Over the past few months, circuit courts have started weighing in on the Affordable Care Act’s requirement that employers’ health plans include contraception at no cost to employees, and it’s clearly heading for the Supreme Court.

So far, the 3rd Circuit and the 6th Circuit have gotten it right, holding that, “Duh, corporations aren’t people, so they don’t exercise religion.” The 7th, 8th, and 10th Circuits have gone the other way.

So the companies suing must be mad about all the money they’re going to have to shell out to pay for free contraception, right?

Wrong! The best available data suggest the change will cost employers approximately nothing when the initial costs are weighed against the longer-term savings.

Now, I totally agree with the 3rd and 6th Circuits that corporations aren’t people who are able to exercise religion. But if corporations were people, what kind of religious injury would we be dealing with, exactly?

It’s not that employers are being forced to pay for the sin of contraception use, because the contraception mandate won’t impose any additional costs. To illustrate: in situation A, the employer pays $X, and the employee can choose to sin or not to sin; in situation B, the employer also pays $X, and the employee…. well, the employee can still sin to his/her heart’s content, but now he/she has to pay out of pocket for that sin.

In other words, the corporations bringing these suits are fighting for the right to penalize employees for what they consider to be immoral behavior. I’m guessing it’s illegal to penalize employees like that directly (“You’re unmarried and sexually active? $50 off your paycheck!”), so I don’t see how prohibiting employers from indirectly doing so could be a constitutional infringement.

The employers seem to be missing a basic point: once a benefit is conferred — paycheck, insurance, whatever — it belongs to the employee to use as he or she chooses.

Really, this could be liberating for employers. Instead of having to balance angry employees against an angry god, they get an out. (“Ya know, God, I really wanted to deny my employees basic health coverage, but the government wouldn’t let me!”)

It could also be a nice opportunity for introspection. I’ll close with a bit of scripture:

Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? How can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when all the time there is a plank in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.

Matthew 7:3-5

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