicine violated the religious beliefs of the druggist. As can be seen here, there are parallels between the actions of Muslims and believers of certain Christian beliefs in that both have claimed that being forced to provide a service is in “violation” of their own religious freedom.
Under Libertarian principles you do not have the right to force your beliefs on to anyone else. You are free to live your life according to whatever religious beliefs you have, but you do not have the right to force others not of your religion to live according to your own beliefs. Religious freedom requires that you honor your neighbor’s beliefs, even if you don’t believe in them. This is the only way that a society where people believe in far different things can live peacefully together. We see today conflicts in Muslim lands where the Islamic majority attempts to force their beliefs upon Christians who are a minority in these countries. It even seems that US involvement in these matters has made things worse yet, as we are indeed facing a “religious war” between “us” and “them”. Considering that US involvement in the Middle East was the primary cause of the events of 9-11-2001, along with the wars that have followed, leaves no doubt that religious belief can in fact be the cause of conflicts that in the past killed hundreds of thousands of people, and could very well do so again… We have not yet learned to honor our neighbor’s beliefs as we honor our own, despite all the bloodshed this has caused! And part of this is the belief held by most people that “their” religion is “right” and that everyones’ elses is “wrong”. “God is with us” is not a good way to create a peaceful world!