Discrimination Waiting to Happen (When Businesses Practice Religion)

Once again I am baffled by the Supreme Court’s ruling when it comes to the National Health Care law. They have ruled that a Christian-owned business does not have to provide insurance coverage for birth control pills. This decision is about much more than birth control.

The company owners argue that it is a violation of their right to practice religion without interference from the government.

In my Tai Chi class I met a woman who had a similar argument on an individual level. She was a Jehovah’s Witness who did not want to be forced to buy health insurance that covered blood transfusions or major surgery, since it was against her religion to receive blood from another person. I completely respect her and her right to practice those religious beliefs. Also, she had no interest in preventing anyone else from getting a blood transfusion.

If we follow the logic of the Supreme Court’s latest ruling, insurance companies should be required to provide insurance policies that exclude blood transfusions and major surgery to her and any business she owns. This means employees who get health insurance through this business would not have coverage for blood transfusions or major surgery, even in the case of a life-threatening situation, unless they signed up for a separate policy.

Right now, you’re probably saying, “Wait a minute, birth control is not the same thing.” But in this argument, it is the same. This issue is not about birth control or abortion or about blood transfusions. It’s about an employer forcing their religious beliefs on an employee.

You may say, “Well, the person doesn’t need to work there. It’s voluntary.” And yes, the person can go work somewhere else. However, the reason they would be leaving is discrimination.

Or the employee can find out how to get that separate insurance policy to cover the birth control or blood transfusion. They could call the insurance company directly; however the insurance company will need to verify employment, which means the Human Resources department of their employer would be notified. More likely, an employee will ask their HR person directly for information about how to get the extra coverage – if they even know it’s an option.

In the current legal case, the business owners claim they cannot facilitate anyone getting certain types of birth control; so would they purposely not tell employees they are eligible to get an additional policy that covers this?  Or do we expect the insurance company in a clear, easy to read manner, to volunteer this information to employees on their group policies with these exclusions, even though it will cost them more money?

Once HR is notified either by the employee or the insurance company, the employee has indirectly revealed their own, privately held, religious beliefs.

Asking an employee about their religion is illegal under own anti-discrimination laws. This information could then be used to prevent the employee from getting raises or promotions, or could target the employee as someone who should be dismissed from employment altogether.

In the Supreme Court’s written decision, it states: “The effect of the HHS-created accommodation on the women employed by Hobby Lobby and the other companies involved in these cases would be precisely zero.” I have to point out that the given potential for discrimination, not to mention the extra time spent learning about and obtaining the separate coverage, is far greater than zero.

(If you want to read the ruling for yourself, it can be found here:  http://www2.bloomberglaw.com/public/desktop/document/Burwell_v_Hobby_Lobby_Stores_Inc_No_13354_and_13356_US_June_30_20)

I love this country and the principles it was on founded on: that all individuals have equality under the law and the freedom to practice his or her own privately-held religious beliefs. Our country was founded on the ideal of individual freedom, and by concluding businesses are people who practice religion, that foundation is shaken.

It makes me sad to think if the example in this momentous issue were blood transfusions and not contraceptives, people would see past the specifics and understand how this ruling is not a protection of religious rights, but is really a brutal attack on our individual right to the freedom of religion without suffering from discrimination.

Of course, this entire issue could have been avoided if instead of requiring companies employing more than 50 people to provide a group insurance plan, the government required those companies instead to simply offer a voucher that could be used by individual employees to buy their own insurance plan. But that’s an entirely different topic, and I’m stepping off the soapbox for now.