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The Ongoing Religious Battle

Health care legislation can be practical and political. It can also have religious implications. That's what we touch on today.

Can you force your employees to live YOUR creed? More importantly, can you make it unpleasant and expensive for your employees to break your personal religion’s rules? The answer, as it is so often, is Yes and No.

Preventive care is a key benefit of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act. Katherine Sebelius, secretary of Health and Human Services, recently decided that birth control pills, IUDs and the Morning After Pill are all FDA-approved forms of contraception and as valid a part of preventive care for women as mammograms and Pap tests.

The PPACA therefore forces employers to not only cover birth control pills, IUDs, and the Morning After Pill, but it also eliminates the copays for these items. They are free to the insured employee. This shifts the cost for these items to the insurance, which in turn shifts the cost to the employer.

So, if you own a factory and you are opposed to these forms of birth control, you will soon be paying for your employees’ pills. Fair? Most of us will say Yes. We don’t want our employers to dictate moral positions to us.

But what if we aren’t talking about a factory? What if we are discussing a church or a church-funded organization? Is there a difference? According to the Obama administration, the answer is No. Every employee has a right to preventative care and preventive care includes birth control. The Supreme Court may disagree.

We are constantly trying to define property rights in this country. Ron Paul takes the Libertarian position that the government doesn’t have the right to force you to conform to other people’s wishes. If you don’t want to serve African-Americans in your restaurant, the market should push you to reconsider, not the law.

That is one extreme. The other extreme has the government involved in many of the day-to-day decisions of businesses. This involvement manifests itself in smoking bans in bars, the elimination of trans fats in restaurants and forcing and forcing businesses to not only provide health insurance, but to determine the very nature of the coverage. This is where we are again.

Where is the line? Can the Catholic Church, which is adamantly opposed to most contraceptives, limit access to its priests, nuns, and church employees? Can the Church limit access to the employees, Catholic and non-Catholic, of its schools? What about Catholic hospitals that may employ hundreds of non-Catholics? How much influence is the employer granted?

The Supreme Court, in a 9-0 decision, recently ruled that the First Amendment "gives special solicitude to the rights of religious organizations" in how they treat their employees. This decision was reached in response to a lawsuit brought by a teacher who had been terminated by her employer, a Lutheran school. Chief Justice Roberts challenged "government interference with an internal church decision that affects faith and the mission of the church itself."

Will the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act allow you to provide access to birth control for all of your full-time employees? Yes. Will you as an employer pay for it? Yes. Will you be forced to provide access if you don’t want to? If you are a business the answer is still Yes. If you are a church or a religious-based institution, the jury is still out.

This post is contributed by a community member. The views expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Patch Media Corporation. Everyone is welcome to submit a post to Patch. If you'd like to post a blog, go here to get started.

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