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Democratic Senator: ‘Right To Insurance’ More Important Than Religious Liberty

I’ve noted before that I am highly skeptical of the religious liberty arguments being put forward by some opponents of the Obama Administration’s contraception coverage policy as applied to institutions run by churches and other religious organizations. That said, this statement by California’s Barbara Boxer is absolutely ridiculous:

Senator Boxer warned yesterday that if the HHS contraception mandate was repealed it would set a dangerous precedence of religious rights trumping the right to be insured.

On MSNBC’s Politics Nation with Al Sharpton last night, Boxer affirmed that under the proposed amendment proposed by Sen. Roy Blunt, an employer would not be forced by the government to pay for medical practices against his religion.

“I mean, are they serious? Sharpton exclaimed, “How do you make a law where an employer can decide his own religious beliefs violate your right to be insured?”

“Oh Absolutely,” Boxer said, “Let’s use an example, let’s say somebody believes that medicine doesn’t cure anybody of a disease but prayer does and then they decide no medicine.

“No medicine!” she exclaimed, “Under the Blunt amendment, they could do just that.”

The only problem with Boxer’s comment, of course, is that there is no such thing as a right to health insurance. It’s not in the Bill Of Rights (and it doesn’t belong there, either) or anywhere else in the Constitution. If the opponents of the Obama Administration are correct and there really is a conflict between the law and the First Amendment, the the First Amendment wins not some non-existent right to health insurance.

 

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About Doug Mataconis
Doug holds a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May, 2010 and also writes at Below The Beltway. Follow Doug on Twitter | Facebook

Comments

  1. I can’t watch the video but the transcript you provide has Sharpton, not Boxer, saying there’s a right to insurance.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 6 Thumb down 0

  2. Herb says:

    The only problem with Boxer’s comment, of course, is that there is no such thing as a right to health insurance.

    This quote should be affixed to the bronze bust in your firm’s lobby.

    No right to health insurance….If it’s going to be a requirement and last time I checked it is, then certain rights, constitutional or implied, are going to have to come along for the ride. The government can’t require me to get something, then allow others to crimp access to it.

    Your preferred method of dealing with this problem would probably be to jettison the ACA entirely. That’s not likely, so what is the alternative?

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 0

  3. WR says:

    In Doug world, it’s really too bad if employers choose to sentence their employees to death because they can feign a religious interest in denying medical care to save money, but what the heck, it’s the market and it’s freedom, so it’s really a good thing. Because in Doug world, the fact that almost all health insurance is employer-provided and that anyone denied care by her employer will almost certainly be unable to find alternative insurance is meaningless — no real world considerations must ever be allowed to impinge on the perfect purity of the theoretical. If that means people dying of cancer, oh well.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 9 Thumb down 3

  4. Brummagem Joe says:

    Of course that’s not what she said but Doug is doing a bit of creative extrapolation here. The fact is whether Doug agrees with it or not we have a well established system of medical insurance that has just been legislatively expanded and which provides various medical benefits including coverage for contraceptives. Blount’s proposal and the RC bishop’s wish to give employers the right to exclude access to one particular benefit on religious grounds thereby making the religious preferences of a minority part of the employment contracts of all (most of whom do not share those religious beliefs). This in fact is the absolute reverse of religious freedom. What other catholic beliefs does Doug wish to impose on non catholics? We live in a secular state where the separation of church and state is a central part of our constitution and it certainly doesn’t sanction the imposition of one group’s religious beliefs on another.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 2

  5. Joe,

    You do realize that the Establishment Clause only applies to government entities, right? What private employers do is not implicated by the First Amendment at all.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  6. Tsar Nicholas says:

    Cut Babs some slack. I believe she’s suffering from early onset dementia. There’s also the issue of leftism being a separate organic brain defect. On a separate topic, MSNBC still is being broadcast?? That’s got to be a misprint.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 13

  7. Gulliver says:

    This article is spot on. The liberal argument s here ignore the fact that no one is being denied contraceptives. At issue is the Constitutional protections for any religion against coercion by the state that would force a member of that religion to provide, or be involved in, activity they find morally incompatible with their faith.

    Nothing at all to do with contraceptives or access to them. Access is abundant and will remain so.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 9

  8. john personna says:

    I believe that this test case, and forced issue, is an odd one all around. I’ve wondered why the Dems would push it in an election year. Is it just a troll? A big headline, Whitehouse, troll? I mean, does Obama want people like Doug to jump up and say “there is no such thing as a right to health insurance?”

    As I understand it, a large majority want “universal care” but a smaller majority now dislike the “universal mandate.”

    Perhaps by bringing out the “haters” the Dems think they’ll regain some ground?

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 1

  9. Brummagem Joe says:

    @Gulliver:

    The liberal argument s here ignore the fact that no one is being denied contraceptives.

    They are being denied them on the same terms as someone across the street who works for a different employer. You guys can dance around on pinheads all day but what’s being proposed here is the enshrinement in employment law of a religious exception based on the wishes of a particular religious denomination. This is a argument the Democrats are delighted to have but I suspect when it gets right down to it Republicans outside of a few zealots are going to quietly fade away on this issue.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 6 Thumb down 2

  10. Brummagem Joe says:

    @Doug Mataconis:

    No Doug I’m totally unaware of it.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 1

  11. Septimius says:

    The only problem with Boxer’s comment, of course, is that there is no such thing as a right to health insurance. It’s not in the Bill Of Rights (and it doesn’t belong there, either) or anywhere else in the Constitution.

    The right to health insurance is enshrined in the Constitution. It’s part of the “Good and Welfare Clause.” So says noted Constitutional scholar, John Conyers.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  12. @Gulliver:

    At issue is the Constitutional protections for any religion against coercion by the state that would force a member of that religion to provide, or be involved in, activity they find morally incompatible with their faith.

    The Catholic Charities get 62% of their revenue from taxpayer dollars. What about MY right not to be coerced into support policies of the Catholic church that I fine morally incompatible with MY faith?

    If you want to suck on the government’s teat, don’t start complaining that everything smells like cow.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 9 Thumb down 0

  13. Just pissed off says:

    Religion: Invisible make-believe shit

    Cancer: Real-world shit that will kill you.

    Sorry… my invisible pal in the sky says that you don’t need to fight cancer.

    But, good luck with that!

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 7 Thumb down 1

  14. grumpy realist says:

    Best argument so far for a NHS system. And yes, I’ve lived in two countries that had it, and after my experience with Japan and the UK and the US, I’d rather have it than not.

    Or even better: have the choice between a NHS and private health insurance and see who wins. If you’re on the NHS, they get to nag you about eating your vegetables or whatever else they think is good for you. If you don’t like that, go get your own health insurance. Conversely, if you think you’re getting overcharged for your Cadillac health insurance plan, you can move over to the NHS (and put up with the nagging.)

    And for god’s sake, let’s get the individual employers out of the equation.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 5 Thumb down 0

  15. James H says:

    Well, Boxer and Sharpton are sort of right. Sort of.

    It’s not a question of the “right to insurance” trumping the right to freely exercise one’s religion. Rather, the question is whether the federal power to regulate interstate commerce* trumps the individual right to exercise religion freely.

    Now, the right to freely exercise religion is surely a fundamental right, but I suspect that in many, many of the scenarios spinning out of this contraception kerfuffle, the power to regulate interstate commerce is going to trump free exercise if the Obama policy is challenged.

    Of course, if Congress enacts a law exempting religious folks from having to provide certain benefits under ACA, that’s a different ball of wax. In some scenarios under this, I could see a situation that runs afoul of First Amendment jurisprudence. But mostly, I just think it would be bad policy.

    * Assuming, arguendo that the federal government has the power to regulate health insurance in this manner under the Commerce Clause.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

  16. David M says:

    You know, Medicare for all would fix this pesky problem. Seems hard to take the complaints seriously though as most of the opposition in the GOP is just because it’s associated with Obama. I care a lot more about universal health care than the fact an employer might get their precious feelings hurt by providing comprehensive insurance to their employees.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 0

  17. JohnMcC says:

    Thank you, Mr Dragon, for reminding us that we are not a nation of independent actors all in conflict with each other. I was framing my reply somewhere along a similar thought process that the right to require a full array of health services from insurance companies in return for licensing them to do business is pretty darn well established. As well established as the ‘right’ to be treated in a hospital, which is provided in the EMTALA law signed in ’86 by Ronaldus The Magnificent but is not found anywhere in the Constitution.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  18. Gulliver says:

    @ Brummagen
    I suspect when it gets right down to it Republicans outside of a few zealots are going to quietly fade away on this issue.

    Boy are you in for a shock. The state is not supreme to one’s moral conscience based upon the practice of their religion. You got a small thing called the Bill of Rights that stands opposed to your position. Good luck trying to frame the argument any other way.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 2

  19. Gulliver says:

    @ stormy dragon

    If you want to suck on the government’s teat, don’t start complaining that everything smells like cow.

    So let me get your argument straight as I understand it; You object, from conscience, that there is an organization providing health care services that will not perform abortions and issue contraceptives, and that means you are paying for services you are morally in opposition to when it comes to the government dollars being given to the Catholic hospitals, etc. Which of the services actually provided by the Catholic institutions are you morally opposed to?

    Your argument is extremely confusing, not to mention very twisted. You appear to be saying that the problem is not what they do, but what they don’t do that you are morally opposed to. If that’s the case, then how are your tax dollars providing services that offend you?

    There is no parallel in your argument that I can see.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 5

  20. Gulliver says:

    @ JohnMCc

    As well established as the ‘right’ to be treated in a hospital, which is provided in the EMTALA law signed in ’86 by Ronaldus The Magnificent but is not found anywhere in the Constitution.

    That measure ensures emergency medical treatment or serious injury treatment without regard to demonstrated ability to pay for the necessary services. 1) Contraceptives certainly do not fall into this category and this legislation just as certainly doesn’t come into play in the matter without some serious mental gymnastics, and 2) This assumes there is some universal recognition that abortion (which is the most objectionable aspect for the churches) falls within the accepted definition of a healthcare service.

    That position is far from a universal view both in the public arena as well as private insurers. It is only the liberal progressives that insist on defining an abortion as a healthcare service (i.e. one that makes a patient better, not sick, healthy again). Don’t fool yourselves into thinking that your definition is the one that counts, just because you always frame the discussion that way.

    BTW – about 60% of Americans think that abortion access should have more restrictions than it currently does. That should give you a little pause in convincing yourself that anyone opposing this overreach by Obama will be viewed as extreme.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 1

  21. @Gulliver:

    My argument is that I am being taxed and that money is then being given to a religious organization which argues that decisions on how to spend that money should be based solely on its discretion, with no regard to my opinions on any particular matter. Furthermore, it uses the goodwill from these operations to adovcate for political policies to force me to comply with the edicts of their religion.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 5 Thumb down 0

  22. Justin Bowen says:

    @Gulliver: So what of the people who claim that their religion dictates that they shouldn’t pay taxes (or, at the very least, support, whether financially or otherwise, entities whose policies they disagree with)?

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

  23. Console says:

    More accurately, there’s no religious exemption for obeying the law, if the law has reason and is equally applied. Well, at least not for most things.

    Or as scalia put it, you can’t ignore “neutral laws of general applicability” just because you have religion.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

  24. jukeboxgrad says:

    gulliver:

    At issue is the Constitutional protections for any religion against coercion by the state that would force a member of that religion to provide, or be involved in, activity they find morally incompatible with their faith.

    Invading the wrong country is “morally incompatible with [my] faith.” Can I get a refund for the taxes I paid to support that “activity?” After all, I paid those taxes under “coercion by the state.”

    I realize Justin asked the same question.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 4 Thumb down 0

  25. Racehorse says:

    @grumpy realist: What would work would be a system where people would be responsible for buying their own health insurance and could get a straight (not percentage) tax deduction for the cost. This would give them freedom and the competition would result in prices going down.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  26. An Interested Party says:

    …about 60% of Americans think that abortion access should have more restrictions than it currently does. That should give you a little pause in convincing yourself that anyone opposing this overreach by Obama will be viewed as extreme.

    Well, it is pretty extreme to try to conflate the issue of contraception with the issue of abortion…in case you didn’t know, the two are different…

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  27. David M says:

    @Gulliver: First, why are you bringing up abortion as being the most objectionable aspect of this for the churches? The mandate is for contraception. Secondly, please look up ectopic pregnancy, as it’s a pretty good example of why abortion is most certainly a health care service, even using your definition.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

  28. Jay says:

    Boxer and Sharpton? My head just exploded.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

  29. Tillman says:

    Elias Isquith already pointed this out, but it bears repeating: Barbara Boxer says nothing about a right to be insured. Al Sharpton says it, and she takes up his question, not his assertion that people have a right to insurance.

    I point this out again because the comments section, for the most part, has stuck to the issue brought up by Sharpton rather than this imaginary comment Boxer made, which is the entire focus of the blog post.

    Doug, you are aware she doesn’t say anything like people have a right to health insurance, right? Or is this some sort of “comment by association” thing?

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

  30. James in LA says:

    Healthcare is a basic human necessity. Religion is not.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  31. grumpy realist says:

    And the religious snit-fit against paying for insurance-with-contraception looks really, really putrid against the total lack of equivalent snit-fit about paying for insurance-with-Viagra.

    Bluntly, if you don’t think there’s a problem against paying for men to have boners you can’t get pissed that women want equivalent support to deal with the resultant problem…..

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 1

  32. @Tillman:

    Boxer clearly indicates agreement with Sharpton’s statement.

    Speaking of which, what is a United States Senator doing on a program hosted by a race hustler, liar, and creator of fake crimes like Al Sharpton?

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

  33. Sinistiquil says:

    Isn’t there anyone here who has bothered to keep in mind that in poll after poll, public opinion is overwhelmingly (around 60%) against the health care bill in the first place, making the entire argument moot. The fact is, the American people agree with Doug…no “right” to health insurance exists.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  34. Sinistiquil says:

    You’re missing the point. The point is that there is no “right” to health insurance. Most other rights codified in the U.S. Constitution are provided the fact that you are alive, human and, at times, a citizen of the U.S. If you had a “right” to health insurance, it would require your government to illegally and immorally penalize or take from others. In other words, your newfound “right” could only be ensured at the expense of another’s rights. Also, the American people are overwhelmingly against Obamacare in the first place. Face it, the health care law was something that was rammed down the nation’s throat during a short time when the political class found themselves in near complete control of the federal government.

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  35. An Interested Party says:

    Isn’t there anyone here who has bothered to keep in mind that in poll after poll, public opinion is overwhelmingly (around 60%) against the health care bill in the first place, making the entire argument moot.

    Poll results which differ quite substantially to those of people who are polled on the individual components of PPACA…

    Face it, the health care law was something that was rammed down the nation’s throat during a short time when the political class found themselves in near complete control of the federal government.

    This tiresome meme again…anyone who wants to complain about how PPACA was passed needs to base his argument in comparison to how Medicare Part D was passed…

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  36. Brian says:

    It is my opinion that “best medical practice” should govern what insurance companies are required to cover, and not what religious entities currently believe about any specific issue. After all, at one time, religious views held thinking the earth was round was criminal.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  37. Sinistiquil says:

    “Poll results which differ quite substantially to those of people who are polled on the individual components of PPACA…”

    Why don’t you just call it Obamacare like the rest of the world? Yeah, sure…everyone loves the idea of universal healthcare…which is what you’re essentially illustrating. But what people tend to object to is the idea of the federal government going into their pocket, again, to pay for it using an individual mandate most consider to be unconstitutional. But then again, I’m all for it…it pushes us closer to political fracture between red, blue and all shades thereof. The sooner we are two separate nations, the happier everyone will be. Blues can tax themselves into a socialist, liberal utopia and Red can establish their militant, industrio-agrarian, sparta-esque world. The question is whether it will be a peaceful split with commercial and diplomatic relations remaining intact, or if the northeast, southern Florida, the upper midwest and the west coast are stupid enough to start a war over it…however short in duration.

    “This tiresome meme again…anyone who wants to complain about how PPACA was passed needs to base his argument in comparison to how Medicare Part D was passed…”

    Nice try at redirection. That isn’t a rebuttal by even the most elementary standards. You’re simply trying to This “tiresome” view is one shared by at least half the nation. If you can’t see how it was a process of political thuggery, broken promises and back-room deals then you simply weren’t paying attention.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0