You’re probably celebrating, and I’m not here to spit venom on your parade. When you have a moment, I’ve got a question for you that has dogged me throughout the coverage of this case. It doesn’t get to the legal and constitutional matters, but to the shape of your theological conviction.
Here’s my question:
If it violates your religious convictions to compensate your employees with an insurance plan that might be used for contraception or abortion, how does it NOT violate your religious convictions to compensate your employees in US dollars that might be used for contraception or abortion?
Shouldn’t you, in the name of religious freedom, insist that you be excused from using the legal tender that others use? Shouldn’t you instead use an alternative form of scrip that can only be used for things you endorse? I realize that the second scenario would be a huge hassle and may make it impossible for you to run a business, but come on, if the convictions are inviolable they’re inviolable. If there’s a difference, what is it?
The best answer I’ve seen to my question is from the Catholic theologians’ amicus brief, which likens it to the difference between giving someone legal tender to do with whatever they will, and giving someone a voucher for a designated purpose.
The brief draws an analogy to the difference between giving someone cash and giving someone a gift card for a steakhouse. If you give someone cash they might use it for steak, or they might use it for something else. If you give someone a gift card for a steakhouse, then if they use it, they will certainly use it for steak, because it’s designated to be used for steak. And if you have a moral problem with eating steak, then you shouldn’t be required by the government to pay your employees with a gift card for a steak house. Likewise employers shouldn’t be required by the government to pay their workers with a form of compensation that’s designated specifically for birth control.
But how are employee health benefits not a lot more like the cash in this analogy? Those benefits might be used for birth control, or they might be used for a colorectal cancer screening, or they might be used for a strep test. Nobody’s insisting that you use that compensation for birth control, and you don’t lose it if you don’t.
Or put another way: The Catholic theologians’ brief suggests there is a big moral difference between (to speak in concrete terms) handing someone a pile of money, versus handing someone a piece of paper that says “This is your insurance plan that I, your employer, am paying you with, and among the things it can be used for is contraception.” But why?
Why isn’t handing someone some money the same thing as handing them a piece of paper that says, “This is your insurance plan that can be used for a range of things one of which is contraception”?
How does “This bill is legal tender for all debts, public and private” NOT amount to “By law, this piece of paper can be used for a range of things, one of which is contraception”?
Yes, US dollars have a bigger list of things they can be used for than do health plans, but both include contraception. So is the salient difference the size of the list? Is there some number of things-this-paper-can-be-used-for that puts the employer at a safe moral distance from the act, where previously they had been complicit? If so, what’s the number? How long does the list of possible uses have to be to assuage the employer’s conscience enough to let the employees use their compensation for things the employer finds morally repugnant?
See, here’s the thing I’d prefer not to believe—because I actually don’t like being cynical, despite how well it often plays on the internet. I’d prefer not to believe that employers opposed to the contraceptive mandate really believe that a dollar is a dollar, right up to the point when some woman somewhere might be having and enjoying sex in ways they don’t approve of… at which point suddenly there are all these religious convictions. (Of course it doesn’t help that Hobby Lobby has been happy enough to invest in contraceptive manufacturers.)
So help me out. What’s the moral difference between one piece of paper that says “This is compensation I’m giving you, my employee; and it can, by force of law, be used for a big range of things, one of which is contraception” and a second piece of paper that says “This is compensation I’m giving you, my employee; and it can, by force of law, be used for an even bigger range of things, one of which is contraception”? Why are those your stakes? I’d really like to understand better.