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.