Which principles of conscience should the law make exceptions for?

2012-02-15 (Wednesday) § 8 Comments

At first glance I was sympathetic to the position of the Catholic Church in this recent issue about requiring Catholic employers to include contraception among the benefits covered in health care plans that they subsidize for their employees. But on further thought it seems wrong to me that principles of religious conscience should be respected in this matter in a way that irreligious conscience wouldn’t be.

Furthermore, if there’s to be any force in the idea of government requirements on employers to include certain benefits among those covered in health care plans that they subsidize for their employees, then how can exceptions be made for the employers’ conscientious principles?

It seems to me that there are only the following possible positions to take on this:

  1. Government should be able to place requirements on employers to include certain benefits among those covered in health care plans that they subsidize for their employees.  No exceptions.  Catholic employers have to cover contraception if they cover anything.  This forces Catholic employers to choose between offering no medical benefits or subsidizing services that they consider immoral.
  2. Government should not be able to place any requirements on employers to include certain benefits among those covered in health care plans that they subsidize for their employees. Catholic employers don’t have to cover contraception.  This could have a lot of dangerous consequences by allowing employers to select what benefits they cover based on interests other than the medical needs of those covered.
  3. Government should be able to place requirements on employers to include certain benefits among those covered in health care plans that they subsidize for their employees.  Exceptions for benefits that violate the conscientious principles of the employers.  Any employer can refuse to cover anything on this basis.  So the requirements have force only insofar as a) the government can show that a given employer really doesn’t have the conscientious principles they say they have (burden of proof on the government), or b) the employer fails to show that they really have to the conscientious principles they say they have (burden of proof on the employer).  It might be pretty hard to come up with any reasonable way of showing either thing.
  4. Government should be able to place requirements on employers to include certain benefits among those covered in health care plans that they subsidize for their employees. Exceptions for benefits that violate the religious principles of the employers, but not for principles outside of religion.  This strikes me as a government endorsement of religion.  It implies that religious moral principles are more important than irreligious ones.  I’m definitely not okay with this on the basis of my own conception of how government should work, and I think it also violates the 1st Amendment as the Supreme Court has so far interpreted it.

Comparing the downsides of each of these, I’m inclined to go with #1.  Maybe #3 if a workable test could be devised.

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