Religious vs. Personal Freedom

The Supreme Court made a very interesting decision this week in the Hobby Lobby case.  For those of you who don’t know what that is, let me summarize.  Essentially the case was about a company known as the Hobby Lobby, along with a furniture store, who were petitioning the Supreme Court to be allowed to refuse to pay for insurance coverage on certain contraceptives (birth control) under religious grounds.  The motion just barely passed with five voting for the motion and four voting against.

Ostensibly this ruling is only for “closely-held” corporations, but there is some debate on what that term actually means.  Supposedly it means corporations owned by five people or less, companies that are typically family owned.  I have my own view on the ruling itself, but what interests and concerns me more than the actual ruling is the precedent it sets.  The Hobby Lobby ruling has opened the door for more organizations to petition and protest for more freedom to make policies and rules based on religious grounds, which could be a problem.

The Hobby Lobby case is an example of religious freedom clashing with personal freedom.  It’s actually very similar to the fight over that law in Arizona a few months back, the one where businesses were trying to make it legal for them to refuse service to people based on their sexual orientation (i.e. homosexuals).  What it all comes down to is whether religious freedom trumps personal freedom.

Personally, I don’t believe it does.  The separation of church and state and the freedom of religion clauses within our constitution basically state that religion and the government should never intersect.  But what a lot of religious people seem to ignore is that freedom for religion is also the freedom from religion.  People have the right to be free from any sort of religious motivation or ruling, which is something our country seems to forget all too often these days.  More and more political platforms seem to be made on the “America is a Christian nation” bandwagon, which is an incredibly dangerous and erroneous position.

The founding fathers may have been hypocrites in some ways, but they weren’t stupid.  One of the reasons why they made the decision to split off from Britain was the oppressive religious influence they had over the colonies.  The theocratic nature of it led the founding fathers to establish the freedom of religion clause under the very first amendment.  Because they knew that the one thing you don’t do when splitting off from another country is to establish a country that is exactly like the former one.  They knew the dangers of giving one religion power over all the others, and so they chose to try to avoid that.

That’s why this ruling concerns me so much, because it opens the door for more and bigger corporations down the line to try to swing the system around to favor religious freedom over personal freedom, thus making the religious beliefs and affiliations of the employer that of the employee as well.  This is the exact point that Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg made in her dissent from the ruling, being one of the four who opposed the motion.  It’s not a clear, set in stone deal that this is going to happen, but it definitely begins paving the way and makes it easier to make that argument from now on.

I hear the phrase “family values” thrown around a lot from prominent figures in the religious right, but that’s just a convenient generalization made by the kind of people who believe that you can’t get morality from anywhere except the Bible.  It’s a smokescreen, thrown up to cover the fact that in reality what they’re really asking for is the right to use their personal beliefs to push other people around.  That was the case with the Arizona law, and it seems to be the case now.

As always, I’m not saying that religious freedom is a bad thing.  Religious freedom includes the non-religious, which includes me, so it is an important issue to me.  I might sound like a broken record, but I’ve found that if I don’t say that, some people will tend to take my words as a personal attack on their beliefs, which isn’t true.  The best way to combat that impression is to head it off before it even begins.

Much of the Supreme Court decisions end up with long periods of debate about the interpretations of amendments and the precedents a ruling either way would set.  The Hobby Lobby decision will be an interesting one to follow, as it directly refutes the obligation of smaller companies under the Affordable Care Act to pay for contraceptives for their employees.  As a country, we must be cautious with setting precedents, because the ramifications of such a thing may not be felt for years to come.

Religious freedom and personal freedom both have their place in our lives, but we have to be careful not to let one eclipse the other.  Right now, religious freedom is butting heads with personal freedom.  Lines have to be set somewhere, but there is danger in doing so.  If we set the line too far to one side, there may not be any coming back from it.

That’s all I have for this week.  Absorb next week’s post directly through your fingertips.  Until then, have a great week everybody.

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