Does freedom of religion allow religious traditions to force their beliefs upon everyone?
Legalized abortion has been before the Supreme Court nearly every year since Roe vs. Wade but this year there is likely to be a second question: Under what circumstances can the public be forced to pay for an insurance policy that covers the cost of abortions?
In many Christian churches, having an abortion is against the beliefs of the religion. However, a church cannot legally prevent any person - whether a member of that church or not - from having one as long as abortions are legal. The insurance argument, therefore, is different from past freedom of religion issues, because the government is not requiring people to have an abortion against their will. The government is requiring organizations to pay - as a part of an insurance premium - for the abortions that people freely choose to have.
Is requiring a religious organization to pay for a benefit based upon the belief system of an employee - whether or not it is subscribed to by the employer - a fair expectation in this country? That is the question that is being discussed. A related question is whether a secular organization or business can deny such a right to its employees based upon the belief system (religion) of the owner, personnel manager, etc.?
And a final question that must be addressed - and one for which there is already a tentative answer - is when should religious organizations be treated as secular organizations?
So, when religions "practice" in the public sandbox, should they play by the rules of the sandbox? Is it ever appropriate to change the rules in the sandbox to accommodate a particular religious player?
Same-sex marriage offers the same sort of challenge. The Roman Catholic Church in particular has come out in strong opposition to allowing same-sex couples to marry in civil ceremonies. However, other religious traditions – including some mainstream Christian traditions – have embraced same-sex relationships. The question that will no doubt come before the court is whether it is appropriate for civil laws regarding marriage to be limited to the Roman Catholic Church’s vision for marriage?
Those are the freedom of religion questions that will likely come before the Supreme Court during 2013.
This commentary was first published April 21, 2013 by the Winona Daily News