Helen Aguirre Ferre

Contraceptives and Obamacare: religious freedom in peril

Does an individual’s right to religious freedom also apply to the companies that individuals own and manage?

That is the key issue behind two Supreme Court cases that challenge the Obama administration’s healthcare mandate requiring employers to pay for all 20 Food and Drug Administration approved forms of contraception, including what is popularly referred to as the “morning-after pill.”

The owners of two companies — Hobby Lobby, Inc., a craft and hobby store, and the wood cabinetmaker Conestoga Wood Specialty Corporation — object to having to pay for four types of contraception because it violates their religious beliefs. By refusing to pay for the full birth-control package mandated under the Affordable Care Act (ACA), Hobby Lobby is fined $1.3 million a day until it complies.

For the owners of Hobby Lobby, paying in full for their employees’ contraception is not an issue, they do that. The problem lies in the definition of contraception, which for them must not include pills that may cause an early abortion.

Many Christian families believe that life begins at conception and anything, be it the “morning-after pill” or an intrauterine device impeding the development of a fertilized egg, ends life. Paying for that would be akin to an abortion.

Those who hold a different view of contraception may think that these folks are out of touch with reality, but in the case of the Green family, that simply is not true. They are the real deal.

David Green started his arts and crafts family business making picture frames on a $600 loan. So successful were they that their small business turned into Hobby Lobby, Inc., which today has over 500 stores and employs 13,000 people, mostly women. The Greens through Hobby Lobby pay well above minimum wage at $13 to $14 an hour and generate over $1 billion in annual sales revenue — even during the Great Recession. In a bad economy they provide good jobs and are good corporate citizens.

The Greens, like many people of faith, do not leave their religion in church on Sundays; rather, they live their faith every day, including in the work place. They aren’t denying a woman’s right to contraception or drugs that may end a pregnancy, but they refuse to pay for them because doing so would make them an accomplice to an abortion.

The Green family knows they can be Evangelical Christians; they just can’t act like them under ACA.

It is not hard to see why conservative Christian families feel accosted by this administration, which has granted corporate exemptions to the ACA for political reasons but does not grant the same courtesy to those who have religious conflicts with the law. It is true that churches are exempt from this mandate, but not religious schools or hospitals. Perhaps this administration just does not understand what it means to be religiously faithful.

At the end of the day, the U.S. Supreme Court will decide if the religious freedom the Greens enjoy as a family can transcend into the for-profit company they own and manage.

Conservatives are relying on the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, a law enacted 20 years ago that says government may not burden a person’s exercise of religion without proof of a compelling interest to do so. Perhaps the most telling decision is the controversial 2010 Supreme Court case of Citizens United, which found corporations, like individuals, share the same right to make political contributions as a form of freedom of expression.

Following that logic, if a corporation can enjoy political expression it may also have religious expression as well.

Our Founding Fathers had it right, government and religion should best be kept apart. Thomas Jefferson, in “The Virginia Act for Establishing State Freedom,” did not mince words when he wrote “that to compel a man to furnish contributions of money for the propagation of opinions which he disbelieves, is sinful and tyrannical.”

Amen.

Regardless of how one feels about any religion or abortion, let’s put an end to divisive politics and respectfully agree to disagree. The time has come to create a political and civil space for all to sit at the national table for a thoughtful conversation and debate. It is long overdue for we are weary of the discord.

Forget the website woes, for ACA to truly work it has to recognize and respect religious freedom. If nothing else, it might help restore faith in our government, something we need badly.

Helen Aguirre Ferré moderates the public affairs show Issues on WPBT2 in South Florida and has a national radio show of political analysis on Univision America Network.

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