Weight of liberty

Court puts owners’ beliefs above employees’ rights

Jul 21, 2014 by

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Anabaptists cherish religious freedom and the rights of conscience. The movement was born in opposition to baptizing infants as required by church and state. We value the right to refuse military service when there is a draft. We hope that someday we might be permitted to redirect war taxes to peaceful uses. In 1972 the Supreme Court granted the Amish the right not to educate their children past the eighth grade.

Some see a June 30 Supreme Court ruling as a similar victory for religious liberty. Conestoga Wood Specialities, owned by a Lancaster County, Pa., Old Order Mennonite family, was the less famous of two plaintiffs in the case. The court ruled that closely held for-profit companies are exempt from covering contraceptives that the Affordable Care Act requires in employee health plans. The Hahn family, which owns Conestoga, and the Green family, which owns Hobby Lobby, believe several FDA-approved forms of contraception are equivalent to abortion, though medical science says they are not.

The ruling grants a right far different from conscientious objection to war. It sets a troubling precedent by allowing the owners to use their religious convictions to place a burden on others. The fact that a belief is sincerely held does not make it more important than someone else’s rights. Religious freedom is not absolute. An employer’s desire for even greater distance from what they consider immoral does not merit great­er consideration than an employee’s right of access to benefits that the law says their health plan should cover. Ironically, the benefit in question — free contraception — actually reduces the abortion rate.

The benefit probably will continue. The government might provide it when a company refuses. Thus a further irony: Because a company may avoid paying for something that violates the owner’s beliefs, everyone — including those who similarly object — might have to pay for it with their taxes.


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