Dec 12, 2012

The contraception coverage argument in a phrase

Perhaps it will ultimately be a matter of phrasing.

A third for-profit corporation has filed suit against the Obama administration's Health and Human Services' mandate that health insurance plans include coverage of contraceptives. In addition to a small flotilla of Catholic charities suing over this rule, there are also these three specific cases, where the question is finally whether or not the First Amendment's protection of religious exercise includes corporations. That is, whether or not corporations have inalienable human rights and whether or not they can in some sense be religious.

The latest suit is from Conestoga Wood Specialties Corporation, a woodworking company based in Landcaster Country, Penn. With the suit, the corporation joins and follows the arts-and-crafts chain Hobby Lobby and the Christian book publisher Tyndale House, making the case in federal court that corporations have religions.

The news story in the Philadelphia Inquirer reporting on the suit says the company, which has more than 900 employees and makes cabinets, is owned by Mennonites. Reporter Amy Worden describes Conestoga Wood Specialties as a "Mennonite-owned cabinetmaker." This seems to be a fact that no one disputes.

The headline for the piece, however, says the company is a "Mennonite firm." This is exactly what's in dispute.

Whether or not there's an important distinction between the two phrases is, it seems, basically the crux of this case.

The Obama administration's case is that a Mennonite-owned company is not the same thing as a Mennonite company. After all, there are more than 900 people working there. The religious practices of the owners may include decisions they make in running the company, but the corporation does not belong to any church. That's the argument.

Others disagree. Or, at least, favor the kind of phrasing that takes as fact what's disputed in the court case. For example:
Then, of course, there are those like the editor at First Things whose headline elides  and implicitly denies any meaningful difference between a "Mennonite-owned corporation" and a "Mennonite corporation" and all the Mennonites.

The way one views this argument may be a matter of assumptions, really. Assumptions that come out in questions of phrasing. It just depends on how you put it.

Update (Dec. 13): The Philadelphia Inquirer has updated its headline to read "A Mennonite firm sues over Obamacare contraception coverage." Whether because the reporter or someone raised the issue I mention here or for some other reason, I do not know.