Birth control and the Bill of Rights

If religious liberties do not include all religions, then our rhetoric becomes the height of hypocrisy.

By Miguel De La Torre

Is requiring corporations to cover birth control medication an attack on religious liberty? Or is claiming the protection of religious liberty an excuse to force one’s religious convictions on others? Should religious affiliated organizations — hospitals, schools or charities — who believe the usage of contraceptives is a sin be forced to provide them via their insurance coverage?

The opposition to contraceptives by religious organizations can be noted by the actions of numerous religious groups and private corporations, including Hobby Lobby, that have filed lawsuits in federal courts claiming that the inclusion of contraceptives in basic health care coverage violates their religious freedoms.

A study by the American Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology discovered that besides abortion restrictions, the most frequent issues associated with religiously affiliated hospitals revolve around the lack of birth control and sterilization for women seeking it after giving birth.

This raises some interesting questions. Are these religious hospitals imposing their faith upon women’s bodies or simply being faithful to their convictions? Can a pharmacy refuse to fill contraceptive medication because the pharmacist’s personal convictions consider its usage to be a sin? 

Hobby Lobby founder David Green, who pays his employees almost twice the minimum wage, forsakes profits on the Sabbath and provides comprehensive health insurance, has no objection to covering contraception. But he considers the “morning-after pill” to be an abortion-inducing procedure.

Green, who considers himself a conscientious Christian capitalist, believes that the morning-after pill is irreconcilable with the Christian principles upon which he operates his company.

But can a corporation have a soul? If the Supreme Court ruled in the Citizens United case that corporations are protected by the First Amendment’s freedom-of-speech clause, does it follow that the First Amendment’s freedom-of-religion clause also protects the corporation’s conscience? After all, the First Amendment allows churches and religious organizations to preach and speak against the usage of contraceptives, declaring it to be a sin.

Still, in a 1990 decision, Justice Scalia wrote that to make “the professed doctrines of religious beliefs superior to the law of the land [would allow] every citizen to become a law unto himself. Government [w]ould exist only in name under such circumstances.”

When the Obama administration declined to renew the contract with the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops to aid victims of human sex trafficking, the administration was charged with being anti-Catholic.

The contract, however, was not renewed because the bishops required their subcontractors not to use federal monies to pay for contraceptives and abortion referrals and services, thus failing to meet the needs of those who were sexually abused. (The Hyde Amendment bars the use of federal money for abortions except in the case of rape, incest or when the life of the woman is endangered.)

Furthermore, according to federal district court Judge Richard Stearns, the bishops’ requirements violate the First Amendment by imposing religion-based restrictions on the use of taxpayer dollars.

I wonder what would happen if an evangelical born-again Christian were to work for a vegan like me. Do I have a right to impose upon carnivores my religious belief that killing animals is immoral?

Science has shown us that heart disease and cancer is traceable to our meat-based diet. Hence, as an employer, why should I be forced to pay higher premiums for the damage others are doing to their bodies because they don’t accept the same moral principle concerning animal welfare that I hold?

Or what if I belonged to a religious order, like the Shakers, that rejected sex and marriage? Can I object to providing health benefits to the spouses of my employees?

Or what if I’m a Muslim? Should my employees be forced to conduct themselves along Sharia law? Must all women working for me wear the hijab?

When my ability as a Christian — and specifically as a conservative Christian — to impose my religious beliefs on others is curtailed, then I believe the government has declared war on my faith. But does religious liberty only apply to my religion?

When was the last time you defended the religious liberties of a Hindu, a Jew or an atheist? How many Christians stood shoulder-to-shoulder with Muslims who wanted to practice their constitutional rights to build a mosque and worship Allah freely in their neighborhood? If religious liberties do not include all religions, then our rhetoric becomes the height of hypocrisy.

Yes, the right to practice one’s faith, or lack thereof, as one’s conscience dictates is paramount. If you believe using contraceptives is a sin, then I will defend your right not to use them. With the same vigor I will defend the rights of other to obtain contraceptives if they want or need them.

Living in a pluralistic society — rather than a theocracy — means our religious beliefs can never be imposed on the whole. Freedom can never be limited to just my tribe.

OPINION: Views expressed in Baptist News Global columns and commentaries are solely those of the authors.