The Cost of Principles – To Others

At the moment, there are a number of court cases dealing with the conflict between “religious freedom” and statutory law. The core issue in many of them is whether various corporations or organizations should be required under law to provide medical services, primarily those involving contraception and abortion, to employees when those services are against the deeply held beliefs of the corporate/organization owners.

As I see it, there are three fundamental problems with the assertion that withholding such services from health care plans is an exercise of religious freedom, and that compelling the provision of those services is a violation of that freedom.  The first problem is the definition of “freedom of religion.”  The provision of coverage to pay for such services neither obligates the provider to endorse that service nor to require anyone to use it.  Employees are free to exercise their “religious” rights either to use or not use those services.  On the other hand, failure to provide such services requires employees who wish or need those services to pay for them or do without.  Therefore, allowing an exemption to such employers is effectively allowing the employing organization to impose its beliefs on all employees… and imposes an additional burden on the employees if they wish not to follow those beliefs.  This part of the issue has been raised and will doubtless be decided by the courts in some fashion or another, sooner or later.

The second aspect of the problem, however, doesn’t seem to have received much attention, and that’s the full scope of the economic discrimination the exercise of such “religious freedom” can have.  If Corporation A does not provide certain medical services, for whatever reason, the likelihood is that its healthcare costs will be lower than those of Corporation B, which does. In addition, the costs of those services, when used, must be absorbed by the employees of Corporation A.  Thus, Corporation A gains a competitive advantage while its employees are at a disadvantage. Given the fact that jobs remain hard to get, it’s also unlikely that many, if any, of the employees from Corporation A will depart over the additional costs they will incur.  Thus, the exercise of “religious freedom” also results in corporate economic gain while reducing the available income to employees who need the uncovered medical services.

The third aspect of the problem is that, at least in the United States, we don’t allow religious laws or practices to supersede basic laws.  You can’t break speed limits under the cloak of “religious freedom.”  Nor can you pay employees below the minimum wage on the basis of their religion or the lack of it.  You cannot base differentials in pay on religious practices or preferences – and yet, in effect, that is what an exemption from health coverage requirements would allow.

My bottom line is simple.  You have the right to your expression of your religious beliefs, but only so long as what you practice doesn’t harm others or pick their pockets, especially under the guise of religious freedom.  Whether what the courts will decide, and when, comes close to this position is still an open question.

16 thoughts on “The Cost of Principles – To Others”

  1. R. Hamilton says:

    I see one fundamental problem with the assertion that providing anything other than a salary is the responsibility of an employer: they can just fire everyone and make them all independent contractors anyway, except for a handful of executives, which in a large business are wealthy enough to self-insure, and in a small one have to eat the costs of keeping the business afloat, whatever it takes, even if that means they take a very modest salary and no benefits.

    It’s the individual’s responsibility to ensure their needs are met; not the government’s, not the employer’s, not any other sucker onto which left-wing imbeciles are willing to surrender responsibility in exchange for lost freedom.

    Reasonably healthy people only need a medical savings account and catastrophic coverage. Insurance resembles gambling in one aspect: you’re betting against house odds. Of course, not having any is dangerous; but having too much is as unreasonable as expecting to make a serious profit at the lottery or a casino. Sensible behavior is for each person to evaluate their needs and choose (or construct) a strategy that best fits them.

    The only thing the market needs is encouragement for non-employer-based group plans and portability (given continuous coverage, or a period of limited coverage following a lapse).

    Those that could afford insurance but are too incompetent to budget for it should be refused service and left to die. Those who cannot afford anything should either be left to private charity, of if one insists on a government solution, should be subsidized without interfering with coverage for those that are able afford it.

    Employers are _not_ social service agencies, and the push to treat them that way is insane. Reduce their costs, and they’ll hire more people; keep adding to their costs, and watch as many jobs as possible go overseas or part-time; it’s happening already with the outrageous Obamacare requirements, and will get worse every time employers are made the scapegoat for excessive and unsustainable social services.

    As for religious freedom, how can an employee even get a plan that has no elements in it that they object to? And what business does insurance have covering contraception, which is not a medical condition per se? If someone can’t afford the pill, they shouldn’t engage in the activity – it’s NOT the cheapest form of entertainment given the various risks! Abortion is a necessary medical procedure if and only if it’s needed to save a woman’s life or prevent grave risk to her health; otherwise, it is at best an elective procedure that insurance should not cover (any more than they would cover non-reconstructive plastic surgery), and at worst, murder.

  2. Kristina says:

    “Those that could afford insurance but are too incompetent to budget for it should be refused service and left to die.” What an extraordinary statement! There are lots of options other than simply letting someone die because they have no insurance when they could afford it. First, people who have no insurance can pay for their medical care. That may become difficult, but there are numerous ways such people could deal with unexpected costs without just dying. It would very likely leave them in worse financial position then they were before, possibly broke, but that is what happens when people are not prepared when they could afford it. Perhaps they could persuade friends or family to cover costs through fundraising, which is another possibility. Thus there are other options than simply death for people without insurance.

  3. Kristina says:

    Dear Mr. Modesitt,

    Your post eloquently conveys the current thought about religious freedom, which is that people can be as religious as they want in private, but in public they cannot exercise their religious freedom. The constitution protects the free exercise of religion, which means that even if that faith affects other people, it can be exercised. For employers who believe that elective abortion is wrong, to require them to pay for the abortion of one of their employees, would be wrong too. If that employee wishes to get an abortion, that person is free to do so in some other way, other than their health insurance. That may be inconvenient for the employee, but inconvenience should not trump religious freedom.

    Mr. Modesitt, you say “You have the right to your expression of your religious beliefs, but only so long as what you practice doesn’t harm others or pick their pockets, especially under the guise of religious freedom.”
    Simple economics should not trump religious freedom in my opinion. And the practice of abortion does cause harm to others–at minimum to the fetus in question, more generally to society by contributing to a certain callousness towards human life that is seen more and more today.

    I agree that if the practice of religion harms someone it should not be allowed.

  4. Your “solution” still allows your “religious freedom” to make others pay on the basis of belief. It also doesn’t address the use of “religious freedom” to gain economic advantage and to selectively disadvantage others… and those are not just “inconvenience.”

    1. Kristina says:

      Dear Mr. Modesitt,

      Thank-you for your reply. There are two issues here. First, should the government require companies to provide health coverage that covers elective abortion? Second, should religious people be exempted from that requirement? If abortions have been available up until now when they were not covered by insurance, why should the government force any company to cover elective abortions? I have already addressed why I believe that religious companies should have an exemption from any such requirement by the government. But why should any company be forced to pay for this extra benefit? As you say, this puts such companies at a disadvantage to any company that claims a religious exemption. This however, is not the fault of the company that claims the exemption, but the economic inequity is caused by the new requirement by the government. If the government did not require elective abortions no such inequity would exist. And if a company wished to provide coverage for abortions because of their beliefs, they would be free to do so. In that situation, if this proves to be an economic disadvantage, that would be because of their own choice, not because of a government regulation, and not because of someone else’s religious beliefs.

  5. You’re free to believe as you wish, but the point remains that under the current laws and regulations, religious exemptions create inequalities. You’re arguing from an “ideal” or “clean slate” condition, which is not the case.

    1. rob tavares says:

      I’m at work and might not be as eloquent as otherwise possible. That said, I wonder how this argument would progress if you used the terms belief system or even cultural ideologies. How would you then interpret the United States stance on finances vs various cultures. As a white guy, my education in the United States costs me more than certain ethnic groups. I have several Senecan Indian friends that have never paid a dime for their doctorates. I have several black friends that have paid half the price for same education I received. Don’t get me wrong, due to peer-groups and social connections, whites also have a financial boost in several areas that are less directly visible or calculable.

      Do you remember Mr. Modesitt, a few years ago the professor that was working at an Orthodox Jewish Private school & sued the school because the insurance wouldn’t pay for the sex-change operations? My question is less about why the insurance wouldn’t pay, but rather why would someone with a life-view as directly opposed to the mission statement of a institution like that want to work there?

      You say just because workers “tend” to not relocate away from those insurance plans that don’t cover needed procedures ALL employers should cover everything. This is a point of strict opinion and not up to your usual thoroughly thought out points (of which I respect and enjoy reading) and in my opinion worth examining on your part.

      Abortion: I’m an operating room nurse. I have delivered dozens of infants into this world, some deceased. I have helped with dozens of suction D&C’s, some early second trimester. I will never, ever assist or be involved in a voluntary procedure that kills an infant, ever. The fact I work at an institution where my efforts go to fund said procedures causes me to have culpability in those procedures and I /believe/ I will have to answer for that due to my decision to not relocate. See, some of us relocate TOWARDS similar views in the workplace/employment. But you’re telling us that because others aren’t willing to do the reverse, WE have to take the hit.

      I don’t know boss, I think you’ve to a one-sided view here. A simple “believe what you want but shut it” view.

      Break over 🙂 (BTW, I love reading your posts Mr. Modesitt)

      1. You’re in a profession with far greater mobility than most. I have a wide range of acquaintances, many of whom have often only had a single choice of a job at any one time in the field in which they work. So… the cost is either to stay or relocate at a huge income loss. Personally, in my first thirty years of employment I never had a choice of jobs… there was just one that would even come close to paying the bills, and there were periods with no job. That just might color my views a bit.

  6. Plovdiv says:

    You are also arguing from the point of view of someone who seems to believe that religion should be joined to business, and therefore politics. I strongly disagree with this, and I am a Christian myself. What right does anyone have to say what someone else can and cannot do because of their religion? If someone runs a business, and withholds health insurance on the grounds that people may use it to have an abortion, just because it disagrees with their religion, then that strikes me as being religiously oppressive, and does not protect freedom of any kind. I feel strongly that business and politics should be divorced entirely from religion, as the problems that arise are dangerous to contemplate. Ever heard of Iran? Fancy living under a government which is completely religion based by its very nature, and therefore punishes anyone, anyone who disagrees in the slightest possible way with it religious vision? I didn’t think so. I think that this kind of situation is always possible when the state and religion become too closely intertwined.

  7. Common Sense says:

    A right to kill would be rejected as a privilege awarded to people not carrying out official duties of the state. And even in this scenario the privilege is heavily regulated.

    It is regulated because an individual is not the property of another individual. The people who are against abortion must prove that a women shares her body with another human, that her body is not hers alone when she becomes pregnant. The law agrees with this in part, after a certain period a fetus cannot be aborted.

    While these are serious questions, one could equaly state that the father’s body is no longer his own and is instead entirely responsible for the safety of the mother and child. This as far as I know has not been put into law or proposed.

    One can equally argue that religious persons who feel certain practices should be supported have to by law pay additional taxes in order to support such practices. That is is their moral duty to give all their money in order to support programs that work towards eliminating those practices that are against their faiths ethics.

    Freedom for oneself and slavery for another is not morals, its hypocrisy born out of a desire to not be personally responsible before whatever deity that one professes to follow. On logic alone such people are going to hell for their hearts are full ego not righteousness.

    Do not believe that others can be bound to do the good that you are to busy to do. This is tyranny, nothing more.

  8. Steve says:

    The founding of our country dictated a separation of church and state. If national law states that employers must provide health care with certain benefits, then until the religious institutions can have the law overturned or changed they must provide what the law dictates. When the needs of the few outweigh the needs of the many, you no longer have a democracy. If the religious beliefs start to trump government law we’ll be living in theocracy where states are splintered by their religious views to the point of civil war. I for one do not look forward to a Jihad or civil war on US soil!

  9. Daze says:

    An example of economic mayhem in the name of religion: somewhere near Australia’s capital was a gardening business run by a small religious group. It was almost entirely staffed by ‘tithing’ volunteers doing their bit for the church. It consequently charged far less for its services than its competitors – and indeed, most of its local competitors went out of business.

    A much bigger one: Sanitarium is one of the biggest manufacturers of breakfast cereals (and peanut butter) in Australia. As an arm of the Seventh Day Adventist Church, it doesn’t pay tax on its profits. While it’s difficult to ever be sympathetic to Kellogg, it is reasonable for them to argue (as they do) that this is an unfair competitive advantage for Sanitarium.

  10. Kristina says:

    Dear Mr. Modesitt,

    Thank-you for taking the time to respond to the points I have raised. Your comments have caused me to think, which is always a good thing. If I understand what you are saying, the new health care law is here, and religious exemptions create an inequitable result that puts non-religious companies to a disadvantage. My suggestion is only that the law may be the problem in that case. As you point out, the Supreme Court will doubtless decide the question of religious exemptions to this law and others.

  11. Lee Modesitt III says:

    Keep in mind how employer-provided health care came about in the US: because the government restricted wage competition during World War II (yes, that’s right, we haven’t really had a free market for generations). Employers responded by offering non-wage benefits including health care.

    Now, we find ourselves mandating employer-provided health care coverage. It isn’t so surprising that some employers, under whatever pretext, are seeking to limit the cost of that coverage.

    The court cases will be interesting; it will be even more interesting to see the labor market response. It’s not surprising to me that one of the largest companies to complain is a large retailer (Hobby Lobby) as that’s an industry with low competition for labor (which is largely unskilled and low wage).

    We probably won’t see many companies in the knowledge economy successfully challenging mandated benefits, at least so long as the benefits challenged are meaningful.

    For example, if the cost of the benefit is meaningful, then skilled labor will eschew employment with companies that don’t offer that benefit. Conversely, if, as some folks have argued, the benefit is low-cost and widely available, then there’s fairly little direct risk in a company not offering it.

    Contraception is a fascinating example, since coverage is not just a benefit to the wage-earner, but an enormous cost benefit to the employer, since it reduces the cost of pregnancy, childbirth etc… Kind of makes me think that the religious organizations who oppose that specific mandate are honest about their motivation.

  12. Ed Biggins says:

    #1 The employees are free to leave the employer unless they’re under contract, and in that case, presumably a contract employee has some say in the terms of said contract.
    #2 Consumers can boycott or refuse to purchase any company’s products or services. (I don’t shop at WalMart)
    #3 I’m against murdering children, especially for reasons such of expedience or economics. When I mention this to someone who is “pro-choice” they invariably throw 2 talking points back at me: 1) What if the mother’s life is at risk? 2) What if it’s rape or incest? In the first case the mother should obviously make that choice. The second case, sadly, is less clear, but again, for the sake of the other tens of millions of aborted souls every year, the mother again should decide. I’m grateful that my parents didn’t believe in abortion. I’m also somewhat astonished that people worry about things like nuclear waste and global warming but not about 20+ million aborted babies every year.

  13. Rob says:

    Ed so by saying that it’s the mothers decision you are saying you are pro-choice!
    Not sure if the subject of the hearings is abortion, all I’ve heard mentioned is birth control.
    Which WHO CARES? If you are so hung up on your religion that you don’t want the person next to you to get birth control from their Dr, what kind of controlling SOB are you? If it’s against your religion fine don’t use it, but don’t tell me I can’t.
    If you can prove to the insurance company you are on birth control or you have had a vasectomy or hysterectomy then they should give you a discount!

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