There has been much discussion in the press lately about health care coverage and the right of organizations to restrict options based on the religious beliefs held by the employer. This is a very odd justification and is akin to recent claims that “corporations are people,” a claim that Stephen Colbert tried to challenge with a referendum, which was to ask South Carolina voters to decide whether “corporations are people” or “only people are people.”
While it made for good comedy, there are those who have taken this notion seriously to the extent that corporations have 1st amendment protections. The proposed Blunt Amendment in the Senate would have allowed employers to refuse federally-mandated health care coverage based on religious and moral exemptions. While in the end it did not pass (by the narrowest of margins), our own Sen. Bob Casey supported it. He was one of only three democratic Senators who voted for the measure and justified his vote by saying
“As I have made clear continuously, I strongly support contraceptives and have voted to provide funding for family planning but I also believe that religiously-affiliated institutions should not be forced by the government to violate their beliefs.”
The religious beliefs that concerned Casey were not those held by individuals, but institutions. Furthermore, he is not talking about churches. Churches and other organizations, which primarily employ people of their own faith, have the right to restrict employment, benefits, and the moral behavior of its employees. This “freedom” goes so far that the bedrock American Disabilities Act (ADA) does not provide any protection to religious teachers, according to a recent Supreme Court ruling.
What we are talking about is religious affiliated employers, like UPMC Mercy Hospital, which hires a wide range of employees from chaplains to computer programmers. While I can understand restrictions on who is hired as a chaplains (athough I personally find the existence of a Department of Spiritual Care to be a rather odd concept), imposing restrictions on the lifestyle of non-religious employees is rather barbaric. This is incredibly slippery slope that harkens back to 19th century labor camps where the company bosses ran company towns that controlled every aspect of a worker’s private life.
We need a serious dialog of what is and isn’t a matter of religious liberty in this country. We need a return to individual liberties. We need to respect those without any religion to live their lives without religious dogma determining what is acceptable, especially in light of scientific facts, which should be the sole determinant of a sound health care policy in this country.