This week the United States Supreme Court is expected to rule on the issue of the Affordable Care Act’s Contraception Mandate as it applies to for-profit companies. The case of Hobby Lobby v. Sebelius was heard by the court on 3/25/14 and their ruling should be revealed before the end of the court’s session which closes this week.
The Affordable Care Act (ObamaCare) requires all employers with greater than 50 employees to provide health insurance for their employees or pay penalties. It also mandates all those employers who do provide insurance for employees to comply with the “essential health benefits” requirements of the law. Included in these “essential health benefits” are contraceptives, sterilization procedures, and abortifacients (drugs that induce abortion).
The Hobby Lobby Company, owned by the Green family, and Conestoga Wood Specialties, owned by the Hahn family, are for-profit businesses. Both families object to the requirements of the law to provide abortifacients to their employees since they find this morally reprehensible and a violation of their religious beliefs. The two lawsuits were joined together by the Supreme Court and were heard as one case. Hobby Lobby is represented by The Becket Fund and Conestoga Wood Specialties is represented by Alliance Defending Freedom.
The fines for failure to comply with the Contraception Mandate are punitive. The fines are $100/day/employee. For Hobby Lobby this represents a fine of $1.3 million per day if the insurance they provide does not include all of the “essential health benefits”. The fine for failure to provide insurance at all for companies greater than 50 employees is $2000/employee/year. So even if they refuse to provide insurance at all they will face fines of $26 million per year for their 13,000 employees.
As of this date there are 300 plaintiffs involved in 100 lawsuits that challenge the Contraception Mandate. According to The Becket Fund, there are 49 lawsuits pending by family-owned businesses challenging the Contraception Mandate. In 35 of these lawsuits so far, courts have granted injunctions – forbidding the government from enforcing the mandate – while their lawsuits proceed. The decision on Hobby Lobby v. Sebelius will undoubtedly influence these same for-profit companies.
There are also 51 lawsuits pending by non-profit religious organizations that are also seeking to preserve their religious freedom. Most famous of these is The Little Sisters of the Poor, a Catholic ministry of nuns to the poor and elderly, and the Bible publisher Tyndale. Other prominent organizations include Wheaton College, Colorado Christian, and Belmont Abbey. In these cases there have been 22 injunctions granted by judges and only four denials of requests for relief. These cases are not yet represented by a case that has been heard by The Supreme Court.
The Little Sisters of the Poor lawsuit is being heard by The Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals in Denver, Colorado this month. The decision in that case is expected in September. It is likely the case will be appealed to The Supreme Court regardless of who wins in the Tenth Circuit Court.
How will the verdict in Hobby Lobby v. Sebelius impact the non-profit cases? A win for Hobby Lobby will certainly be a huge victory for religious freedom. But it is unlikely to sway the Obama administration to give up its fight over the non-profit lawsuits. Shortly after the Contraception Mandate was announced by HHS Secretary Sebelius, the Catholic Church objected and was granted an exemption for the church. But no exemption was granted to other religious organizations.
Instead, an “accommodation” was offered that forced these organizations to approve of their insurance companies providing the offensive services separately. This failed to satisfy the moral issues at stake and therefore failed to address the breach of their religious freedom. Yet the Obama administration has steadfastly ignored the objections of these religious organizations and is expected to continue their intransigence even if they lose the decision in Hobby Lobby v. Sebelius.
Americans deserve an improved healthcare system that does not sacrifice their freedom on the altar of universal insurance coverage. ObamaCare is failing to live up to all its expectations yet the Obama administration continues to insist on mandates that violate that freedom. I have discussed suitable alternatives in this blog that preserve the people’s right to choose their healthcare without compromising their convictions. (see ObamaCare Alternatives That Work)
What happens this week will be an important step toward challenging the government’s attempts to legislate our religious freedoms. But it will certainly not resolve the many potential conscience problems this upheaval of our healthcare system creates. As Jennifer Marshall points out in The Daily Signal, there will be other serious moral questions that will arise including end-of-life decisions, rationing of medical procedures, in vitro fertilization, gene therapy, and other sensitive issues. It is important that The Supreme Court sets the right tone for preserving our freedom so that future challenges will be upheld by our judicial system.
All Americans who value their religious freedom, of all faiths, should be in prayer this week that The Supreme Court upholds our freedom. It is the issue upon which this country was founded and for which our forefathers fought and died. Generations of Americans since have shed their blood to preserve these freedoms and we must never take them for granted. The future of our country is at stake.