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Filler: Religion gets a pass; not reason

A horse and buggy travels along a Lancaster

A horse and buggy travels along a Lancaster County back country road that twists among acres and acres of picture-perfect farmland. Photo Credit: Terry Ross/

Lately I've been wishing I were Amish, and not just because I look so dashing in a horse-drawn buggy. It's because their beliefs allow the Amish, and other religious people and institutions, to hold on to liberties the federal government has wrestled from the rest of us.

The recent debate over Obamacare and the exemptions from providing contraceptive coverage for religious organizations actually highlighted a much larger chasm in our society. Actions we undertake based on unproveable religious faiths are legally protected. Try to make the exact same move based on reason and you'll end up paying an extremely large fine, or inhabiting an extremely small cell.

Religiously oriented organizations, Catholic ones in particular, won't have to directly provide employees with contraception. But a nonreligious employer, a Chuck E. Cheese franchisee, let's say, can make very logical arguments for opposing contraception, and not wanting to offer it to employees: "Contraception is destroying Medicare and Social Security stability," he might say. "No one's having enough kids to fund the programs thanks to it. And I'm not going to add to the low birthrate that's destroying my business, because 99 percent of my sales are whiny-child driven. Also, the other 1 percent, adults who come in without kids, really creep me out."

You may think this fellow is wrong, but his reasons for not wanting to follow the law make good sense. Yet since his reasons are not religious, he has no rights.

The Amish provide an even better example. Self-employed Amish folks are excused from contributing to Social Security or Medicare, thanks to Section 1402(g)(1) of the Internal Revenue code, because their religion says any form of insurance shows a lack of faith that God will care for them, and because they have a social structure that provides help in times of need. In order to get the exemption, they agree not to derive benefit from the programs. They will be exempt from Obamacare, as well.

But let's say I'm a self-employed writer (let's not say it too loud around my boss, but let's say it) and I want to be exempted from Social Security. Ponying up 12.4 percent of my earnings in exchange for an iffy promise that I'll get a couple grand each month when I turn 67 -- if the money doesn't run out and if the rules don't change -- is an investment on par with an exchange-traded fund focused on slide-rule, buggy whip and record player manufacturers. The best-case scenario is a bad return. The worst-case scenario is the "Apocalypse Now," of balance sheets.

You can make an equally sensible argument against buying health insurance. When you purchase it, only part of your money goes to health care. The rest pays people to man phones in Dubuque or New Delhi and tell you you've been denied your procedure, to the $36 million salary of the Great White Shark of a CEO and to stockholder profits. Why would anyone pony up for all that?

I'd rather just pay the part that goes to my health, by giving providers money directly.

I don't want the sick dying for lack of care, or the impoverished elderly starving. And I'm willing to pay direct income taxes to prevent it. That's far different from telling me I must fund my own retirement and health care through such plans.

Such programs don't just steal the freedoms of the religious. In fact, it's only the devout who can exercise these freedoms. Those who want to follow the same paths, motivated by reason, haven't a prayer.


Lane Filler is a member of the Newsday editorial board.


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