By now everyone knows that the United States Bishops are claiming that the law which requires employers to provide health insurance that covers drugs and contraceptives is a violation of religious liberty. Never mind the fact that the contraceptive requirement has been in place since 2000 (the only recent change is that the law now applies to employers with fewer than 15 employees and all employers have to include drug coverage; before they could insure without drugs) and it looks suspicious that the Bishops chose an election year to finally complain about it; never mind the fact that very few if any Catholics can make any sense out of the hierarchy’s prohibition on contraception; never mind that the Bishops are unwilling to also extend their argument to religious groups like Jehovas Witnesses, who prohibit organ donation.
Never mind all of that. I am going to show, by using the blazing power of syllogistic logic, why the Bishops are simply wrong.
Let’s look at the syllogism the Bishops would probably put forward:
1. A law which requires a person to buy something which is opposed to his religion violates his religious freedom.
2. The law requires some employers to purchase contraceptives, which are opposed to some employers’ religious beliefs.
Therefore: The law violates some employers religious beliefs.
Assuming (and its a reasonable assumption) that some employers (specifically, perhaps, the bishops themselves) are opposed on religious principle to contraception, this syllogism is valid.
But it is not sound.
Because the second premise is false. Employers don’t buy contraceptives: Employees do by their own choice.
Put another way: By definition, employers pay for one thing and one thing only: Labor and services. They pay for this in two forms: Wages (monetary compensation) and benefits (such as health insurance). An employee can pay for anything he wants (provided it is legal) with his wages and benefits. In this country, we have minimum compensation laws (supported by the Bishops and Catholic tradition) that includes both a minimum wage and, in some cases, minimum health insurance packages. The employee decides how to spend both at his or her own discretion. The employee buys many things, from food to health services, by means of his or her labor and services.
Think of it this way: When you get a paycheck and buy a television, do you say “my employer bought this television?” No, of course not. You earned your paycheck by working. You also earned your health insurance by working. It is your choice how to spend both money and benefits. Your employer may not like how you spend money or benefits, but nevertheless you earned both the money and the benefits. An employer can no more say “I will pay you this amount of money only on condition that you not use it to purchase contraception” any more than he can say “I will provide health insurance provided you do not use it to purchase contraception.” The employer can’t do that because the only thing an employer pays for is your labor and services.
So the Bishops are wrong: The law is not a violation of religious liberty for the simple reason that no one is required to buy anything he or she does not want. No one is required to buy contraceptives.
But it is an election year, and we all remember the past two presidential cycles when some bishops tried to declare it a mortal sin to vote for certain candidates. Since that was too controversial, perhaps they just see this is an alternative way to make their own prejudices known.