Back in early 2012 I wrote an article criticizing the Department of Health & Human Services proposed rule that would require all employers, including those that are affiliated with religious organizations such as churches, to provide health care plans that cover contraceptive services for their employees. To the dismay of public health and nonreligious advocates, religious organizations themselves would be exempt from the rule, meaning that employees of churches, synagogues, mosques, and temples would have a hard time getting the contraceptive care that they need.
A few days after the initial proposal, President Obama caved even further under pressure from the Religious Right and exempted employers that are affiliated with religious organizations from providing contraceptive coverage while mandating that insurance companies cover the costs themselves. Women would still have access to the contraceptive care that they need but at the expense of the insurance companies rather than being paid for by the religious employers.
At the time, I was upset that religious employers were getting special treatment and worried about the precedent that would be set from allowing religious organizations to pick and choose which laws and policies they want to follow. Most of all, I was worried that the affected employees would have to navigate a complex bureaucratic system in order to get the important contraceptive coverage that wasn’t offered by their employers health plan.
Unfortunately, things have only gotten worse. The Department of Health & Human Services recently issued new rules regarding contraceptive coverage that expand this exemption and in doing so threaten the health of millions of Americans. In order to show favoritism towards the religious community, the Obama Administration is allowing more businesses to classify themselves as a “religious employer” so that they too can be exempt from covering their employee’s reproductive health needs.
This is a pretty obvious case of the government putting the interest of powerful religious organizations over the needs of ordinary American citizens. Rather than make the law apply equally to all American citizens and businesses, the Obama Administration has decreed that religious organizations and their affiliated business are special and don’t have to follow the same laws that everyone else does.
As we all know, religious privileging has a long and sordid history in this country. Religious groups and their leaders enjoy numerous tax benefits that are unavailable to the rest of the country, and the Religious Right has had an unparalled influence on our nation’s lawmakers and the laws they craft.
This latest rule is just the logical progression for a government that has proven its intention to disregard the Constitution whenever it conflicts with the interests of religious groups. Thankfully, the nonreligious movement in America is growing in such a way that this repugnant tradition cannot continue for much longer, and administration officials are at least considering the opinions of nonreligious advocacy groups such as the American Humanist Association and the Secular Coalition for America when they make new rules. The next step is showing them that enough Americans care about religious privileging so that they stop just listening to us and actually start holding religious groups and their leaders to the same standards as the rest of society.