Conscience Clauses

Question for those who believe that requiring coverage of reproductive health services in employer-paid health insurance plans is a violation of religious freedom if it applies to employers such as hospitals and universities affiliated with churches which oppose contraception:

Some churches, including the Society of Friends (Quakers) and the Mennonites, have a long-standing “testimony” against war. They believe that warfare is always morally wrong.

Should a Quaker-affiliated college be allowed a conscience exemption from the rule requiring it to withhold federal income taxes from its employees’ paychecks? Forcing them to collect money from their employees and send it to the Federal government makes them complicit in warfare in precisely the same way as forcing a Catholic hospital to pay for employee health insurance that includes reproductive health services makes it complicit in the practice of contraception.

If the answer is “no,” why should the religious objection to non-reproductive sex be treated any more gently than the religious objection to killing people? In fact, no one claims that taxing religious pacifists to support the defense budget violates their religious freedom. That makes me believe that the “religious freedom” objection to the Obama rule is entirely spurious. What am I missing?

Footnote Since not covering contraception leads to more pregnancies, and since abortions and, especially, deliveries are much more expensive than birth control pills, eliminating coverage doesn’t actually save money for employers. That’s a clear distinction here; clearly taxes would be lower if we didn’t spend 4% of GDP on the military. But that distinction makes the Obama rule more defensible, not less.

[Cross-posted at The Reality-Based Community]

Mark Kleiman

Mark Kleiman is a professor of public policy at the New York University Marron Institute.