Hobby Lobby Masquerades as Religious Institution
For more than a year, the Obama administration has been embroiled in lawsuits over its January 2012 mandate that all institutions except churches and places of worship provide coverage to employees for contraceptive services. Employers were given until August 2013 to comply with the rule, but it quickly became evident that many organizations had no intention of funding birth control measures for their employees. Resistance came primarily from religiously affiliated employers, such as universities and hospitals, who believe the law violates religious freedom.
Freedom of Religion vs. Separation of Church and State
These two important ideals do not necessarily conflict, but figuring out how to maintain the rights of religious organizations and the rights of their individual employees can be tricky. Religious employers feel that paying for contraception is a direct assault on their religious belief that contraception, especially emergency contraception, is immoral. Employees of religious organizations, however, are entitled to the same coverage as everybody else.
On June 28, 2013, the Obama administration announced a compromise, said to be their final word on the matter. Non-profit religious organizations will be exempt from offering free access to birth control. Insurance companies will be made directly responsible for providing this coverage to women who are employed by religious organizations. If a woman employed by one of these organizations — which include prestigious institutions such as Georgetown University — needs contraception, then the insurance company will be responsible for covering the cost.
Institutions such as Georgetown and the Catholic League, as well as women’s rights groups such as the National Women’s Law Center, have come out in support of the updated regulations. They take effect on Jan. 1, 2014.
What Constitutes a Religious Organization?
The new rules affect institutions that meet the IRS definition of religious organizations, which are as follows:
- The organization must be operated exclusively for religious, educational, scientific or charitable purposes.
- Net earnings must not contribute to the benefit of any private individual or shareholder.
- No substantial part of its activity may be attempting to influence legislation.
- The organization must not intervene in political campaigns.
- The organization must not engage in illegal activity or violate fundamental public policy.
One organization that clearly does not meet these criteria is Hobby Lobby. And this is where the debate about contraception heats up.
Hobby Lobby is a for-profit company whose activities have nothing to do with religion. The owners of Hobby Lobby are conservative Christians who oppose the use of certain birth control methods. And they are not alone in their fight to gain exemption from the birth control mandate. A total of 18 for-profit companies have filed lawsuits to this effect (check here for a list of all 18).
Unfortunately for the employees of Hobby Lobby, U.S. District Judge Joe Heaton issued a temporary injunction allowing the chain exemption from the health care law until Oct. 1. At that time, the administration will decide whether or not to appeal the decision. Hobby Lobby employs thousands of people of all faiths at its 556 stores nationwide. That means thousands of people are being denied access to health care based on their employer’s religious beliefs.
What Do You Think?
Access to contraception is essential to women’s health. This is recognized by the Obama administration and honored in the Affordable Care Act. But where should the line be drawn between the religious freedom of employers and the rights of their employees?
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