On Hobby Lobby
It’s hard for me to be decisive about religious freedoms, especially after the recent 5-4 Supreme Court decision in favor of Hobby Lobby. The Court ruled that, as a closely held company, the corporation can exercise its religious beliefs with respect to its employees and their rights under the Affordable Care Act. Put simply, the family that owns Hobby Lobby disagrees with 4 types of contraception, for religious reasons; therefore they cannot legally be forced to pay for those contraceptives.
This does make sense, theoretically. In America we are free to believe in whatever we want, and no one, government or otherwise, can make us do something that violates the terms of our religious beliefs.
For me, though, there is absolutely a distinction between this religious freedom among individuals and within corporations. I vehemently disagree that “corporations are people,” so the idea that they could act like an individual with all the rights that entails is baffling to me.
That aside, if I think about this decision as an opportunity to take a look at religious freedoms and to further protect them for all Americans (not just those that proscribe to the Hobby Lobby brand of belief), I still encounter a problem.
There are, very legitimately, Americans who ascribe to lesser known religions and who believe in things that lie outside the prevailing Judeo-Christian tradition. For example: Buddhists, by directive and by belief pacifist, should not in theory be forced by their government to be in any way involved in activities that cause death. This is why many Buddhists are vegetarians, and why there are Buddhist haikus admonishing us not to squash houseflies in the same way we wouldn’t slaughter a cow.
The mandate to avoid killing is simple to avoid in some cases. If there were a draft in place, Buddhists could claim conscientious objection on religious grounds. Aside from the draft, though, there are a lot of resources that go into war. Namely, money. Taxes. Our paychecks.
It stands to reason, then, that Buddhists should be able to claim a religious exemption from taxes which will eventually go towards funding war. (Of course this would require a more stringent system of tracking tax dollars and their uses, but that’s not pertinent here.) But, I am sure, a Buddhist who refused to pay taxes during a time when those funds were undoubtedly funding war (at least in part) would be fined, investigated, and maybe arrested after the IRS took notice.
Wait, but isn’t that my religious right, if I’m a Buddhist?
No, it isn’t. It isn’t, because I choose to live in America. It isn’t because I partake, daily, in the fruits of the taxes collected from me by the government-such as public parks, paved roadways, and social security benefits. It isn’t, because our system of democracy relies upon not just religious freedom but also collective effort for the common good. Yes, that means sometimes sacrificing what you want the most for the good of the country and the society as a whole. (I may feel entitled to a public argument with someone who cuts me off in traffic, but hey-that’s going to slow everyone down, and cause a scene, and maybe get me arrested, involve the cops, and thus cost taxpayers money, so I won’t do it.)
There is simply no way to ensure the same level of pure religious freedom to every single person in this country. Absolutely not. There are people who believe blacks and whites should be separated at all times, according to their religions. But shopkeepers obviously cannot keep black people out of their stores, or vice versa. It’s illegal. It might be your religious belief, but it is antithetical to the moral values and democratic principles of this country as a whole.
The fact is, religious freedoms have to be examined within the context of democracy-our democracy. Ultimately, your religious freedom cannot excuse you from racist, sexist, ageist, murderous, predatory, or otherwise behaviors. No one seems to disagree with that fact when it concerns race, but that’s because it’s been 50 years since we as a nation decided “separate but equal” wasn’t going to fly. And yet, it seems perfectly reasonable to deny women options relevant to THEIR bodies and THEIR lives because one’s own beliefs. (Oh, and especially when one happens to be a male with those beliefs.)
There’s just something inconsistent here. I hope it doesn’t take 50 years for this country to give women the rights they deserve, and for people to stop presuming that their beliefs are so sacrosanct as to govern other people’s rights.