The Supreme Court just tussled with the concept of religious liberty and the right for women to have contraceptive.
Contraceptives have been mandated as part of employee medical insurance, as provided by employers under the Affordable Care Act. For-profit companies have already been told that they cannot exempt themselves out of the Affordable Care Act due to religious objections. However, a provision was provided for non-profit organizations, who, if they provided a religious objection, would be exempt from actually paying for the contraception. Instead, insurers would provide the contraception.
Recently, a Catholic organization known as the Little Sisters of the Poor stated that they could not sign the form asking for a religious exemption, because they indirectly would be authorizing insurers to provide contraception. The Supreme Court issued an order that would have the Little Sisters not authorizing insurers or providing contraception to their employees1.
Arguably, along with the individual mandate, the mandate for contraception is one of the most controversial aspects of the Affordable Care Act. Surprisingly, the issue is not the actual provision of birth control– a CBS/NYT poll in 2012 revealed that a solid majority of Americans (66%) support contraception being part of private coverage. However, the CBS/NYT poll did not include any language about religious organizations. In a separate poll, taken a month after the CBS/NYT poll, a Washington Post-ABC News poll revealed that a similarly-worded question revealed different results once the pollster asked about possible religious objections. Eleven percent of those polled changed their opinions, from initially supporting the contraceptive mandate to being against it in the case of those with religious objections2.
Clearly, this debate is a continuation of an age-old debate in the United States—we were promised freedom of religion in the Bill of Rights, but freedom of religion itself is no simple term. Not only are we free to practice whichever faith we want, but we should be able to do so with few to no limits from the government. Additionally, the government should not show preference to any one religion—it should be practically secular.
Recently, Americans (in my opinion) seem to value one facet of religious freedom, that is, the freedom to practice faith with few to no limits from the government. In this case, the Little Sisters’ freedom of religion clashes directly with the rights of its employees who may or may not be practicing Catholics—the argument that their religious freedom is being violated is worrisome. Polls indicate that contraception is popular enough among Americans, so much so that a majority believe that contraception should be part of private insurance. The change of mind once religion is brought up indicates that a significant portion of Americans believe that people’s right to religion is enough to outweigh people’s (sometimes optional, sometimes not) medical needs.
As numerous professors have told me, the government is the only institution that can kill you legally. The government takes your tax money and informs you that this is absolutely necessary—you have no real influence over where the money goes.
Men at the age of 18 must be entered into the Selective National Service, in case the United States ever needs to go to war again.
While I am not saying that the religious freedom of these individuals is not important (it is, in every way, and that is why there is a provision for them to exempt from actually paying for the contraception), the possibility that women will be denied what many Americans now consider a right would be a significant setback for the health of American women and the tension between religion and the material world.