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Freedom of Religion Includes Freedom from Religion

download (1)If you’ve read the news over the last week or so, chances are you’ve heard about the Hobby Lobby case. Without getting into too much detail, the case involved a large and largely family owned business that didn’t want to pay for certain kinds of birth control for their employees like the “morning after” pill and three others as Obamacare mandates. The company argued it was against their deeply held religious beliefs to do so and that it shouldn’t have to contribute money to something that violates the company’s religious beliefs.

Ignoring the continued idiocy of this Court that’s unable to tell the difference between a corporation and a person (here’s one, people go to jail when they fuck up), the Court sided with Hobby Lobby and has allowed them to drop the objected to forms of birth control from their employee’s healthcare. The Court said it did this to protect the company’s “religious freedoms” and, I would argue, to continue the conservative effort to deny women say over their reproductive organs. This case would have turned out totally different if the company had tried to not pay for Viagra or vasectomies for men, I assure you. However, I would love to see the reaction if the three women on the Court voted in favor of such a ruling. ( I mean, seriously, could you imagine?)

images (1)Skipping all the potential legal implications surrounding this ruling, I’ll just say I don’t think this will be a widely applied precedent or a particularly slippery slope. The conservatives on the Court have once again bent over backwards to achieve a narrow result that makes no sense and has no legal precedence. They just did it because they like Christians and it was politically expedient for conservatives. (Does anyone really think a Muslim company could get this Court to allow it to impose any of it’s beliefs on its employees?) Still, the real issue of all of this to me is what does freedom of religion mean? What does it require, and what does it look like in practice?

Over the last few months I’ve been traveling a lot and have been to some places where I’ve experienced whole new levels of diversity that I had never really thought about before. In places like Malaysia, India and Nepal, very different religions, all of which would love to have society bend to their religious beliefs, exist in large numbers and coexist with a fair degree of success.

As I write this now, I’m in a Muslim portion of India listening to Muslims being called to prayer. However, everyone here respects the Hindu belief that cows are sacred and do not bother them in the streets or eat their meat, and vegetarian restaurants are plentiful for Buddhists. Similarly, out of deference to the large Islamic population here, people don’t eat pork and alcohol isn’t sold. At first glance, this might sound like a perfect display of religious freedom and tolerance: Everyone’s religions are being treated and shown respect. Everyone is getting to practice their religion freely and everyone, most days, gets a long pretty well despite having such very different belief systems. Freedom of religion is working perfectly, except that it’s not.

images (4)This form of religious freedom is a complete fail because it does not allow for freedom from religion. If you’re going to say, as a country or as a society, we are going to allow everyone to practice religion as they see fit then that MUST include people who choose not to practice it all. That the end result of the freedom of religion in many parts of India is that most types of meat can’t be found perfectly highlights what freedom of religion without freedom from religion looks like. All the overlapping legally and socially enforced restrictions on meat leads to people essentially not being able to have any despite the fact that most faiths only have a moderate restriction on it. India also shows why government has no business upholding anyone’s religious beliefs beyond the point of saying they are allowed to have them. If I’m Hindu, then yes, I shouldn’t eat beef, but that’s me and that’s according to my beliefs. The second that belief starts getting forced on someone who is not Hindu, a line has been crossed and that would-be beef eater, be them of another faith or none at all, is now having their freedom trampled.

This, to me, is in no way different than what the Court just did in Hobby Lobby. If the owners of the company don’t want to use birth control, by all means, they shouldn’t have to. That is their right. But to allow them to impose their religious beliefs on their employees is to deny those people their freedom of and from religion. I can accept other people’s religions and be respectful and tolerant of them. If a company wants to be closed on Sundays, while that choice might impact me as an employee or a customer, it’s also OK because that action is directly related to them being able to practicing their religion by not working on that day, and the sincerity of that belief is also proven by the lost revenue.

1907362_10152408304356749_6888355102012326199_nHowever, that was not the case presented in Hobby Lobby. Not only did the company have a finical incentive in claiming it should get a religious exemption, which will be more than enough reason for others to follow in their footsteps, the law they wanted to be exempted from did not impact their ability as individuals to practice their religion at all. However, the company’s owners say they shouldn’t have to pay for something they do not believe in. Well, here’s a nice life lesson for all these companies out there that are now more like people than ever: In America, people don’t get to pick and choose how all their money is spent. I’ve given tax dollars to things like wars and policies that I’m morally opposed to, and so has everyone else. Welcome to personhood in America. Furthermore, this six-degrees-of-separation argument conservatives keep making when it comes to money and anything birth control related is ridiculous. It would be like if a Jewish company insisting it shouldn’t have to contribute to government programs that feed the poor because the meals aren’t kosher. I mean, what’s next? Are companies going to claim a right to forbid their employees from being able to buy contraception with their wages since that too would be the company’s money being used to buy something it doesn’t agree with?

images (3)But again, so much of this comes back to the idea that companies are people and have rights including the right to practice religion. And seriously, do the conservatives on the Court really not hear how dumb all this sounds!? However, now that companies, thanks to this Court, have found religion, not only do they have the freedom to practice religion, they now have the right to overcome their employee’s rights to practice theirs or to be free from religion because the companies control the purse strings. That this Court views the spending of money as being the same as a religious act is no surprise. Money is the conservatives’ religion. That’s why this Court is willing to bestow upon the holders of money a Pope-like status to dictate religious rules to their flock…I mean employees. That said, that this court doesn’t understand that freedom of religion requires that no one is unnecessarily subjugated to someone’s eles’s religious beliefs is extremely worrisome but, sadly, not surprising.

SideBar: I can’t wait to be free from religion again so I can get my hands on a bacon cheeseburger and offend at least four religions at once.

Brian M. Williams
Brian is the author of the recently published travel memoir "Stranger in a Stranger Land: My Six Years in Korea." (Click this profile for more information.) He's also a law school grad with Southern charm and Virginia roots. He recently returned to America after nearly seven years traveling and working abroad. He loves dive bars, international travel and foreign accents. He's particularly good at small talk and was the first person to notice there's no "I" in "team."

6 thoughts on “Freedom of Religion Includes Freedom from Religion

  1. I’ll explain what “emergency contraception” is. So you made the choice to have sex, then you made the choice to not use regular contraceptives, then you made the choice to have unprotected sex, and now you want the government to force somebody else to pay for your shitty life decisions even if it violates their religious beliefs. Seems logical. It should also be noted that you don’t have to be a Christian to believe that life begins at conception. You can be an atheist or even a Satanist. It doesn’t matter. Speaking of conception, vasectomies are covered as a contraception because it prevents the sperm from entering the egg. I don’t know why Viagra is mentioned in the article because it has nothing to do with contraception and everything to do with male performance. Since the article brings in religions, food, and other scenarios, I’ll make one up myself. There’s a Muslim owned restaurant in town. They have never served pork, don’t currently serve pork, nor do they ever plan on serving pork. Everybody knows that if you want pork, you don’t go there. But I decide I’m going to get a job there even though I could get a job at any other restaurant in town. After getting hired, the government decides to make all restaurants serve pork. Except my company doesn’t want to participate because it violates their religious beliefs. I’m going to cry about it and claim that I’m being victimized because the company won’t give me pork. Even though I can go anywhere else and get it. I want my company to bend over backwards and completely give up their religious beliefs because I believe I’m entitled to something. If the government made Muslim restaurants serve pork, the far left would be screaming bloody murder and Bill Ayers would be back at blowing up government buildings again with Obama as his lookout. If Hobby Lobby employees want the morning after pill, then they can walk their happy asses down to the pharmacy after their bad life decision and purchase them. They can afford it because Hobby Lobby pays even entry level positions twice the minimum wage. Also, there are plenty of other companies who’s policies will cover all 20 mandates. If the employees don’t like it, find another employer. If the people of the United States don’t like it. Boycott Hobby Lobby. Vote with your feet. Finally, I’m sick of the whole “war on women” crap. The far left is confusing the war on women with not being able to get what they want.

    1. *you mean women not being able to get what they want. Call what the right is doing whatever you want, but when so much of what they want to do only relates to limiting women’s choices, it’s very fair to say women are their target.

    2. And your example of restaurant not selling pork is ridiculous and has nothing to do with the case at hand. And I already covered that in my Article.

    3. Paul, I also think you perfectly demonstrate what’s wrong with this ruling. You are sitting here defending it on the grounds that what the group is asking isn’t that much. “They only want to not buy 4 of 20 types.” You explain their reasoning for it and seem to think it’s moderate and agree with their beliefs to begin with. That’s all well and good and even I can say, as far as some religions go, this is a fairly small ask on H&L’s part. However, that you don’t understand why vasectomies is mentioned shows you haven’t thought about what this ruling means. Other religions are not so moderate. Other religious groups, like Catholics, believe all forms of contraception are immoral, which would include, drum roll please, vasectomies and 20 out of 20 of the other forms of contraceptives. You can’t look at this case and say, “hey what they’re asking for isn’t that much.” And, not to get overly legal here, but courts are expressly prohibited from looking at religious beliefs for whether they make sense or are reasonable or anything else like that. They only look to see if the religion the person claims to be part of really believes what is being claimed and maybe whether the person claiming it is a devout follower. So if you think H&L was an OK case based on what they were asking for, you are not looking at the big picture is or what the ruling says or what it means.

  2. For the record, I don’t have a problem with the IUDs. But I respect the decision of Hobby Lobby to not provide them.

  3. I think the restaurant situation was a good point. But how about a different scenario. Any Muslim, Jewish, or Christian book store. Their religion IS their business. By your logic, they shouldn’t exist because it would offend Atheists. Or that a Muslim book store should display atheist books and/or propaganda next to the Quran. This is just plain silly. The thing about atheism, is that they don’t believe in anything. So what difference does it make if their food is prepared Kosher or not? I personally would never ask (or consider asking) a Muslim to serve me pork even though I practice a different religion or even if I was an atheist. Why? Because me getting a pork sandwich is not worth asking someone to give up their religious beliefs. There has to be compromise while still maintaining respect. If my fiancé worked at Hobby Lobby and she wanted insurance coverage on an IUD, then I would suggest that she find another job that does cover it in their insurance policy. OR I would suggest that we both go pay for it out of pocket. The whole problem I have with people opposing the Hobby Lobby ruling, is that they have plenty of other options for “birth control” and “emergency contraceptives”. You don’t go into a Jewish bookstore and demand the Quran the same way to you don’t go into a Christian business and demand they pay for abortion meds. To do so is arrogant, greedy, and shows a complete lack of empathy.

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