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Topic of the day: Religious business owners and the birth control mandate

Published: Monday, Aug. 12 2013 3:45 p.m. MDT

While the Affordable Care Act’s employer mandate — requiring all companies hiring more than 50 employees to offer health care — won’t take effect until 2015, the debate over businesses with potential religious objections to health care funding for things such as birth control continues.

The USA Today published an op-ed by Mark Rienzi on Sunday which argued in favor of exempting religious business owners from having to fund something against their religious views, saying that the mandate would make companies leave their moral compasses at the door. “Can you make money and be religious? The Obama administration and a few courts have said no — at least in the context of forcing business owners to violate their religion by purchasing abortion-inducing drugs for their employees. Thankfully, most courts have rejected this view, leaving individuals and their businesses free to go to work without checking their conscience at the door.”

Rienzi argues that the U.S. has, in effect, come up against this situation before and ruled in favor of the businesses. “We regularly encounter businesses making decisions of conscience. Chipotle recently decided not to sponsor a Boy Scout event because the company disagreed with the Scouts' policy on openly gay scoutmasters. It was ‘the right thing to do,’ Chipotle said.” Starbucks buys their beans ethically, some clothing stores won’t buy from sweatshops, vegans don’t sell meat, all decisions made because of personally held beliefs, which Rienzi believes is essentially what the argument over the mandate is about.

The USA Today editorial board takes the counter view. “Over the years, plaintiffs have demanded religious exemptions from laws on racial equality, the military draft, paying taxes, child neglect, drug use, animal cruelty and more. The Supreme Court has repeatedly said no, drawing a line between laws that explicitly target or place a substantial burden on a religion and those that impose broad, secular requirements on society that people might find religiously objectionable."

Like Rienzi, the editorial board brings up past decisions to make its case. From not exempting Native American ceremoines from an Oregon state ban on peyote to, “a case that tested whether Amish business owners could claim an exemption from Social Security taxes, the court noted that the plaintiffs had freely chosen to run a secular business and could not claim exemptions unavailable to other businesses. Further, granting an exemption would ‘impose the employer's religious faith on the employees,’ the court said.”

While it is an awkward position for business owners to be in, the editorial board argues that it is the best of the options available. “The circumstance might be discomforting. But the alternative — granting religious exemptions to private organizations — is more troubling. It would be open to abuse, putting the government in the position of determining which business owners were sufficiently religious … That is an outcome neither side should want.”

Freeman Stevenson is a Snow College grad and is the writes for the DeseretNews.com opinion section. Reach him at fstevenson@deseretdigital or @freemandesnews

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