July 6th, 2012

Religious exemptions: from Obamacare and more

There’s been an email going around alleging that Muslims will be exempt from the Obamacare tax/mandate.

It’s not true, at least at the moment, but it stands a remote possibility of becoming true. The facts are here and here, and are based on the Muslim prohibition against insurance, plus a provision in the Obamacare bill that exempts people from the requirement who have religious objections and come under a particular section of the IRS code that requires not only an organized objection but a refusal to accept the benefits of Social Security (which is the previous area in which the rule has been applied, mostly for Amish and Mennonites but never for Muslims).

So most interpretations have claimed that Muslims would not be exempt from Obamacare, either. And although SCOTUS has become a bit less predictable lately than in the past, so that we can safely say “you never know,” my strong suspicion is that the law will continue to be applied in the same way it has before, and only the aforementioned sort of groups would be exempt if they requested it.

This brings up another question: how far should religious exemptions go? How much adherence to our cultural and legal norms is required, and how much deviation allowed?

In this country we guarantee religious freedom, but only up to a point. That point is certainly exceeded by certain basic acts prohibited by criminal law: for example, if there were a sect that wanted to revive the Aztec religion and practice ritual sacrifice in which living humans had their hearts torn out of their chests, it would be outlawed despite their right to religious freedom. Members of the sect of renegade Mormons practicing polygamy are sometimes prosecuted for it, and there are animal rights advocates who would like to make the slaughtering of animals under kosher and/or halal laws a criminal offense. We have even seen that in one recent German court, circumcision has been ruled illegal.

The US has a lengthy tradition of allowing conscientious objectors to opt out of military service when there’s a draft, but only if they are members of a religious group such as the Quakers who are against such things on religious grounds (see my series on the Quakers and pacifism, here). However, in 1971, a case known as Gillette v. United States broadened those grounds and made the general category “conscience” an excuse to be exempted from service as well, under certain circumstances. Here’s how the situation stands today:

In the United States, there are two main criteria for classification as a conscientious objector. First, the objector must be opposed to war in any form, Gillette v. United States, 401 U.S. 437. Second, the objection must be sincere, Witmer v. United States, 348 U.S. 375. That he must show that this opposition is based upon religious training and belief was no longer a criterion after cases broadened it to include non-religious moral belief…

Military conscription ended in the US in 1973, and so this sort of thing is no longer front page news. But you can bet it would become a hot button issue again in the unlikely but conceivable circumstance of a re-institution of the draft.

8 Responses to “Religious exemptions: from Obamacare and more”

  1. Steve D Says:

    So, the solution is simple? We all convert to Islam and Obamacare dies?

  2. Tesh Says:

    Incidentally, I find it interesting that gay marriage is such a hot button issue, and apparently acceptable to a vocal minority pretending to speak for the silent majority, but polygamy is still just assumed to be verboten. Just because it’s so *wrong*, obviously.

  3. Mr. Frank Says:

    The big religious issue will the Catholic Church objections to paying for contraceptives and abortion inducing drugs. I’m hoping that the bishops don’t go wobbly and that they get attacked by Obama a few weeks before the election.

  4. Parker Says:

    Tish, I agree with your POV. Apparently, there is no such thing as equality under the law. Homosexual ‘marriage’ does not effect my life, on a personal level it is not an issue one way or the other. If 2 men or 2 women wish to ‘marry’ it is no skin off my back, same goes for 1 man & 10 women or 1 woman and 10 ten men provided all are above the age of consent.

    “So, the solution is simple? We all convert to Islam and Obamacare dies?”

    We all convert to Islam and liberty, which is on life support at the moment, has the plug to the life support system pulled.

  5. foxmarks Says:

    The Constitution was design to operate in a particular culture with a particular moral framework. Tolerance of those outside the framework is noble, and our political experiment can endure some amount of “deviance” in its midst.

    We are on a long slide of normalizing deviance along many axes. It makes me feel old, but I am inclined to think it was wiser to keep the deviants somewhat ostracized. I don’t mean it as inflammatory as this will sound, but our ideal might be segregation without racism. (or any -ism)

  6. foxmarks Says:

    My State has the definition of marriage on the ballot this fall. I’ve been in many arguments with same-sex supporters who claim equality as justification. I say equality would mean any number and any gender of partners.

    The current polling has the factions tied, within the margin. If the same-sex people were honest about where their argument must lead, they would lose huge.

  7. Brad Says:

    It’s a bit less than honest to say that “conscription” ended in 1973.

    Stop-loss is just a form of it applied to people who had the misfortune to believe that any government contract in the armed services is worth the paper it is printed on.

  8. Arthur Says:

    You don’t have to practice Islam (stop trying to twist things)… A Christian will have the same exemption options. Should you pull this card, be prepared to exempt yourself from social programs like social security as well. Oh the irony! I am glad to know that at least my government thinks consistency is important.

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Previously a lifelong Democrat, born in New York and living in New England, surrounded by liberals on all sides, I've found myself slowly but surely leaving the fold and becoming that dread thing: a neocon.

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