Freedom by exemption only

Today the Obama administration revised its mandate that all health insurance coverage include contraceptives free of charge and added an exemption for non-profit religious organizations. The exception was made after dozens of churches, companies, hospitals, and religious organizations sued the federal government claiming religious objections to providing services that they believe violate their conscience. One of those lawsuits, filed on behalf of Hobby Lobby, a crafting good retail store owned by Christians, was already dismissed by a federal court. This left only the Catholic church and other explicitly religious organizations fighting the mandate. That may be why the Department of Health & Human Services thought it should offer an exemption for those type of organizations. But are they the only ones who deserve an exemption?

Religious exemptions are issued on the premise that we as citizens of a constitutional republic have the freedom of conscience not to be compelled to do things that are against our beliefs. The problem is that all people have that right, not just specifically religiously-organized groups. By exempting only religious organizations, and even more egregiously only non-profit ones, the government is enforcing the idea that it determines who has freedom of religion and conscience. Why is a non-profit religious organization more entitled to freedom of religion than a for-profit organization run by religious people? If Hobby Lobby reorganized itself as a non-profit, why would that give it more freedom than it has currently?

Of course this is not the first time exemptions from the recent health insurance reform have had to be made. Nearly 2000 businesses, unions, and other organizations were exempted from complying with early implementation of parts of the law in 2011. There’s no telling what that number is up to by now.

If we are to be a free and equal society, the idea of waivers or exemptions from complying with the law should be abhorrent. Further limiting those special deals to only certain types of religiously-affiliated organizations is even more outrageous.

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