The Supreme Court recently heard arguments in the Hobby Lobby case. The owners of that business were sued because they refused to provide their employees with a health care plan that would pay for procedures they considered immoral. The plaintiffs say the key question is, “Can an employer impose his religious beliefs on employees?”
Wrong. The real issue is, “Can the government impose its religious beliefs on employees?”
The plaintiffs cite the government’s dictum that health coverage for abortions and contraceptives is something that everyone should have. They also claim it is something all of the employees want. Neither statement is true. There are undoubtedly many employees at Hobby Lobby whose religious views are the same as their employer’s and, because of their resulting behaviors, do not need or want the controversial coverage. They also object to paying for it for others. By insisting that such coverage is required for a plan to be acceptable, it is the government, not Hobby Lobby, that is forcing its religious views on employees who disagree.
There is an easy and very sensible way out of this thicket. The heart of Obamacare is its individual mandate, the requirement that every individual must have some kind of health plan. The logical corollary to an individual mandate is individual choice. If we take both the employer and the government out of the matter by letting the employees decide what kind of coverage they want to buy, the whole issue goes away.
This is how every other sector of the economy works. Ford, GM and Toyota compete in a global market, but every purchase decision is an individual choice. The same is true when buying car insurance, homeowners’ insurance and life insurance. Employer-provided health insurance is the only product where the decision about where and how your dollars will be spent is made by someone other than you.
I say “your dollars” because the myth has grown up that somehow your health care “benefits” are paid out of your employer’s pocket. No. They are paid for by dollars you earned that were diverted into the “benefits” column in order to make them tax free to you. The law should be changed to allow Hobby Lobby to give “benefit” money directly to its employees, tax free, thus enabling them to buy health plans of their own choosing. The existence of the individual mandate would prevent them from spending the money on a new set of tires for their car.
If both the government and the employer were to stop making group decisions and imposing them on individuals of varying views and circumstances, all arguments about religious views would disappear. Those who wanted coverage for contraceptives and abortions could buy it; those who didn’t wouldn’t have to. It would also remove some of the objections to other “government knows best” aspects of Obamacare. My wife and I could then shop for a plan that doesn’t cover pregnancy or pediatric dental work.
The owners of Hobby Lobby believe they are standing up for religious freedom; their opponents denounce them as bigots. Instead of arguing that point either way, we should recognize that it is the present system that is at fault here, one that forces employers to make a moral decision that should be left to their employees.
The government created this situation and the government could solve it by changing the tax laws to allow individuals, worshipping how, where or what they may, to make their own moral choices with respect to how their health care dollars should be spent. That would be true religious freedom.
Robert Bennett, former U.S. senator from Utah, is a part-time teacher, researcher and lecturer at the University of Utah’s Hinckley Institute of Politics.