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July 3, 2014
Column #1,714
Supreme Court Supports Religious Freedom
By Mike McManus

“The Supreme Court has delivered one of the most significant victories for religious freedom in our generation,” exclaimed Tony Perkins, President of the Family Research Council.

“We are thankful the Supreme Court agreed that the government went too far by mandating that family business owners must violate their consciences under threat of crippling fines.”

What was the issue? For liberal columnist Ruth Marcus, the issue was “whether employers must offer contraception as part of their health care plans.”

Nonsense. That’s not the issue. Two companies – Hobby Lobby and Conestoga Wood Specialties – already offer 16 forms of contraceptives as part of their health care plans. However they objected to offering free “morning after pills” which would kill or abort a growing embryo. That violated their Christian consciences.

This week we celebrate the signing of the Declaration of Independence which opens with these immortal words: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all Men are created equal and are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness.”

Life is the first right, and Liberty, the second.

That embryo has a right to life, in the view of the corporate owners – and of the U.S. Supreme Court, which voted 5-4 in their favor. The two families which owned the two companies were granted the liberty to refuse to pay for abortion-inducing drugs.

The Green family which owns Hobby Lobby and the Hahns, who own Conestoga, argued that the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA), passed almost unanimously by Congress in 1993, prohibits the “Government (from substantially burden(ing) a person’s exercise of religion even if the burden results from a rule of general applicability unless the Government demonstrates the application of the burden to the person –

“(1) is in furtherance of a compelling governmental interest; and

“(2) is the least restrictive means of furthering that interest.”

The Department of Health and Human Services argued that RFRA does not apply to the two closely-held for-profit corporations because they cannot “exercise …religion.” The Supreme Court stated that HHS offered “no persuasive explanation for this conclusion.”

Further, the Court argued that the HHS mandate “substantially burdens the exercise of religion. It requires the Hahns and Greens to engage in conduct that seriously violates their sincere religious belief that life begins at conception. If they and their companies refuse to provide contraception coverage, they face severe economic consequences: about $475 million for Hobby Lobby and $33 million per year for Conestoga.”

“And if they drop coverage altogether, they could face penalties of roughly $26 million for Hobby Lobby, $1.6 million for Conestoga,” said the Court in an opinion written by Justice Samuel Alito.

The companies do not want to drop coverage. In fact, the Court noted they “have religious reasons for providing health insurance coverage for their employees.”

“The Court assumes that the interest in guaranteeing cost-free access to the four challenged contraceptive methods is a compelling governmental interest, but the Government has failed to...satisfy RFRA’s least restrictive means standard test.”

For example, the Court said HHS could “assume the cost of providing the four contraceptives to women unable to obtain coverage due to their employer’s religious objection.”

Finally, the Court noted that HHS “has effectively exempted certain religious nonprofit organizations” from facing those onerous fines, by allowing their insurance companies to offer the coverage.

However, the Little Sisters of the Poor and 50 other religious groups are suing HHS over the mandate. Archbishop Joseph Kurtz, President of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops said that “justice prevailed” in the Court’s decision, adding that Catholic charities, hospitals and schools oppose the mandate “as a burden on their religious exercise.” They hope their cases “will prevail as well.”

On the same day the Supreme Court released its opinion, the Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals granted temporary relief to the Eternal Word Network so it would not be forced to provide contraceptives and abortion-inducing drugs. Other federal courts granted similar relief to eight other religious groups.

Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg wrote a dissenting opinion on behalf of two other female justices and one male justice - that criticized “a decision of startling breadth” that corporations “can opt out of any law…they judge incompatible with their sincerely held religious beliefs.”

She disagreed with the majority’s “accommodation of a for-profit corporation’s religious beliefs no matter the impact that accommodation may have on third parties who do not share the corporation owners’ religious faith – in these cases, thousands of women employed by Hobby Lobby and Conestoga.”

However, polls show that 50% to 53% of American women believe “morning after” pills are immoral.

“Justice prevailed.”
 

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