Ray, 12-17-2013

My Word: Hobby Lobby case not a simple one

robert ray(Orlando Sentinel, December 17, 2013)

By Robert J. Ray

When the U.S. Supreme Court decides the case Hobby Lobby v. Sebelius, they’ll need the wisdom of Solomon. Why?

The Affordable Care Act requires large businesses to provide employee health insurance. It’s the law.

Because Hobby Lobby’s owners have religious objections to certain forms of birth control, they contend that they should be exempted from having to bankroll practices they believe are immoral. In a nation committed to freedom of religion, shouldn’t that be their right?

On the other hand …

Hobby Lobby and all of us as individuals are required to pay taxes. And taxes fund the military, which kills people. But there’s no exemption from any taxation requirements for those who don’t want to help bankroll the taking of human life.

No one is forced to personally bear arms in the military. But I repeat, taxpayers aren’t excluded from helping to bankroll the military — despite any moral objections they may have.

Similarly, in the case of the Affordable Care Act, no one is forced to use birth control. But the law says an employer’s insurance must include that option.

Since court decisions set precedents with far-reaching implications, the justices must address both the specific and the big picture. And it’s complicated.

If an evangelical employer is exempted from providing coverage for birth control, what about a Jehovah’s Witness employer who believes that blood transfusions are immoral?

Can an employer whose religion calls for sex only within marriage refuse obstetrics coverage to an unmarried female employee who becomes pregnant?

What about Muslim employers who oppose alcohol consumption? Would they be exempted from covering rehab?

Where would these exemptions stop? Realistically, can a government allow every employer to customize the rules without descending into administrative chaos? Justice Antonin Scalia argued in Oregon v. Smith that one’s religious beliefs don’t negate the need to comply with valid laws.

On the other hand, freedom of religion is a crucial principle that must be defended. But how far?

As I said, it’s complicated.

Robert J. Ray, a risk-management consultant, is a member of the executive committee of the Interfaith Council of Central Florida.