I tend to be politically opinionated. The downside of that is confirmation bias – tending to believe what already fits with your strongly held opinion, and not looking to falsify what you know you naturally want to believe. That’s one of the reasons I didn’t say that much about the affordable healthcare act and its effect on private insurance in relationship to the moral conscientiousness of religious organizations. In this case, confirmation bias would have led me to the truth: the HHS mandates and the affordable healthcare act have in fact made it impossible to provide healthcare to people without directly subsidizing abortion and other non-necessary procedures that offend the Christian conscience because they are morally wrong. This not only forces us to pay for procedures that are morally wrong, and even murderous – it also puts the economic incentives against morally good actions like having and raising children. Further, it miss-classifies conditions against reality, the biggest example being that it does not classify children in utero as children primarily, unless it suits the medical interest of the mother.
Recently I had one of our interns research what our options are concerning Christian conscience in providing health care for our workers. This was his summary:
“the only option for a Catholic or other conscientious employer, would be to simply discontinue the employee health plan and convert plan contributions back into cash wages paid to the workers. However, under the new law, if the employer has 50 or more workers, it would then be fined $2,000 each year, per worker, for not providing the required coverage. Furthermore, its workers would also be fined if they did not, then, obtain the required coverage on their own. Yet, all of the alternative plans available to them in either the individual insurance market, or through the employer of another worker in the family, would be required to include the morally objectionable items or services. Thus, this option is not a satisfactory solution for either the employer or the employees."
The most highly publicized legal objection to the affordable care act was that it required citizens to purchase something they may or may not desire. The Supreme Court agreed that this was unconstitutional, but the Justice Department argued that fining Americans for not purchasing health insurance did not amount to legal coercion but to a tax.
This objection, though important in a constitutional republic is not the same objection being offered by people of religious conscience. The argument is that through the affordable care act people of faith are being required to purchase, provide an subsidize medical procedures and drugs that are morally objectionable.
Under the mandate, no employer in America can provide health insurance for their employees and not provide coverage for these drugs and services- most are required to be offered without patient co-pays.
The healthcare.gov website openly denies this stating under what is covered, “contraception: FDA approved contraceptive methods, sterilization procedures, and patient education and counseling, not including abortifacient drugs.” It is also worth stating, that since all of the controversy is surrounding abortifacient drugs, the new coverage does not cover abortions done through instrument-based procedures.
If this is true, then the things covered in this health care plan would not be objectionable to most Protestants. We, for the most part, have affirmed non-abortive birth control methods. We may believe it is immoral in relationship to liberty to make others pay for our birth control. We may believe it is wrong to create increased economic incentives towards sterilization and avoiding pregnancy. But we would not have a direct quarrel with any particular covered benefit because it is intentionally destroying an innocent human life.
However, the larger problem here in relationship to liberty is that at least one very large group of conscientious objectors is being forced to provide non-basic healthcare coverage they find morally objectionable on religious grounds to its people or be fined. Or worse, they are being told that if they will not provide benefits that are morally wrong, they cannot be involved in providing general healthcare benefits that are moral good. And while being excluded from providing for their own people, they get to endure the public shame of a governmental fine, that technically we are told is only a tax. This is a serious problem for religious liberty. And if we ignore this problem now when our Catholic brethren are fighting, we are demonstrating that we will only fight for religious liberties when our own positions are being encroached upon. We are proving that we are not people of principle, but people of the pragmatic.
I recognize that many evangelicals are convinced that Christians should support democrats, and that the HHS mandate is on the whole a moral good. This is completely debatable. However what I do not believe should be debatable for biblical Christians is that the human conscience is inviolable and that this means good government defends religious liberty and religious conscience.
It is worth pointing out at this juncture that the free exercise clause of the Constitution does not refer to the freedom of worship or houses of worship – the only organizations exempted from the HHS mandate. The Constitution explicitly affirms the right of the people to have the free exercise of their religions – not the freedom merely to engage in their religious worship within their houses of worship. Distinction between these two was used in the Soviet Union to drastically limit the rights of religious people. They were offered “freedom of worship” but denied “freedom to exercise their religion” whenever that freedom of exercise interfered with the will of the sovereign state.
At the heart of this question is the stern rebuke that Dietrich Bonhoeffer raised before Germany was plunged into its second darkness of the 20th century. Christ is higher than the state. Throughout the history of Christianity, the state has generally not been the friend of the church. During Christendom, it was the actions of the state rather than the church that has given us a historical blackeye. And David Bentley Hart’s book Atheist Delusions he explores the historical relationship between the church giving up its authority over witch hunts to the state, and that being the moment where witch hunts increased and became more terrifying, more widespread and more brutal all over Europe. Yet the modern atheists who usually believe in a perfectly powerful state, mercilessly attack the church for something done by the state. In other times, in the Roman era of early Christianity, as well as the Soviet, Nazi, and other oppressively socialist authoritarian regimes, Christianity has had the boot of the state on its neck. It is only thrived under Liberal government when Liberal has meant liberal- giving others the freedom to do what they want to do- whether for reasons good or bad.
Christians should know from history, from human nature and from the dictates of the gospel that whenever we look for the state to do what is the responsibility of another kind of group a culture is always in danger and decline. When the responsibilities of the individual, the church, the voluntary organization, the family, and other civil institutions are supplanted by the authoritarian state (even if democratically elected), a culture is always becoming weaker and sicker- unless we are the one anomaly of all of human history. I suppose that’s possible. Yet we should remember, that almost all the great empires indicated that they would fall when they began to accumulate larger amounts of debt. That sounds eerily familiar.