(MintPress) – In 1944, during a State of the Union address atypically given from the Oval Office, President Franklin D. Roosevelt shared his vision for the future. During a filmed portion of his radio address, the president called for a second Bill of Rights, which would call for “the establishment of an American standard of living higher than ever before known. We cannot be content, no matter how high that general standard of living may be, if some fraction of our people — whether it be one-third or one-fifth or one-tenth — is ill-fed, ill-clothed, ill-housed, and insecure.” The president called for a “useful, remunerative job,” “enough food, clothing, and recreation,” “a decent home,” adequate medical care, a good education and “protection from economic fears” for every American man and woman.
Upon his death, this speech was “lost.” From the end of the Roosevelt administration until the speech was uncovered by Michael Moore in 2008, Roosevelt’s great vision was unknown and unrealized. In other parts of the world — where Roosevelt’s staffers went to help rebuild the war-torn economies and governments, Roosevelt’s ideology became part of a socialistic security network now seen as the bare minimum humanistically that should be expected.
But, in these ideas’ place of birth, human concerns must share the stage with economic ones.
On March 23, 2010, President Barack Obama signed into effect the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (Public Law 111-148), and on March 30, 2010, the president signed into effect the Health Care and Education Reconciliation Act of 2010 (Public Law 111-152, 124 Stat. 1029). Taken together colloquially as “Obamacare,” these two acts represent the single most extensive advancement in national health care since the introduction of Medicare/Medicaid in 1965.
The acts established as law prohibitions against discrimination against pre-existing medical conditions for insurance, assess a penalty on individuals who choose not to have health insurance, ban spending caps for health insurers, expand Medicaid eligibility, establish health insurance exchanges and subsidize the insurance premium for of otherwise uncovered individuals in households with income up to 400 percent of the poverty limit. The acts also penalize employers that have more than 50 employees which do not offer health insurance benefits at a rate of $2,000 per full-time employee (with an exemption of the first 20 employees), make health care insurance providers subject to antitrust laws, ban different rates based on gender or previous medical histories and call for a reduction in Medicare spending by $400 billion over a 10-year period.
Many conservatives found the requirements to have insurance and for larger businesses to pay for it unpalatable. In 2012, the Supreme Court ruled on National Federation of Independent Business v. Sebelius — in which three separate challenges to the acts were merged into one lawsuit — that, while the federal government inappropriately used the Constitution’s Commerce and “Necessary and Proper” Clauses, the individual mandate — in which all individuals must have health insurance or pay a penalty — is within the federal government’s taxing power (although, it did reject the expansion of Medicaid).
Since the issuance of this ruling, many private employers have taken issues with particular provisions of the law, particularly the mandates to cover the cost of contraceptives. In the wording of the acts, the administration made an exception for religious organizations to not be forced to offer contraception to their employees in contradiction to their teachings, but this exemption did not extend to affiliated nonprofit organizations. The Blunt Amendment, which would have allowed employers to refuse to include contraception in their employee-offered health care coverage on moral or religious objection, failed to pass the Senate 51-48.
Despite some feeling that these acts meet the core religious obligation to heal the sick, many in the religious community — primarily the Catholic Church — have taken offense. The evangelical-founded legal advocacy group the Alliance Defense Fund said in a statement, “Obamacare treats American citizens like subjects … [it] holds your health care hostage and offers no real choice. Either comply and abandon your religious freedom and conscience, or resist and be fined for your faith.”
Since the implementation of the acts, Catholic Charities has sought to sue the federal government over forcing the distribution of contraceptives to its employees. The Catholic Church has taught against the use of contraceptives, and considers them a violation of church doctrine.
Recently, Hobby Lobby Stores announced its intention to allow the government to fine them in non-adherence of the contraceptive mandate. In a report by CNN, by Jan. 11, Hobby Lobby would have collected $14.3 million in Internal Revenue Service’s (IRS) fines for violations to the health care acts. For each day the company chooses not to adhere to the Affordable Care Act, it will be assessed $1.3 million. Hobby Lobby intends to shift the start date of its health insurance’s plan year, thereby delaying the date that the company has to be in compliance with the health care acts and avoiding the fines.
In a statement released by Hobby Lobby, the company states that “Hobby Lobby does not provide coverage for abortion-inducing drugs in its health care plan. Hobby Lobby will continue to vigorously defend its religious liberty and oppose the mandate and any penalties.”
In September, Hobby Lobby and affiliate company Mardel — a Christian bookstore chain — sued the federal government for violating the companies owners’ religious freedom and ability to freely exercise their religion. Oklahoma-based Hobby Lobby has more than 500 stores that employ 13,000 employees in 42 states. It is privately owned by founder David Green and his family.
On its website, Hobby Lobby claims that “The foundation of our business has been, and will continue to be strong values, and honoring the Lord in a manner consistent with biblical principles.” Hobby Lobby asserts that it is a “religious organization” — as worded in the health care legislation — because it was founded on and operates in mind of religious principles and ideologies. This was soundly rejected by the Obama administration.
Before the Supreme Court, in opposition of an emergency application for an injunction against the law filed by Hobby Lobby, the administration stated that: “The company’s pursuits and products are not religious; it operates a chain of retail businesses that sell ‘a variety of art and craft supplies, home décor, and holiday decorations[.]’ … The company was not organized for carrying out a religious purpose; its Articles of Incorporation makes no reference at all to any religious purpose[.] … The company does not claim to be affiliated with a formally religious entity such as a church or that any such entity participates in the management of the company. Nor does the company assert that it employs persons of a particular faith; indeed, quite the opposite[.] … the company ‘welcomes employees of all faiths or no faith[.]’ … In short, there is no escaping the conclusion that Hobby Lobby is a secular company[.]”
Religious freedom in the workplace
Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibits the discrimination of employees on the basis of their religion in hiring, firing and other terms and conditions of employment. This title also offers protections from the coercion of religious beliefs on employees by employers.
In the 1997 White House press release entitled “Guidelines on Religious Exercise and Religious Expression in the Federal Government,” the White House gave the following recommendation to federal agencies’ employees: ”A person holding supervisory authority over an employee may not, explicitly or implicitly, insist that the employee participate in religious activities as a condition of continued employment, promotion, salary increases, preferred job assignments, or any other incidents of employment. Nor may a supervisor insist that an employee refrain from participating in religious activities outside the workplace except pursuant to otherwise legal, neutral restrictions that apply to employees’ off-duty conduct and expression in general.
“Because supervisors have the power to hire, fire, or promote, employees may reasonably perceive their supervisors’ religious expression as coercive, even if it was not intended as such. Therefore, supervisors should be careful to ensure that their statements and actions are such that employees do not perceive any coercion of religious or non-religious behavior (or respond as if such coercion is occurring), and should, where necessary, take appropriate steps to dispel such misperceptions.”
While a private employer is not restricted legally in the same manner that the federal government is held, Title VII explicitly bans the coercion of an employer’s religious belief on an employee. In the case of Hobby Lobby, the owners are claiming undue treatment based on their religious beliefs. However, they are denying legally-mandated benefits to employees who may not have the same objections.
In other words, Hobby Lobby is extending its owners’ religion on to its employees.
Hobby Lobby and other companies claiming violations of religious freedom regularly cite the Religious Freedom Restoration Act of 1993, which prevents the federal government from creating laws that substantially burden a person’s free exercise of religion. Although proven unconstitutional when applied to the states, it is still used in regard to federal legislation.
In October, a Missouri district court rejected the case of a mining company that challenged that the federal birth control mandate violated the employer’s freedom of religion. In the case of Frank R. O’Brien, et al., v. United States Department of Health and Human Services, et al. (Case No. 4: 12-CV-00476-CEJ), Judge Carol E. Jackson wrote, “Plaintiffs allege that the preventive services coverage regulations impose a similar ultimatum, and therefore substantially burden their free exercise of religion ‘by coercing Plaintiffs to choose between conducting their business in accordance with their religious beliefs or paying substantial penalties to the government.’ … However, the challenged regulations do not demand that plaintiffs alter their behavior in a manner that will directly and inevitably prevent plaintiffs from acting in accordance with their religious beliefs.
“Frank O’Brien is not prevented from keeping the Sabbath, from providing a religious upbringing for his children, or from participating in a religious ritual such as communion. Instead, plaintiffs remain free to exercise their religion, by not using contraceptives and by discouraging employees from using contraceptives. The burden of which plaintiffs complain is that funds, which plaintiffs will contribute to a group health plan, might, after a series of independent decisions by health care providers and patients covered by OIH’s plan, subsidize someone else’s participation in an activity that is condemned by plaintiffs’ religion. This Court rejects the proposition that requiring indirect financial support of a practice, from which
plaintiff himself abstains according to his religious principles, constitutes a substantial burden on plaintiff’s religious exercise.”
The judge continues, “RFRA is a shield, not a sword. It protects individuals from substantial burdens on religious exercise that occur when the government coerces action one’s religion forbids, or forbids action one’s religion requires; it is not a means to force one’s religious practices upon others. RFRA does not protect against the slight burden on religious exercise that arises when one’s money circuitously flows to support the conduct of other free-exercise-wielding individuals who hold religious beliefs that differ from one’s own.”
The use of contraception has been protected since Griswold v. Connecticut (1965, 381 U.S. 479), in which the Supreme Court ruled that the use of contraceptives is a private, marital issue and cannot be banned by law.
Contraception has been a touchy issue, both legally and in religious circles. Christian leaders point to Genesis 38 as a prohibition against contraceptives: “8 Then Judah said to Onan, ‘Sleep with your brother’s wife and fulfill your duty to her as a brother-in-law to raise up offspring for your brother.’ 9 But Onan knew that the child would not be his; so whenever he slept with his brother’s wife, he spilled his semen on the ground to keep from providing offspring for his brother. 10 What he did was wicked in the Lord’s sight; so the Lord put him to death also.”
This, however, is thought to be taken as a story on how Tamar risked her life to conceive, and not as a specific prohibition. Most experts in Jewish law believe that contraception, sterilization and abortion were all excluded from ban in the Torah and any other codification of Jewish law. Most theologians currently believe that the opposition to contraception arrives from traditional Christian dogma atoning sex as meant for reproduction only.
Many other businesses have balked at the idea of being forced to extend health care to all full-time workers. Papa John’s CEO John Schnatter publicly ranted that “Obamacare” will force a price raise with the company’s pizzas, which caused the company’s reputation to fall critically. Similar comments from Applebee’s and Denny’s have yielded a decline in patronage for these restaurants.
In response to public outrage over his comments, Schnatter posted on the Huffington Post: “Papa John’s, like most businesses, is still researching what the Affordable Care Act means to our operations. Regardless of the conclusion of our analysis, we will honor this law, as we do all laws, and continue to offer 100% of Papa John’s corporate employees and workers in company-owned stores health insurance as we have since the company was founded in 1984.”