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Editorial: Businesses shouldn't impose religion on employees

BY DI EDITORIAL BOARD | MARCH 26, 2014 5:00 AM

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This week, the U.S. Supreme Court will hear two cases that could fundamentally alter the Affordable Care Act.

These cases, filed by the corporations Hobby Lobby and the Conestoga Wood Corp. against Secretary of Health and Human Services Kathleen Sebelius, contend that the contraception mandate, a health-act provision that requires employers to include forms of birth control as part of their health-insurance plans, is a violation of the religious liberties of employers who may consider birth control to be a sin.

We believe that challenges to the contraception mandate on the grounds of religious liberties by corporations are unfounded, lacking in legal precedent, and themselves constitute a violation of the religious liberties of employees whose employers reject the mandate.

The basic premise of the arguments made by companies such as Hobby Lobby is that forcing corporations to pay for birth control in their insurance plans violates the First Amendment rights of corporate owners who are personally opposed to birth control. Specifically, Hobby Lobby and Conestoga cite the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, which states that, in order to enforce a statue that burdens one’s religious practice, the government must show that the statue is part of compelling interest that can’t be achieved otherwise.

This argument is flawed for many reasons, the main one being that Hobby Lobby and Conestoga are for-profit corporations, groups that were never intended to be covered by the religious-freedom law. In fact, the law was drafted in response to Native Americans who used peyote as a key aspect in some religious ceremonies being fired for using said drug. The law concerns individuals and nonprofit, overtly religious entities, two categories that these corporations clearly do not fit into.

And, when it comes to for-profit corporations, there is no legal precedent for the granting of religious liberties because of the corporate veil. The corporate veil is essentially the practice of treating the rights of corporations as separate from the rights of its owners. This veil is a cornerstone of both legal law and American economic practice and should ensure that there is no legal standing for a challenge to the contraception mandate on these grounds.

Also, as Pew Research noted in its report on the case, Hobby Lobby and Conestoga are not actually directly responsible for providing their employees with birth control — that is the job of insurance companies and their plans. As its report stated, “Hobby Lobby and Conestoga do not directly provide contraception services to their workers. Instead, they offer their employees health insurance that covers a huge array of medical services, including birth control. In addition, any decision to use birth control rests with the employees, not the insurance providers or the companies.”

Also, ending the contraception mandate would constitute a violation of the First Amendment rights of the employees of corporations such as Hobby Lobby and Conestoga as they are now being subjugated to the religious beliefs of their employers, which they may not share, backed by the blessing of the federal government. This is the true religious liberty question of this case: Can corporations impose the religious beliefs of their owners on their employees? We believe the answer should be a resounding no.


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