Blogs > Liberty and Power > Hobby Lobby Ruling Falls Short

Jul 3, 2014 5:31 pm


Hobby Lobby Ruling Falls Short

tags: Supreme Court, Obamacare, Sheldon Richman, Mandate



As far as it went, the Supreme Court generally got it right in the Hobby Lobby-Obamacare-contraception case. Unfortunately it didn’t go nearly far enough.

The court ruled that “closely held corporations” whose owners have religious convictions against contraceptives cannot be forced to pay for employee coverage for those products.

I wish the court could have said this instead: (1) No one has a natural right to force other people to pay for her (or his) contraception or anything else (with or without the government’s help), and by logical extension, (2) everyone has a right to refuse to pay if asked.

For people about to celebrate the Fourth of July, these principles ought to be, well, self-evident.

A group of politicians cannot legitimately have the power to compel one group of people—employers, taxpayers, or insurers—to pay for things that another group wants. That’s immoral, and it violates inalienable rights. Moreover, when government has the power to issue such commands—always backed by force, let us never forget—it sets off a mad interest-group scramble for control of the government machinery—because control is a license to steal. Is it any wonder that people are willing to spend billions of dollars to influence who makes government policy? If people face the alternative of controlling the government or being controlled by it, those who have resources will buy power and influence, even if only in self-defense.

Supporters of the Affordable Care Act (ACA) say the court decision permits the favored employers to make health-care decisions for women. No it doesn’t. It only prohibits, unfortunately in only a narrow set of cases, women from being able to use government to force their employers to pay for those decisions. When did we start equating the right to buy contraceptives—which hardly anyone disputes—with the power to compel others to pay? It is demagogic to insist that prohibiting the latter violates the former.

Equally ridiculous is the claim that if employers choose not to pay for their employees’ birth control, employers are forcing their religious beliefs on employees. If that were true, it would also have to be true that a non-Christian’s refusal to pay for a Christian’s transportation to church on Sundays would be equivalent to forcing the non-Christian’s religious beliefs on the Christian. That’s ridiculous.

But, say the ACA’s supporters, contraception is important to women’s health care and can be expensive. Let’s grant both points. So what? How can that justify forcing employers to pay? That is the question. By what right does someone resort to the aggressive power of government to obtain something he or she cannot or does not want to pay for? (It is not only low-income women who qualify for free contraceptives.)

The end doesn’t justify the means.

Another objection to the ruling is that religious freedom doesn’t apply to family-owned corporations (or any corporations). Corporations are not people, the critics say.

True, corporations are not people. They are groups—of people. It’s not clear why individuals who run companies don’t have the same rights as other people.

In her dissent, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg worries that the ruling puts the country on a slippery slope: If religious employers can opt out of paying for contraception coverage, why not other things, such as blood transfusions and vaccinations?

Why not, indeed? This surely is a slippery slope. But here’s the thing: some slippery slopes are good. This is a good one.

This controversy would not exist if government didn’t privilege employer-based insurance or mandate “free” services, which  are not really free because the expense is made up by reducing future wage increases. Indeed, this controversy would not exist were it not for licensing, patents, regulatory insurance and medical cartels, and other features of the corporate state.

Free persons ought to be at liberty to opt out of any decree that violates their rights. (Decrees against murder, theft, and rape do not violate rights, so one may not opt out of them.) This libertarian principle means that a person would not only be free to opt out of a contraception mandate on religious grounds but would also be able to opt out of any mandate on any grounds—moral as well as religious—or no grounds at all! That’s freedom.

Think of the benefits: you and I could opt out of paying for war and empire. This is a slippery slope all freedom-loving people should embrace.


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