by NATHANIEL FRANK, Huffington Post
The Blunt amendment, the bill that would have allowed employers and insurers to deny health care coverage for services that are contrary to their "religious beliefs or moral convictions," has created a predictable rift between the left and the right, with each side trading election year sound bites. But the bill, which narrowly failed in the Senate last week, raises a harder -- and more interesting -- question than whether special health care exemptions are a "war on women" or a "war on religion": What constitutes a "belief" or a "moral conviction" and when should the assertion of such a belief be considered the proper basis for the giving or taking away of rights?
Conservatives have spent generations accusing liberals of moral relativism and "anything goes" indulgence in their feelings or whims. But is a belief -- no matter how ennobled by the protective mantle of institutional religion, historical longevity or broad popularity -- any less arbitrary of a foundation for the giving or taking away of people's rights? In order to be a legitimate basis for public policy, does the assertion of a belief need to be paired with an empirical argument about the impact of the proposed policy that the belief is being cited to justify?
With the Blunt amendment, as with religious exemptions that let people avoid LGBT non-discrimination laws, we're not talking about just leaving someone alone to revel or wallow in their beliefs; we're talking, sound bites notwithstanding, about citing a personal belief -- absent any other argument for the utility, wisdom, soundness, fairness, benefit or value of a proposed policy -- to justify a law that's binding against others. After all, an exemption from a law that requires or prevents action from everybody else is not simply a matter of getting the government off our backs, any more than if I were to demand an exemption from the speed limit because I believed such constraints were morally wrong; rather, it's an invitation for individuals to ignore laws that apply to everyone else. [MORE]