The U.S. Supreme Court this week refused to hear a case involving religious freedom and the pharmacy profession. At stake: A Washington state law requiring pharmacies to carry and dispense all Federal Drug Administration-approved drugs — including so-called morning after birth control pills that some pharmacists object to for religious reasons.
The court’s refusal to get involved means the law stands, all of which caused Justice Samuel Alito to dissent.
“If this is a sign of how religious liberty claims will be treated in the years ahead, those who value religious freedom have cause for great concern,” he said.
Did the court make the right decision? What are the proper limits to religious freedom in America? Joel Mathis and Ben Boychuk, the RedBlueAmerica columnists, debate the issue.
Let’s get one thing straight: Religious freedom isn’t a hall pass from the obligations of citizenship. If you don’t want to be a pharmacist who dispenses birth control, perhaps you shouldn’t be a pharmacist.
Don’t misunderstand: Religious freedom is important. In America, we observe it extensively. But like all rights, it has limits.
I grew up among Mennonites, for example. An important tenet of the Mennonite faith is pacifism — to the degree that many Mennonites are opposed to paying taxes to support America’s defense establishment. Does religious liberty mean they’re free not to pay those taxes? Nope. But some Mennonites choose to reduce their income — and their expenses — to the point that their tax obligation is zero.
They follow their consciences, in other words, and they follow the law — but they make substantial sacrifices to their material well-being in order to do so. Freedom of religion is no guarantee against making hard or unpleasant choices.
What does this have to do with the pharmacists and their religious freedom?
Let’s start with this truth: Not everybody is — or can be — a pharmacist. It takes years of study, education and mastery, after which the survivors undergo a licensing process to ensure they meet the standards to provide proper health care. Pharmacists may often work for private businesses, but they provide a highly regulated public service. That carries public obligations that may not apply, say, to a cake baker.
This matters, because while some big cities have pharmacies on every other block in the right neighborhoods, it’s also the case that in rural areas a pharmacist often has a virtual monopoly on serving his or her region. If that pharmacist decides not to provide certain services, customers can be greatly burdened — or even out of luck — in procuring the health assistance they require.
The state of Washington has thus decided that pharmacists can’t pick or choose which parts of the job they’ll do and which they won’t. That doesn’t mean conservative Christians can’t exercise their conscience. It does mean, however, that they might have to get a different job.
Let’s consider the many jobs traditional, pro-life Christians may no longer, in good conscience, be able to have under this increasingly illiberal regime.
They’ll no longer be able to be pharmacists, obviously. They certainly won’t be obstetricians or gynecologists. They will not be wedding photographers, florists, caterers or bakers. In some states, like California, a career in law or public education will almost certainly be out of the question.
Obscured by the outcome of this case is the little-known fact that pharmacies have the right to refer customers to another pharmacy for drugs they don’t stock for almost any reason. Except one. Washington state regulators appear to have gone out of their way to rule out a religious exemption.
As Justice Alito noted in his dissent, “there is much evidence that the impetus for the adoption of the regulations was hostility to pharmacists whose religious beliefs regarding abortion and contraception are out of step with prevailing opinion in the State.”
But never mind the evidence. The liberals on the Supreme Court will contort logic, eviscerate language and mangle precedent to ensure that a woman’s right to any form of abortion remains free and unfettered.
If anyone doubts it, simply read the court’s ruling last week to toss out a Texas law requiring abortion clinics to meet the same standards as any ambulatory care facility.
Texas enacted the law following the 2013 murder conviction of Kermit Gosnell, the Philadelphia abortionist whose clinic resembled a charnel house. At least two women died under his “care.”
Yet Justice Stephen Breyer, writing for the court, said that as bad as Gosnell was, “there is no reason to believe that an extra layer of regulation would have affected that behavior. Determined wrongdoers, already ignoring existing statutes and safety measures, are unlikely to be convinced to adopt safe practices by a new overlay of regulations.”
Do you suppose Breyer and his progressive colleagues would adopt that same logic in a gun control case? Of course not.
But faced with a choice between the demands of modern sexual politics and public safety, or the old rights of religious freedom and conscience, sexual politics will win every time.
Ben Boychuk (firstname.lastname@example.org) is associate editor of the Manhattan Institute’s City Journal. Joel Mathis (email@example.com) is associate editor for Philadelphia Magazine. Visit them on Facebook: www.facebook.com/benandjoel.