The United States is a divided nation and Americans need to figure out how to live together, according to Vincent Phillip Muñoz, Tocqueville Associate Professor of Religion and Public Life at the University of Notre Dame. Muñoz spoke at a recent lecture entitled "Hobby Lobby, Obamacare & the Future of Religious Freedom" at the University of Oklahoma’s Fred Jones Auditorium.
During his February 18, 2015 presentation, Muñoz outlined his employer’s criticisms of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) mandate under the Affordable Care Act (also known as “Obamacare”) that requires employer health plans to provide contraceptive health care. Muñoz linked those complaints to similar arguments made by Hobby Lobby in Burwell v. Hobby Lobby, the Supreme Court case which granted Hobby Lobby a religious exemption from providing contraceptives to its employees.
According to Muñoz, the Institute for Medicine recommended that HHS cover all FDA-approved contraceptive methods. This included the drug Ella, which some believe to be an abortifacient. When HHS announced its plan, Muñoz said several religious groups and institutions, including the University of Notre Dame, began pressuring the White House to make exemptions for them. Instead, the White House issued a narrow exemption that exempted only groups partaking exclusively in religious activity.
“So very few groups qualify for the exemption,” said Muñoz. “In essence, accommodation was given to non-profits like the University of Notre Dame, not to for-profits.”
“Why is the burden substantial? $475 million,” Muñoz said, referring to the fine Hobby Lobby would have to pay if it didn’t pay for the contraceptives.
To make his case, Muñoz described what he called the court’s "evolving view" on religious freedom, citing the 1993 passage of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, among other things.
Muñoz said the court’s ruling on the Religious Freedom Restoration Act played a crucial role in the recent Supreme Court decision concerning Hobby Lobby, which argued that the Affordable Care Act’s requirement that the company’s insurance cover certain contraceptives was a burden on its faith, that its faith was sincere and that the burden was substantial.
Muñoz also challenged the government’s argument that a corporation cannot have a sincerely held belief. Muñoz countered by asking, “If a corporation can be responsible and ethical, why can’t it be religious?”
Muñoz concluded by saying that the United States is deeply divided on human sexuality. The divide is so deep, Muñoz said, that subjecting matters of sexuality to law can only cause trouble.
“Perhaps we should try to de-politicize matters of human sexuality. Not everything needs to be a political battle,” Muñoz said. “Given our fundamental disagreement on human sexuality, perhaps it might be best if we simply did not make anybody pay for anyone else’s birth control.”
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