As many Americans began the process of remedying their New Year’s hangovers yesterday, and others pledged themselves to various and sundry resolutions, or began dismantling Christmas decorations, a fundamental shift in the country’s landscape occurred that went unmarked by people sweeping up confetti or reaching for their aspirin. It is no secret that various laws and provisions of Obamacare went into effect on Tuesday.
One of those is the mandate that certain companies provide coverage for contraception, abortions and abortofacients, regardless of the religious beliefs of the owners. The company in question in this case is Hobby Lobby. Hobby Lobby’s owners rejected the mandate on the basis that they feel life begins at conception, and are thus opposed to abortion.
On Thursday Supreme Court Justice Sonya Sotomayor denied an appeal by Hobby Lobby and the Mardel chain of bookstores for an injunction to stop Health and Human Services from forcing them to pay for abortions in their respective corporate insurance plans, and to spare them a potential fine of 1.3 million dollars per day for not complying. The mandate and the fine went into effect for the companies on New Year’s Day.
Keep in mind Hobby Lobby and Mardel are not keeping people from having abortions. And those who want their health care plans to cover their abortion are free to seek employment or coverage elsewhere. The companies are simply saying that they do not wish to fund abortions because doing so conflicts with their Christian beliefs which have been a cornerstone of these companies’ identities since their inceptions.
The rationale of the Obama Administration is that since the companies are secular, for-profit organizations, they are not entitled to free exercise of religion and are thus unable to opt out of paying for abortions. The administration contends that since the law is applicable to all companies not just those owned by Christians, enforcing it does not constitute the persecution of Christians or the abrogation of the exercise of their faith.
Of the two, the first line of reasoning concerns me the most. In effect the administration is asserting, apparently successfully, that it is the arbiter of what is and is not an exercise of religion. While Justice Sotomayor seems content to uphold this notion, there is nothing new under the sun, and this government is not the first to regulate religion to suit its policies.