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FIRST-PERSON: A mandate by any other name ...

The opinions expressed by columnists are their own and do not necessarily represent the views of
WASHINGTON (BP) -- Many things can be said about President Obama's sleight of hand in declaring that religious employers must still provide their employees with health plans that cover abortifacients, contraception and the like, but that supposedly it is the insurance company, not the employer, who provides the coverage.

But one point that lots of people are talking about should be addressed specifically. Defenders of this semantic "compromise" have been claiming that it should satisfy religious entities, because they don't have to "pay" for the coverage, the insurer does. First of all, this is plainly not true, since coverage of these items is not free to the insurer. Not only do the "free" mandated items have a cost, but some, like surgical sterilization or implantable abortifacient items, cost hundreds or even thousands of dollars, and insurance companies simply cannot eat that cost, or print money to cover it. They necessarily add the cost into premiums.

But even if this claim of non-payment made any economic sense, the moral question is, so what? Paying for something is not the ONLY way for an employer to morally facilitate it. In the president's scheme, the employer's providing of its specific plan to the employee is the only thing that makes the employee able to obtain the coverage, and she can only obtain it from the insurer whom the employer is paying. This is a rather direct form of facilitation of the employee getting the objectionable coverage. Therefore it forces religious employers to directly help employees obtain coverage they consider objectionable. It is not morally sufficient to tell religious objectors that they aren't paying anymore, while making them take some different action that still facilitates the objectionable activity. Federal law prohibits the president from imposing burdens on religious beliefs, not just from imposing burdens on pocketbooks.


This situation is also not analogous to the mere fact that when an employer pays an employee a salary, she can go spend it on immoral things. Here the employee can only get the coverage from one vendor, and can only get it from that vendor because the employer is already paying that vendor. It is therefore more like the government ordering religious employers to give their employees a gift certificate for free abortifacient/contraception coverage, knowing that the employee can only qualify for that coverage if the employer gives her that certificate.

Or, to use a more extended analogy, it is like if the government declared that all employers must provide their employees with a monthly meal credit to use at a specific major restaurant chain that the employer chooses, say Applebees or Outback Steakhouse, but the government also requires that each restaurant must offer, to any covered employee who requests one, a free sea-turtle omelet. No environmentalist employer (including a left-leaning Christian conservationist entity) would be content to say, "I myself am not cooperating in the extinction of the sea turtle, since the restaurant I contracted with, not I, is the one who must give the employee her spoil at its own cost." Nor could the government excuse itself by insisting that the meal credit actually costs the employer less in those circumstances, since employees who satiate themselves on sea-turtle frittata will, on balance, order less additional food.


Even if that made economic sense, the Sierra Club employer is still being forced to exacerbate sea-turtle genocide. The president's plan requires direct moral facilitation of coverage that religious people object to providing. There's no way around that except to stop the government coercion altogether.

Matt Bowman is legal counsel with the Alliance Defense Fund ( at its Washington, D.C. regional service center. This column first appeared at

Copyright (c) 2012 Southern Baptist Convention, Baptist Press


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