Mandatory Insurance and the Amish

“A clause in the bill likely would allow most Amish families an exemption from the insurance requirement, but the bill could still create sticky issues for the young people who have not formally joined the church.” (link)

A disturbing aspect of laws with religious exemptions is the notion that religious beliefs are the only legitimate kinds of personal preference. Something matters so much that we pass a law or ruling to make that the way things are, yet there are exemptions for members of religious bodies that don’t think that’s the way things ought to be? Kind of lousy for the person who also disagrees with the law, but for non-religious reasons.

Liberty has to be upheld for everyone. Any law that can justifiably have a religious exemption is a law that shouldn’t exist at all. A person shouldn’t have to belong to a church to get relief from laws running his life. If religious people are only defending religious liberty, and that becomes the only liberty left, then soon enough it will be curtailed as well.

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About John Mansfield

Mansfield in the desertA third-generation southern Nevadan, I have lived in exile most of my life in such places as Los Alamos, Baltimore, Los Angeles, the western suburbs of Detroit, and currently the northern suburbs of Washington, D.C. I work as a fluid dynamics engineer. I was baptized at age twelve in the font of the Las Vegas Nevada Central Stake Center, and on my nineteenth birthday I received the endowment in the St. George Temple. I served as a missionary mostly in the Patagonia of Argentina from 1985 to 1987. My true calling in the Church seems to be working with Cub Scouts, whom I have served in different capacities in four states most years since 1992. (My oldest boy turned eight in 2004.) I also currently teach Sunday School to the thirteen-year-olds. I hold degrees from two universities named for men who died in the 1870s, the Brigham Young University and the Johns Hopkins University. My wife is Elizabeth Pack Mansfield, who comes from New Mexico's north central mountains and studied molecular biology at the same two schools I attended. We have four sons, whose care and admonition, along with care of my aged father, require much of Elizabeth's time. She currently serves the Church as Mia-Maid advisor, ward music chairman, and choir director, and plays violin whenever she can. One day, I would like to make shoes.

21 thoughts on “Mandatory Insurance and the Amish

  1. “Any law that can justifiably have a religious exemption is a law that shouldn’t exist at all.”

    Wow. That’s incredibly bold. Are you sure you want to go there? Like it or not, religious exemptions in statutes receive heightened preference because of that pesky law of laws called the Constitution. It singled out religios freedom, as opposed to other personal preferences, as deserving heightened protection.

  2. Religious exemptions seem to date back to the beginning of the country, and they aren’t going away any time soon. I also take exception to the claim that Persecuted Mormon mentions, but I understand the sentiment that many religious exemptions are bordering on ridiculous.

    However, seeing as the religious right in this country is very powerful and very vocal, I imagine religious exemptions allow the rest of the country to move forward while preventing massive riots about religious persecution. They are an appeasement that we likely couldn’t function without.

  3. John M, I think your intent here was to raise a thought-provoking argument. You have certainly succeeded. There are times when religious exemptions have extended to other spheres. I am thinking about conscientious objectors during Vietnam. Objectors could still be atheists but prove an overwhelming opposition to all warfare/violence and be granted an exemption to serve in a war zone.

    I tend to agree with 1 and 2 that there is a special place in the Constitution and the courts’ interpretation thereof for religious exemptions. I would say, however, that there are some very interesting constitutional questions forthcoming regarding forcing citizens to buy a product, which is unprecedented in U.S. history. We all may have to become Amish.

  4. Geoff,

    Right or wrong, this legislation is completely within the purview of the Congress’s powers under the Commerce Clause, as interpreted by the Supreme Court for nearly 80 years. Even conservative legal scholars believe that these legal challenges don’t stand a chance given the Court’s expansive interpretation of Congress’s powers since the New Deal. See http://volokh.com/2010/03/22/what-are-the-chances-that-the-courts-will-strike-down-the-individual-mandate/ and http://volokh.com/2010/03/23/what-will-the-courts-do-with-the-individual-mandate/

    Of course, this won’t stop the states from wasting their taxpayers’ money by making a political statement in the form a lawsuit against the federal government. But in the end, there’s not really a ripe constitutional question here.

  5. PM, I think you may be right. I’m not a legal scholar, but people I trust tend to agree with you. I see two possible scenarios for repeal: 1)Republicans take Congress and the presidency and pass repeal in 2013. Remember, the taxes start now but many of the benefits don’t happen until 2014. 2)States agree to convene a Constitutional convention on the issue (need two-thirds of the states to do this). 1 is more likely than 2 but I’m not betting the farm on either of these.

    Having said that, this IS the first time that Congress has told citizens they MUST buy something. Even during World War II we were not told we MUST buy war bonds. A lot of people are not going to like it.

  6. This got me thinking about the phrase “separation of church and state.” Most would agree that if the state became involved in religious affairs there would be a corrupting influence on the church. So why do we recognize government’s corrupting influence on the church, but not its corrupting influence on other things? Shouldn’t there also be a separation of science and state? or the arts and state? or media and state? It’s right and proper for government to act as a referee in matters like business, but owning some or all of the shares in an industry is another thing altogether. Just a few thoughts.

  7. I suspect PM is correct that the court will side with the legislature on this one, and incorrectly interpret the commerce clause yet again. I do find it rather interesting that US citizens are being forced to purchase a product, offered only in their state, under the interstate commerce clause in the US constitution. The irony would be delicious if it were in a movie instead of real life.

    Geoff, you make an interesting point. Tongue and cheek here, I might suggest that you have given an excellent solution to the budget crisis. If this legislation stands, the precedent has been set that US citizens can be ordered by the federal government to purchase a product if it is important to the general welfare. Clearly keeping the government afloat is important to the general welfare. Perhaps we will yet see a bill requiring every family to purchase a certain amount of US treasury bonds (scaled by income of course). *** PLEASE note, I said this was tongue in cheek. Laugh or grimace, but don’t take it seriously***

  8. The problem is that the liberals and progressives want “forced charity”, and are using the guise of “insurance” to get it.

    Insurance is not charity, and charity, forced or not, is not insurance.

    This has all been a shell game of false labels.

    If you think poor people should have their health care paid for by others, then by all means you should donate to charities that can accomplish that.

    Just about every hospital in the country has a charity foundation associated with it for the health care of those who don’t have insurance and can’t afford health care. And you have the right to solicit or encourage others to donate to those charities.

    If you think poor women should have their abortions paid for by others, then by all means you should donate to Planned Parenthood, and you should encourage others to donate to Planned Parenthood.

    But using laws to force “charity” out of people in the form of taxes is not only unjust, it is wicked.

    These debates go back a long time in the history of our country. After the founding fathers died off, these things came up over and over again. It was the 1930′s when these things finally got traction, and government got into the charity business by forcing it on the citizens.

    These things actually work to erradicate real charity, and deny the blessings of the givers and receivers. For now, it is no longer optional, it is required, and by not being voluntary, there is no blessing in the giving. There is no blessing in the receiving, because now it is a “right” or entitlement.

    I’m all for charity, for taking care of the poor. But the government has no business being in the charity business.

  9. John,

    Allow me to illustrate something. Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibits discrimination by employers on the basis of race, color, religion, sex or national origin. But there’s an exemption (or a “preference” in your words) for religious organizations; they can discriminate on the basis of religion in all employment decisions. The wisdom of this is clear. The Establishment Clause of the First Amendment prohibits the State from entangling itself with the internal affairs of religious organizations. The LDS Church and BYU, two of Utah’s biggest employers, rely on this exemption from Title VII when they require Temple Recommend-Worthy members for certain positions.

    So let me ask you, is Title VII, a law with a “religious preference,” “a law that shouldn’t exist at all”?

  10. I’m not sure what the church’s take is on personal freedoms. I do know that the church (along with the most liberal members of the Supreme Court) supports exempting religions from certain laws (such as federal drug laws) if those laws infringe on a religion’s rights.
    See, for example, Employment Division v. Smith. The church wrote an amicus brief and Elder Oaks was quite involved in the process. Google the Supreme Court decision, and see this link about Elder Oak testifying in front of a Congressional Committee(scroll down about half way): http://www.lds.org/ldsorg/v/index.jsp?hideNav=1&locale=0&sourceId=ba8594bf3938b010VgnVCM1000004d82620a____&vgnextoid=2354fccf2b7db010VgnVCM1000004d82620aRCRD
    First amendment rights, and all that. Currently weaker than they should be (thanks to a conservative Supreme Court), so we have to rely on clauses in bills.

  11. Bookslinger, your argument only holds weight if you believe that healthcare is a privelege, not a right. You will have a hard time convincing those of us that believe it is a right elsewise.

    I’m interested to know if you would also like to abolish Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid as well? Do you think the elderly just need to be better at planning for retirement so they don’t have to rely on SS and Medicare?

    I find it funny talking to my conservative LDS friends that think it is OK to have babies they can’t afford using WIC/Medicaid, but then blast “socialized” medicine. I also find the humor in many of my conservative friends not having health insurance and pushing “individual responsibility”. Many are unemployed and frankly, I don’t see how they will be able to pay the bill for an appendectomy, let alone any expensive complications.

    My hope is that conservatives can move past this temper tantrum stage, roll up their sleeves and start working on the bill with the Democratic party. The bill is definitely not perfect and needs help from both parties.

  12. SingleintheCity, I’m hardly conservative, but every time a liberal uses the term “right” to describe something not in the constitution (eg., the right to healthcare, the right to clean drinking water, the right to clean air), I can’t help but think they must be expressing a religious viewpoint. Where does such an inalienable “right” come from? God?

    Everybody wants clean air, clean water, and healthcare, and nobody can just expect to have these things provided to them. They come with a price. You can either pay for them directly, through taxes, or by limiting/skimming economic growth, but they must be paid for. I think the term “right” has done our politics a disservice.

    We had a woman stay with us for a few weeks. She and her fiance were promoting a new business in our fine city when he suffered an incapacitating stroke. He did not have insurance, but by law the hospitals were required to treat him. He was in the hospital for a month, wracking up $250K in medical bills which there was no way he could pay. She stayed with us (a Mormon friend located us for her) to save money. He didn’t have insurance because he was starting a business and was relatively young and healthy, but he got pretty good care. So who paid?

    If we as a society don’t want to allow people to simply die in our emergency rooms, then somebody needs to pay for it. Seems like insurance is the answer. If we can’t have the government forcing us to buy insurance, then the government can tax us and buy it for us. Or, we can simply have the government mandate the hospital cover it, they can raise rates, and the rest of us with insurance can pay for it. Somebody pays. It’d be cheaper to just let people suffer and die, but that doesn’t feel right, now does it?

    To me, there shouldn’t be a discussion of “rights”. It’s a discussion of efficiency and fairness.

  13. Bookslinger,
    What do you mean by “forced charity?” Because I haven’t seen that anywhere in (serious) discussion of the health care bill; in fact, other than subsidies to allow some people to more easily afford insurance, I don’t see anything charitable about the health care bill at all. But those subsidies already exist, in the form of deductible insurance as a fringe benefit. All this does is expand subsidized insurance to certain people who may not have access to insurance through their jobs.

    You say, “But using laws to force “charity” out of people in the form of taxes is not only unjust, it is wicked.” I disagree strongly. Like you said, these debates have been around a long time, but arguments against progressive taxation and redistribution are fairly recent; for most of the existence of the federal income tax, it was agreed across the board that taxation should be progressive and, therefore, redistributive.

    And Martin, why do rights need to derive from the Constitution? I’m not super-interested in rights-based discourse, but there is a non-trivial argument in favor of natural rights that aren’t contingent on particular law.

    That said, although some advocates argue that access to healthcare is a right, there’s nothing in the healthcare bill the suggests a rights status for healthcare; rather, the provisions are a law passed by the legislature as part of its power and responsibility to write laws.

  14. John,

    Here’s another example. When military conscription has been required in the United States, there has always been a “conscientious objector” exemption. Were those conscription laws, on this basis, laws that shouldn’t have been laws at all?

  15. If one group can opt out then all people should have the right to that option as well. Giving special privileges for anyone is a violation of equality.

  16. Jay,

    As I and others have mentioned, the Constitution allows, even mandates in some instances, preferential treatment. The Church frequently takes advantage of these exemptions. To say that a law cannot have “special privileges” for certain groups is to ignore the First Amendment.

  17. But there’s an exemption (or a “preference” in your words) for religious organizations; they can discriminate on the basis of religion in all employment decisions. The wisdom of this is clear.

    This statement could hardly be more inaccurate. The exception is for religious organizations, e.g. the law does not require Presbyterian congregations to hire Buddhist ministers:

    This subchapter shall not apply to an employer with respect to the employment of aliens outside any State, or to a religious corporation, association, educational institution, or society with respect to the employment of individuals of a particular religion to perform work connected with the carrying on by such corporation, association, educational institution, or society of its activities. (42 USC 2000e-1(a))

    It _does_ prohibit religious discrimination by all other employers (of a non-trivial size):

    It shall be an unlawful employment practice for an employer—
    (1) to fail or refuse to hire or to discharge any individual, or otherwise to discriminate against any individual with respect to his compensation, terms, conditions, or privileges of employment, because of such individual’s race, color, religion, sex, or national origin; (42 USC 2000e-2(a)

  18. Clearly I cannot read. Please ignore the statement about “cannot be more inaccurate” in my last comment. Mea culpa.

  19. >> So let me ask you, is Title VII, a law with a “religious
    >> preference,” “a law that shouldn’t exist at all”?

    >> Were those conscription laws, on this basis, laws that
    >> shouldn’t have been laws at all?

    Yes. Both laws are wrong, and the religious exemption does not mitigate, indeed emphasizes, their wrongness.

  20. Bruce,

    I’m dying to know why you think a law that criminalizes overt discrimination in employment decisions is “wrong.” If your problem is that the laws are federal mandates, then you should know that state anti-discrimination laws also feature exemptions for religious organizations.

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