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Vaccinations, Creationism, and Hobby Lobby—Oh, My!

by Michael Austin, published
“But now, our government threatens to change all of that. A new government health care mandate says that our family business must provide what I believe are abortion-causing drugs as part of our health insurance.”  —David Green, Founder of Hobby Lobby

Hobby Lobby’s case against the Affordable Care Act would be much more compelling if David Green were a Catholic—or at least somebody who believed that contraception was inherently sinful. No such luck. Green is fine with contraception, but, as he explained in a USA Today Op Ed piece last December, he is absolutely and morally opposed to abortion. And he believes that certain forms of contraception mandated by the ACA are “abortion-causing drugs.”

But here’s the problem: The statement “drugs like Plan B cause abortions” is not a claim of value. What Mr. Green believes does not actually matter. It is a claim of fact, so we must be interested in what he knows—or in what he can prove. In this particular case, Green’s factual claims are weak. Most of the actual evidence contradicts these claims. The drugs work by delaying ovulation, not aborting fertilized eggs.

The difference between a claim of fact and a claim of value could not be more important. The state is required by the Constitution to adopt a nuetral position on treat questions of religious belief. The government cannot privilege one set of values over another; it must treat all forms of belief—including unbelief—equally. The same is not true of questions of fact. We can and must treat untrue things as untrue, even if people believe them sincerely. And even if those sincere beliefs are religious.

Let’s take two other examples that have recently strutted across the national stage: young-earth creationism and the anti-vaccination movement. These are both things that some people believe very sincerely, often for religious reasons. And both positions are completely, demonstrably, and irredeemably wrong.

And these positions are wrong in a way that endangers the rest of us. Those who refuse to vaccinate themselves and their children compromise the health of the entire community by leaving the door open for the reintroduction of deadly diseases that have already been eradicated once. Those who pull their children out of school and teach them patent falsehoods in the name of science endanger the intellectual health of our culture in much the same way.

And the sincerity of one’s belief about these things does not matter. We would not allow a company to refuse to cover vaccinations in their insurance policies, no matter how sincerely the owner might believe that God hates shots. Nor would we exempt someone from a property tax that supported the teaching of evolution in science classes. For precisely the same reasons, we should all hope that the Supreme Court does not take the unprecedented step of declaring corporations eligible for religious exemptions in order to prevent abortions that are not, in fact, occurring.


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