For several years some business owners and religious groups that own institutions providing services using taxpayer funds (such as hospitals) have claimed that the First Amendment of the Constitution guarantees their right to make decisions based on opposition to behavior prohibited by the owners’ religious beliefs, often calling for laws to protect that right.
However, the First Amendment says only that “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof … .” It guarantees my individual right to practice my beliefs without fear of persecution or discrimination. It definitely does not say that disagreeing with the beliefs of others justifies discrimination or denial of legal benefits.
If Catholic employees are free to not use contraceptives even if their employers provide coverage, should Catholic employers have the right to deny coverage to employees who have different beliefs? Is baking a cake for a customer’s second wedding equivalent to getting (or giving someone else) a divorce? Would we defend a Catholic hospital’s right to refuse family insurance benefits to the spouses of employees in second marriages because the church does not recognize such marriages?
My freedom to live in a way that is consistent with my beliefs without fear of persecution or discrimination is in jeopardy if I deny that freedom to others. The constitutionally guaranteed free exercise of religion requires the willingness of each and every citizen to respect and protect the practice of beliefs that differ from, or even conflict with, our own beliefs.
Mary Margaret Hart, Bellefonte