The world is a complicated place to navigate safely. There are many ways the land and sea can play you false with quicksand to take you down and rip tides to carry you away from shore. But people are where the most serious problems begin. Some are naturally friendly and accepting of difference, while others will be hostile if you do not share their beliefs. Over the centuries, religion has always been a force to separate groups into different armed camps. It’s not much better today whether you look at the current strife between Christianity and Islam, or come down to the local level and look at the discrimination based on what people believe. In many ways, the idea of improved health care services should have united everyone but, unfortunately, aspects of the Affordable Care Act have been hijacked by interest groups and disapproval of the parts has been used to blacken the reputation of the whole.
Let’s take the issues of contraception, sterilization and abortion. All three are a sin according to the Catholic Church yet, if a Catholic employer is mandated to offer a health plan to its employees, any insurance including these services would be immoral. According to the Church, you cannot be a good Catholic and offer your employees contraception and sterilization, let alone abortion. In fact, the Catholic employers would be paying for these services. Given the number of schools, hospitals and charitable organization run directly by the Catholic Church, this would be money paid out by the Church itself. But here’s the problem. Not everyone employed by a Catholic organization is a Catholic. In any event, many would argue that it’s for the woman to choose whether she wants access to services affecting her reproductive health, including abortion. It should not be for one group to impose its morality on another. If everyone is free to hold whatever beliefs they wish, it would be wrong of any employer to penalize one group of employees whose conscience permits them to access treatment considered necessary by their doctors.
We then get into a very difficult area. Suppose the employer is a Moslem and believes that the use of all stimulants is immoral. Should that employer be allowed to argue an exemption for the treatment of alcohol or drug addiction. The same might occur if the employer considered homosexuality sinful and so wished to deny treatment if an HIV infection developed. In states which allow termination at will, the employer could theoretically end the employment of anyone disapproved (subject to the laws of discrimination). That the same employer might be obliged to pay for health insurance cover promoting an immoral lifestyle or paying for treatment for the results of an immoral lifestyle is considered offensive by many.
What we believe can make it difficult for us to walk through life without upsetting others. So here’s the question. Neither religious belief nor abstract ideas of morality have the force of law. If we can opt in and out of obeying the law just because we happen to be a member of a group with a particular set of beliefs, this is a recipe for chaos. What treatment is sought under a group health insurance plan should be a matter of conscience for each individual.