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Forum Post: The War on Workers' Religious Liberty

Posted 11 years ago on July 31, 2012, 5:53 p.m. EST by LeoYo (5909)
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The War on Workers' Religious Liberty

Tuesday, 31 July 2012 14:14 By Amanda Marcotte, RH Reality Check | News Analysis


The war on women advanced dramatically on Friday, when a judge in Colorado issued a preliminary injunction on behalf of an air conditioning and heating business owner who doesn't want his employees to use contraception. The ruling only applies to this particular business, so it's not like anyone else is going to be able to start denying insurance benefits to their employees because they disapprove of their sex lives. Still, it's a worrying development, especially as the judge seemed sympathetic to the idea that an employer can deny benefits to an employee and earned by their work on the basis of religious disapproval of the employee's private life.

This is part of the war on women, of course, but also part of another war: the war of employers on their employees. Chris Bertram, Corey Robin, and Alex Gourevitch co-wrote a piece at Crooked Timber where they explained how the workplace has become the place where human rights go to die.

In addition to abridging freedoms on the job, employers abridge their employees' freedoms off the job. Employers invade employees' privacy, demanding that they hand over passwords to their Facebook accounts, and fire them for resisting such invasions. Employers secretly film their employees at home. Workers are fired for supporting the wrong political candidates ("work for John Kerry or work for me"), failing to donate to employer-approved candidates, challenging government officials, writing critiques of religion on their personal blogs (IBM instructs employees to "show proper consideration...for topics that may be considered objectionable or inflammatory—such as politics and religion"), carrying on extramarital affairs, participating in group sex at home, cross-dressing, and more. Workers are punished for smoking or drinking in the privacy of their own homes. (How many nanny states have tried that?) They can be fired for merely thinking about having an abortion, for reporting information that might have averted the Challenger disaster, for being raped by an estranged husband. Again, this is all legal in many states, and in the states where it is illegal, the laws are often weak.

Efforts like the attacks on the contraception mandate are part of a larger conservative push to give employers even more power over the private lives of their employees. Salary and benefits aren't something that rightfully belongs to the employer, but are something earned by the employee. The point of compensation is that once the employer turns it over to the employee, it's the employee's to use as they see fit. If conservatives are successful with this effort, it means opening a huge door where your employer has rights to control the compensation after you've earned it. If they can prevent you from using your earned insurance benefits from buying contraception, then what's the legal reason they can't extend that power to say that you can't buy it at all, not with money you made working for them? If that sounds far-fetched, look back at that list of incursions on personal freedom already made by employers, incursions that have included demanding that employees spend their money in specific ways. Employers have demanded the right to dictate their employees' political beliefs, so why not their religion, too? In one sense, that's exactly what this lawsuit is about. Withholding insurance benefits is punishment for an employee for not sharing the employer's religious beliefs. Under the guise of "religious freedom," conservatives are handing control over to your employer to deprive you of your basic right to your private beliefs regarding things like sexual ethics.

Contraception is a good place to start expanding the amount of power your boss has over your sexual choices, your religious practice, and other aspects of your private life, because a lot of the public is wary of the concept that women really have a complete right to own their own bodies and especially their sexuality. That's why there's so much interest after a woman comes forward about being raped in finding reasons her "no" doesn't count: What she was wearing, how much sex she's had before, whether she was drinking. If we believed that women had an absolute right to control their own sexuality, these things wouldn't matter.

The notion that women aren't the proper owners of their very own bodies is evident in other ways as well, such as in the number of people who think that it's perfectly okay for men to touch strange women in intimate places on their bodies in public. With this current of belief that women aren't the proper owners of their bodies, it's no wonder that we still have problems like Justice Scalia claiming that women don't actually have a constitutional right to use contraception, even though that's been settled law for nearly fifty years now.

So that's what we have here: Conservatives are using the notion that women aren't the full owners of their sexuality as leverage to create legal precedent for employers to dock your compensation because you don't share their religious beliefs. But once that door opens, it will almost surely be used to expand your employer's power over your private life and religious choices even more. Once "religious liberty" is defined as "giving an employer a vote in how you conduct yourself on your own time," all sorts of other powers will rush in and all other incursions on your private life will be made. Christians who are eager to have a vote in your contraception choices are also going to want to have a vote over whether you live with someone outside of marriage, are gay, or otherwise make personal choices that violate their religious beliefs.

This piece was reprinted by Truthout with permission or license.


The Cost of Being Raped

Tuesday, 31 July 2012 10:27 By Scott Keyes, ThinkProgress | Report


For years, hospitals in northeastern Wisconsin have billed sexual assault victims as much as $1,200 for the cost of their examinations, according to a new investigation.

The Post-Crescent newspaper found that, despite the availability of government funds to cover the cost of sexual assault examinations, many hospitals were sending the bill to victims. The AP has more:

When someone is sexually assaulted, the process of collecting forensic evidence can include taking pictures of bruises, swabs of sexual fluids or hair. Other expenses, which can include a pregnancy test, antibiotics and medical supplies, can bring the final price tag to about $1,200. [...]

For example, hospitals in the ThedaCare system used to absorb the cost for years as part of their charity care, said Jean Coopman-Jansen a program coordinator at Appleton Medical Center. After a change to comply with the health system's billing rules, some victims last year were forced to pay the costs themselves, she said.

Fortunately, Wisconsin officials appear to be addressing the problem. Jill Karofsky, who heads up the Wisconsin Department of Justice's Office of Crime Victim Services, said the state government recently began working with hospitals to educate them on how to properly use government funds so victims wouldn't be charged for their examinations.

"The message to victims is when someone sexually assaults them, their body becomes a crime scene and they are submitting to a very invasive exam and the state frankly ought to pay for it. ... It's forensic evidence," Karofsky said.

This piece was reprinted by Truthout with permission or license.


Jaw-Dropping Corruption: America's 47 Million Hungry Mouths Are Just Another Corporate Cash Cow

Tuesday, 31 July 2012 11:08 By Mark Anderson, AlterNet | News Analysis


A unique, hard-hitting report just completed by a California attorney exposes a largely unknown federal food-stamp racket involving large grocery retailers, food manufacturing giants and other private players, including the Federal Reserve and JPMorganChase, which combine to channel food stamp spending into a gravy train for the heavy hitters in the food industry.



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[-] 1 points by MsStacy (1035) 11 years ago

You seem to twist the idea of religious liberty. There are people of faith that believe birth control and abortion are wrong. In their, view paying for those services even for others, violates their religious beliefs.

No one has a right to stop me from buying my own birth control pills or stop me from having an abortion. It is equally true that I don't have a right to demand someone else pay for those services, when it violates their religious beliefs.

[-] 2 points by LeoYo (5909) 11 years ago

You seem to have me confused with someone else. In posting 3 articles without comment, how do I twist the idea of religious liberty?

As for beliefs and demands, religious beliefs don't take priority over civil rights. Up to yesterday, employers didn't have to offer health insurance. That's the employer's choice. However, discrimination in the offering of health insurance is a civil rights violation under Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act which prevents discrimination on the basis of sex. Once an employer decides to offer employee health insurance, they are under a non-religious legal mandate requiring that equality in the needs of both genders of the workplace be legally maintained in the preservation of their civil rights.


[-] 1 points by PandoraK (1678) 11 years ago

Hmmm, so you are saying that, while an insurance premium is money placed into a pool, those who claim religious concerns have the right to dictate how that pool is dispersed, and what items are legitimate to pay.

Yet, that 'money pool' has already become the property of the pool 'holder' and no longer subject to the whims of the individual.

[-] 1 points by MsStacy (1035) 11 years ago

The law requires the employer to add contraception and abortion coverage. These are the services objected to on religious grounds. The focus of the legal action is the rights of the employer. Nothing stops the employee from buying them or using them on her own. The employee's desire to have someone else pay for their health insurance should not, in my opinion, take priority over the employer's first amendment rights.

[-] 1 points by PandoraK (1678) 11 years ago

...and the employee has the option whether or not to participate in that group and even to request coverage not immediately offered in the package. I've done it.

[-] 0 points by MsStacy (1035) 11 years ago

It isn't the rights of the employee I'm talking about. It's the right of the employer to freely exercise his or her religion when it comes to who pays for contraceptive and abortion services, services considered "sinful" by some religions. If the employee picks up a rider on their own then there isn't any problem.

[-] 1 points by PandoraK (1678) 11 years ago

It's always presented as the employer pays the entire premium for each employee, that is NOT the case. So claiming the employer is being denied the right to exercise his/her religious freedom is not a valid argument, as the employee also pays for the share of the policy that covers him/her.

If the employer wishes to exercise CONTROL in such a manner, it would behoove said employer to OWN the policy. The group is not made up of the employer, it is made up of those who participate, namely the employees. The employer is the negotiating party and the 'middleman' for payment.

[-] 1 points by MsStacy (1035) 11 years ago

The amount paid by an employer isn't relevant. The regulation requires the employer to put it on the policy. That violates the employers right to exercise his or her religion, if that religion considers abortion and contraception a sin. You don't get to decide based on a percentage when a regulation violates someone else's beliefs. Their religious freedom is infringed upon when they believe it is.

If you want to stipulate that a rider can be added and the employee pick up the entire cost of that rider fine. Leave the employer totally out of the picture. If you ask for the employer to participate at all, negotiate, or pay any of the cost for that rider, then you violate their right to exercise their religion.

[-] 1 points by PandoraK (1678) 11 years ago

Yet the employer is NOT the holder of the policy, the employer is the vehicle of the group.

Since your argument is that one does not get to base when a regulation is violated by percentages, then one should be taking into consideration that there are TWO parties involved, the employer and the employee, both of whom enjoy these freedoms. If one is having rights infringed upon by the inclusion of a rider, then the other is also having rights infringed upon by the exclusion of a rider. The usual answer to this is for the employee to seek other employment...which still infringes upon basic rights for at least one party.

I often wonder why no one seems to find it odd that insurance coverage for male sexual issues is never under debate...but then I guess in the era the Bible was written there were no acknowledged male sexual issues...

[-] 1 points by MsStacy (1035) 11 years ago

The requirement made, by the government, is directed at the employer not the employee. They obviously believe the employer is somehow directly involved. That is the part I see as unconstitutional. If the employer is not involved then leave them out of it and drop the regulation.

The employee is free to do what they wish with their body. They may pay for any additional coverage they wish. They are not free to require another individual act against a religious belief.

In the end it's likely to be a Supreme Court decision. There are cases where religious freedom has been limited in the past. The Court may decide to make this one of them, but it clearly does require an employer to ignore religious teachings.

[-] 1 points by MattLHolck (16833) from San Diego, CA 11 years ago

taxes pay to bomb other countries

[-] 2 points by MsStacy (1035) 11 years ago

Of course they do, who would pay to bomb their own country?

[-] 1 points by VQkag2 (16478) 11 years ago

Very funny.