As a manager, I generally tried to keep religion out of the workplace. But in recent years I have consulted with religious employers about health care issues. With religious institutions it is impossible to keep religion out of the workplace – that is their mission and reason for being.
In the summer of 2011 I had clients – institutions associated with the Catholic Church – that had to decide whether to change their employee health care plans for cost-saving reasons or to keep the plans unchanged to stay within the “grandfathering” provisions of the Affordable Care Act (ACA). In order to control costs for themselves and their employees, these religious organizations decided to abandon any intent of remaining grandfathered. If my clients had not made these changes, they would have faced double digit premium increases – which would have hit both their employees and the religious institutions themselves, limiting the social services they could provide to their members and to the public.
I told these institutions at the time that it was possible that the HHS regulations under the ACA might mandate birth control and other health care expenses contrary to their beliefs, and they would have to adopt these provisions or stop providing health care as an employee benefit. Now, HHS and the Obama Administration have done exactly that in the regulations on mandated preventative health services for women.
HHS has mandated that non-grandfathered plans cover all FDA-approved contraceptive methods – including abortificants – and sterilization. Not only must these services and drugs be covered, but they must be “free” to plan participants. Although there is a religious exemption, it is exceedingly narrow, limiting the definition of a religious employer to non-profit insitutions that
- inculcate religious values,
- primarily employ persons who share its religious tenets, and
- primarily serve persons who share its religious tenets
Thus, my clients, who serve not only members of their own religion, but also members of other religions and even the non-religious, must violate their own tenets or stop providing health care to their employees and face fines under the ACA that would cause them to have to cease providing the social services that they see as part of their mission.
Requiring religious employers to cover health care expenses that go against their religious beliefs is morally wrong and legally untenable. Both conservative and liberal commentators have expressed their outrage at the HHS position.
On the PBS NewsHour on February 3, 2012, Mark Shields said:
what President Obama has done with this policy, and Secretary Sebelius, quite bluntly, is they have taken those Catholics who took a risk to support them, . . . and he has left them out to dry. I mean, he really has, with — in just a policy that I think is, quite frankly, indefensible.
David Brooks then added:
“When you have the government saying one size fits all, sort of a form of bureaucratic greed, you are going to do it our way, or not, well, then that insults a lot of people.”
The problem with mandates of any type is that they do not enable the diversity of beliefs and practices in our society. Any government-mandated benefits risk that problem, and come across as paternalistic and elitist. And now, unconstitutional. It would be better to permit the market to develop a variety of health care plans that address the needs of various segments of our society.
The First Amendment of the Constitution provides in part “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.” This is one of the founding principles of our nation.
Yet the Obama Administration has now said that Catholic and other religious institutions must either offer health care products and services to employees that violate their beliefs or violate the law and pay prohibitive fines. Or close their doors. How can this not be interpreted as prohibiting the free exercise of religion?
And it comes perilously close to establishing the “Church of Obama,” as he permits no meaningful deviation from his regulations to those who believe differently than he does.
Regardless what you think about Obamacare generally or about birth control and abortion, do you think religious institutions should be forced to pay for benefits that are contrary to their beliefs?