The furor over the Obama administration’s Affordable Care Act contraceptive mandate has intensified as two more Christian schools filed suit on Thursday against the Department of Health and Human Services, which is responsible for administering Obamacare.
Biola University and Grace College joined other Christian schools that find the mandate in conflict with their right to religious freedom. According to Christianity Today, “The HHS announced in August 2011 that organizations would be required to provide contraception to their employees as part of the health care reform signed by President Obama.”
Though different groups have expressed various objections to Obamacare, Christian groups in particular have had a problem with the requirement that they provide insurance coverage for contraception. They have argued that the mandate violates religious freedom because employers who have qualms with the use of contraception because of religious convictions would be forced to pay for services they have moral disagreement with. Thus, they would be forced by the law to violate their consciences.
Ross Douthat of the New York Times has said that a key problem with the mandate is that it only provides exemptions for churches, and he has a point. Religious organizations such as colleges, hospitals, and other entities are often connected to, and receive funding from, churches. Moreover, as Christian organizations, they have all the convictions a church would have, and thus necessitate protection just as much a church would.
The freedom to act in line with one’s moral convictions, within reason, is a fundamental right because it is a fundamental part of being human. Though we may disagree about moral conclusions, the process of moral decision-making is a basic human activity. When we reach conclusions, assuming that they are within reason and don’t infringe upon the rights of others, we ought to be able to act (or refrain from acting) in line with our consciences.
A couple of months ago Peter Singer, the (in)famous Australia utilitarian philosopher, argued that “Catholicism does not oblige its adherents to run hospitals and universities. (The government already exempts parishes and dioceses, thereby drawing a distinction between institutions that are central to the freedom to practice one’s religion and those that are peripheral to it.)” But if I open a hospital because of my belief that people are made in the image of God, and because of that deserve quality treatment for their ailments, that can hardly be described as peripheral to the practice of my faith. For faith plays itself out not merely on Sunday morning, but in the life of every believer. The mandate overlooks that when it only provides exclusions for churches.