The war on religious freedom has begun, again. This July 4th we celebrated 239 years since the Declaration of Independence in 1776. But it was September 3, 1783 when the peace treaty with the British was signed, declaring victory in our war for religious freedom. Now, 232 years later, we must fight again for that religious freedom, so dearly won.
Many thought the war was over when the Supreme Court found in favor of Hobby Lobby in their lawsuit challenging the Obama administration’s insistence that they provide contraceptives and abortifacients to their employees in violation of their firmly held religious beliefs. The Court declared the government had overstepped its authority and violated the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA). This decision would pertain to all for-profit closely-held corporations.
Despite losing in Hobby Lobby v. Burwell, the Obama administration was not to be deterred from its stubborn attack on our religious freedom. They insisted upon pursuing the same issue in the non-profit arena when they continued their challenge of Little Sisters of the Poor v. Burwell.
The Little Sisters of the Poor is a Roman Catholic institution of nuns that provide supportive services for poor elderly and disabled Americans. They objected to violating their religious convictions in order to accommodate the requirements of ObamaCare to provide contraceptives and abortifacients to their employees. They also objected to signing a release form that would require their third-party insurer to provide these objectionable procedures since they would be morally complicit.
On July 14th the U. S. Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit denied their petition on a 2–1 vote. This decision means each of their homes must pay penalties of roughly $2.5 million per year. Judges Scott Matheson and Monroe McKay said,
“Although plaintiffs allege the administrative tasks required to opt out of the mandate make them complicit in the overall delivery scheme, opting out instead relieves them from complicity.”
In other words, you may feel morally complicit but we disagree. The Wall Street Journal put it this way, “A 2-1 majority of a Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals panel informs these believers that their moral convictions are wrong on the merits, so shut up and submit.”
RFRA was signed into law by President Bill Clinton as a way to insure that religious freedom would be respected and the government would be forced to find “the least restrictive way” when there was a “compelling interest” for the government to take actions that threatened religious freedom.
Judge Bobby Ray Baldock wrote in his dissent: “The accommodation scheme foists upon the self-insured plaintiffs a choice with dire consequences” in violation of RFRA. A less restrictive method could be federal birth-control vouchers, rather than conscripting the health insurance of religiously affiliated institutions.
The following statement was released by Mark Rienzi, Senior Counsel of The Becket Fund for Religious Liberty and lead attorney for the Little Sisters:
“We’re disappointed with today’s decision. After losing repeatedly at the Supreme Court, the government continues its unrelenting pursuit of The Little Sisters of the Poor. It is a national embarrassment that the world’s most powerful government insists, that instead of providing contraceptives through its own existing exchanges and programs, it must crush the Little Sisters’ faith and force them to participate. Untold millions of people have managed to get contraceptives without involving nuns, and there is no reason the government cannot run its programs without hijacking the Little Sisters and their health plan.”
An appeal to the Supreme Court is certain. “We will keep on fighting for The Little Sisters, even if it means having to go all the way to the Supreme Court,” said Daniel Blomberg, another attorney with The Becket Fund.
(More on attacks on our religious freedom in future posts.)